Amy Clark

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More than Meets the Eye: Cultural Color Resonances in Old English Literature
Department:
English
Term:
Spring 2015

A native English speaker will not, generally, be surprised to hear that the color pink is associated with love, or green with envy; we are naturally attuned to the color symbolism embedded within our own language. Working with the literary tradition of a reconstructed language like Old English, however, many such symbolic resonances have been lost to us. In light of this, my research utilizes corpus linguistics and online digital resources to reconstruct the connotative resonances of the OE color terms read, fealo, and sweart. My findings indicate that many visually ambiguous aspects of read (particularly the phrase read gold) and fealo may be resolved or informed by a wider cultural context. The sense of fading seen in the Middle High German val and Early New High German fahl, for example, suggests fealo, in many poetic contexts, serves to connote a sense of temporality rather than hue. Similarly, read may function as an indicator of luxury; 76%-87% of man-made items described by read and its compounds are high-value luxury goods. Understanding cultural color associations in Anglo-Saxon texts will allow for new forms of literary and cultural analysis, ultimately enriching future scholarship as it once enriched the lives and literature of the Anglo-Saxon people.