Named and Unnamed Spaces: Color, Kin, and the Environment in Umpila

Author: Hill, Clair

Source: The Senses and Society, Volume 6, Number 1, March 2011 , pp. 57-67(11)

DOI: 10.2752/174589311X12893982233759

Link to full paper.

Imagine describing the particular characteristics of the hue of a flower, or the quality of its scent, or the texture of its petal. Introspection suggests the expression of such sensory experiences in words is something quite different than the task of naming artifacts. The particular challenges in the linguistic encoding of sensorial experiences pose questions regarding how languages manage semantic gaps and “ineffability.” That is, what strategies do speakers have available to manage phenomena or domains of experience that are inexpressible or difficult to express in their language? this article considers this issue with regard to color in Umpila, an Aboriginal Australian language of the Paman family. The investigation of color naming and ineffability in Umpila reveals rich associations and mappings between color and visual perceptual qualities more generally, categorization of the human social world, and the environment. “Gaps” in the color system are filled or supported by associations with two of the most linguistically and culturally salient domains for Umpila – kinship and the environment.