Translation Of The Lexical Gaps In The Category Of Colour Namings


This article is devoted to the problem of lexical gaps and the methods translating color names and lexical gaps. The first part of the article gives the definitions to the equivalent vocabulary, motivated and unmotivated lexical gaps. The classification of lexical gaps given by I.A. Sterninis given in the article. For the study using the method of continuous sampling, 800 modern German-language colors were selected from the textile, automotive and paint industries for the design of premises. In the second part of the article, the main methods and strategies for communicating lexical gaps in translation are identified and examples of the translation of modern German color names into Russian from different fields of activity with analysis of the translation process are given. The main methods of translating color names are also defined and illustrated: calquing, the calquing with syntactic assimilation, addition, descriptive translation. After conducting the calculation, a conclusion is made about the priority method of translating lexical gaps from German into Russian exemplified by such a lexical layer as color namings. Examples of translation of color names by the method of calquing, calquing with syntactic assimilation and adding are given. In addition, the frequency of using proper nouns when creating a new color in the automotive industry is revealed, although in the future many of them can be used in the textile industry as well as in design.

Keywords: Colour namingstranslation equivalentsculture-specific vocabularylexical gapstranslation strategiescalquing


After the researchers of Voronezh School of Cognitive Linguistics a lexical gap is construed as the absence of lexical unit in one language and its presence in the other. Thus, a non-equivalent lexical unit is a unit present in one language and absent in the other.

The study of lexical gaps offers various classifications of the phenomenon under consideration. For instance, the classification of Yu.A. Sorokin and I.Yu. Morkovina comprises over 40 types and subtypes of lexical gaps. (Markovina& Sorokin, 2008). I.A. Sternin differentiates between presentive and abstract lexical gaps (based on the degree of the content abstractness), generic and aspectual (based on paradigm property, position in language paradigms), inter- and intralinguistic (based on system-language membership), motivated and unmotivated (based on extralinguisticdependance), stylistic (based on stylistic reference), part-of-speech (based on the part of speech to which a lexical gap is referred), absolute and relative (Sternin, 2006). When considering lexical gaps in terms of translation and lexicography, motivated and unmotivated lexical gaps distinguished on the grounds of their extralingusitic membership are of special interest. According to I.A. Sternin, motivated lexical gaps are “lexical gaps explained by the absence of the relevant object or phenomenon in the national culture (lapti, schi, matreshka, balalaika in Western European languages)”. Unmotivated lexical gaps appear when “relevant objects and phenomena exist in the culture but there are no words denominating them; an object or culture-specific concept exists but people as if don’t notice it, don’t consider it to be necessary to name this object or phenomenon”, for example: sutki, kipyatok, pozemka, sukhomyatka, odnofamilets, zdorovyak in Western European languages (Sternin, 2006).

Another classification of translating lexical gaps is given by G.B. Antrushina.

  • Transcription or transliteration is reproducing the foreign word form in the target language using identical or similar sounds/letters (der Wodka, die Balalajka, der Borschtsch; карривурст, гастарбайтер, зенненхунд).

  • Calquing, or loan translation is reproducing word morphemes or constituent parts of the set phrase (spritzen – спринцевать (to syringe); Gründertum – грюндерство (speculative promotion); большевизм – Bolschewismus; das Petschaft – a stamp for soft materials).

  • Descriptive translation is using descriptions which reveal the meaning of the culturally specific lexical unit with the help of an expanded sentence. When applying descriptive translation a lexical gap is compensated and as a result explanatory periphrasis is made (die Geschwister – братья и сестры, облокотиться – sich auf die Ellbogenstemmen)

  • Making correspondent alternatives, i.e. semantically closest units of the target language in order to convey the culturally specific concepts of the source language. It doesn’t always result in complete semantic proximity of the equivalent units in the source and target language and this type of translation is applicable only in certain contexts. As a result of translating a lexical gap we get a correspondent alternative.

  • Neutralization or emphasis. When we deal with synonymy of different types, a pair of lexemes in one language is matched with a general meaning word in another language. In this case a lexical gap is filled and the following relationship is observed: a stylistic lexical gap – a neutral lexeme. Lexical gaps in certain contexts are communicated with the help of the abovementioned ways just as successfully as the meanings and shades of meanings of the words that have direct oк alternative corresponding variants (Antrushina, et al., 2016)

Problem Statement

Nominative language means while reflecting extralinguistic reality also convey the differences determined by the cultural peculiarities of the native speaker culture. Due to that the problem of lexical gaps appears when translating from one language into another. The study of lexical gaps distinguishes two main ways of eliminating lexical gaps: filling and compensation. Filling is a process of disclosing a notion belonging to a different culture and lexically formalized in the source language (SL). Compensation is a means of fixing a lexical gap in the target language (TL), the final stage of elimination that not in all cases ends with filling the semantic “gap” (Sherstiukova & Lysyh, 2017).

Research Questions

Accordingly, the following research questions are addressed in the present study:

  • What are the main ways of eliminating lexical gaps?

  • How does cultural background and culturally specific concepts are communicated when translating lexical gaps?

  • What strategies are applicable for translating a specific category of lexical gaps presented by German colour names?

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the present research was to elicit lexical gaps and ways of their elimination in the category of German colour names.

Research Methods

Since such a category as colour names is quite specific and narrow, not all of the means listed above turned out to be applicable for our research. For the analysis based on the method of continuous sampling, 800 modern German-language colors from various fields of activity were selected, namely: the textile industry, the auto industry, paint and varnish coatings for the design of premises. In addition to the already established colour names in the language, there are those that have appeared relatively recently, or are formed with the help of new, unusual models, or have an unusual for comparison prototypical referent.


Most of the modern German colour names are well-established, have an equivalent and are codified in dictionaries. It follows herefrom that the lexical fund of the German and Russian languages ​​has a sufficient number of matching in this area (Dyupina, Shakirova & Chumanova, 2013). The main problem for translating non-equivalent colors is the colour names that contain a proper name, most often the designation of a place, a populated area, a coastal zone, an island, a sea, an ocean, etc. ( Adriablau – адриатический, адриатическийсиний (Adriatic blue), Arktisblau – арктическийсиний (Arctic blue), Miamigrün – зеленыймайами (Miami green), Cayennegelb – кайенскийжёлтый (Cayenne yellow), Karibikgrün – карибскийзелёный (Caribbean green) ). When searching for a translation variant for such colour names, it is recommended to use monolingual dictionaries and reference books in the first place. For example, when searching for the etymology of the color "Karibikgrün" we found out that this shade was originally owned by the German company Volkswagen and denotes a shade of varnish for cars. It has already moved further from this area into the sphere of textiles and design and is used to denote the lacquer shade of light turquoise shade. In this regard, this colour name can be translated as "Caribbean green", since the translation should retain the name of its own and the color designation, but a clarification is given additionally in brackets - "lacquer, turquoise". The color "Miamigrün" also originally belongs to the automotive industry, it is currently used in the textile industry and for decoration of furniture items, as well as suitcases. In the Russian texts this color is given without translation at all, however, when compiling the glossary, we deemed it necessary to translate it as "green" "miami", since this proper name can not form an adjective, such as "Caribbean" or "Adriatic". It is also important to indicate the base color which the given shade refers to and to retain the proper name. This shade is not originally lacquered or opaque and depending on the manufacturer's intention it can be both, so it does not make sense to specify this property.

Having analyzed all the colour names of this type found by us, we came to the conclusion that, firstly, most of them relate to the automotive industry initially, and secondly, they should be translated, preserving the proper name and the name of the base color in the composition. The need to resort to additions, that is, the method of calquing , or calquing with syntactic assimilation , resorting to addition in some cases (for example, indischrosa - Indian pink dye ). When translating the colour name indischrot the found equivalent was "Adrianople red, Indian red" with the explanation of the belonging of this hue to the dyes. Thus, when translating the hue name indischrosa, after it was determined that this color is used only in the textile industry for dyeing fabrics, yarn, we also preserved it explanation: "Indian pink dye" - in this case we turned to the method of calquing and adding).

Most often, there is no analogue or exact translation in Russian and in order to translate some color-coding, it is necessary to find a description of the color in German and either find a suitable equivalent in Russian or, more often, descriptively convey the meaning. Another notable example is the color designation "schieferblau" literally:"slate blue", a dark grey-blue color , there is no exact analogue, when translating we proceeded from the color of the concept "Schiefer" (slate), and also relied on the image that appeared when making a request for this color in the search engines.

Thus, a large group of colour names was translated using the method of calquing and calquing with syntactic assimilation (royalblau - royal blue, ozeanblau - ocean blue, schlammbraun - silty brown, hirsegelb - wheat-yellow, zartgelb - tender yellow, Naturgrau der Schafwolle - natural color sheep wool, Spinatgrün - green spinach, braunrosa - brownish-pink, schmutzigrot - dirty pink). On that premise we can state that calquing is the most productive method of translating German colour names.


The results indicate that colours and their shades are perceived subjectively and, first of all, through the visual channel. However, professionals involved in the process of color naming, try to select colors, based not only on objective knowledge and perception. Colours are also reflected in the human psyche, affect our overall state and mood. This is also taken into account by designers when selecting a particular name for color. They often turn to the taste and tactile sensations of recipients. Such basic characteristics of color as saturation, intensity, temperature, lightness and expressiveness also influence the process of color naming and are taken into account when creating color hues, especially non-abstract modifying ones.

Summarizing everything mentioned above, we can say that communicating colour names can pose a rather serious translation problem in order to deal with which the interpreter must have knowledge of the cultural realia of both the country of the SL (the source language) and the country of the TL (the target language), since not always color-coding, being a constantly replenished layer of lexicon, can be quickly codified in dictionaries and reference books. The translation must often be preceded by considerably long analysis and information search.


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30 April 2018

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Sociolinguistics, linguistics, semantics, discourse analysis, translation, interpretation

Cite this article as:

Gordeeva, K. O., & Rykova, O. V. (2018). Translation Of The Lexical Gaps In The Category Of Colour Namings. In & I. V. Denisova (Ed.), Word, Utterance, Text: Cognitive, Pragmatic and Cultural Aspects, vol 39. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 461-465). Future Academy.