Symbolism Of Colour Names With The Meaning "Freedom" In German Political Discourse


This article analyses the functioning of the adjectival colour names grün and blau in modern German political discourse when they take on a political connotation. It studies the specific patterns of their functioning in German political texts. The examples prove that the colour names have a political connotation, conveying both traditional and new meanings which reflect the modern realities of the social and political life in Germany. In addition, it reveals how frequently separate meanings of these linguistic units are displayed in German political discourse. The colour term grün turns out to be the most common in political publications to name the party Die Grünen, its policy and the political views of the electorate. Nowadays this colour name also represents ecology and environmental protection, freedom, and hope. It acquires a meaning “renewable” in the phrase grüne Energie and “misleading about environmental effects” in grün waschen. As in many other cultures, the colour name blau symbolizes truth, freedom, infinity, devotion, loyalty, tranquility, liberalism. Linguistic analysis shows that blau in modern German political discourse carries many meanings as well. It is associated with the FDP, the EU and NATO. It also relates to Ukraine, the US Democratic Party, the German police, and appears in various national campaigns and programs – “bunt statt blau” and “Aktion Blau plus” in particular. The results of this study significantly expand the information available in political linguistics and modern Germanic studies on the semantics of basic colour names in the German language and illustrate their political connotation.

Keywords: political discourse, colour names, freedom, adjectives


Along with such categories as time, space, movement, colour also appears to be a form of cognition. It is always associated with the objects of the world around us. Deciphering these objects and phenomena, a person expresses their own attitude towards them through colour designations.

The study of colour-denoting vocabulary in linguistics has been carried out for many decades (Gipper, 1957; Ludwig, 1966; Wittmers & Pfütze, 1967; Sveshnikova, 1969; Gericke, 1970 – to name a few). But the study of colour names as a linguocultural phenomenon began only in the second half of the 20th century. They were later reconsidered at the turn of the century also taking into account the examples of various linguocultures amid fundamental principles of foreign and Russian political linguistics (Braem, 1985; Altmann, 1999; Riedel, 1999; Vendina, 2000; Heller, 2005; Kulinskaya, 2002; Babaytsev, 2007; Borisova, 2008; Bernhart, 2008; Kukushkina & Gaidukova, 2009; Zolnikova, 2010; Nikonova & Solovyova, 2019; Nikonova, Bukharov & Yastremskaya, 2020).

The most detailed description of the symbolism of colour names in German political discourse is presented in the works of psychologists and culture experts (Vasilevich, 1987, 1988; Gerike, 1990; Lehmann, 1998; Kaiser, 2006; Schüler, 2006; Späti, 2010; Kerimov, 2013). Though the colour names in the German language have always been the subject of scientific interest, their functioning in German political discourse still requires a lot of study today. Moreover, the current global changes are directly reflected in the realities of the political world and the language of politics.

Escalation of tension, open confrontation, military conflicts, defamation, and bullying have become common not only among people and social groups, but also between individual states and coalitions of countries. Emotions are running high around the world. The escalating political atmosphere gives rise to acquiring new meanings and contexts for linguistic units.

The aspects mentioned above determine the relevance of this work.

Problem Statement

A wide range of colours, tones and shades in the surrounding world predetermines the necessity to nominate various colour designations in all spheres of human life.

The problem of their functioning in the political discourse of modern Germany has been poorly studied. In politics, colour names have a lot of symbolic meanings. Specific colours in politics can relate to certain political parties, state institutions, various social groups, political regimes, international organizations, etc.

Research Questions

The subject of this research is the functional potential of basic adjectival colour names and their substantive derivatives in modern German political discourse, with the colour names acquiring a political connotation. Two colour names are to be considered as basic ones – and.

The material for the study includes extracts from modern German publications in recent 15 years, German online publications on political topics, and examples drawn from the German Reference Corpus COSMAS II () hosted at the Institute for the German Language (IDS) in Mannheim. The total volume of empirical evidence is 480 text units. The total number of colour names selected for analysis comes to 730 units.

Purpose of the Study

The study aims to identify the functioning features of the basic adjective colour names and in modern German political discourse, illustrating the political connotation of adjectival colour names and their substantive derivatives in political texts.

Research Methods

We used the following methods of linguistic analysis: continuous sampling; component analysis of the meanings of lexical units; contextual analysis of the meanings of basic colour names; linguistic description and classification of linguistic means; generalization of factual material and mathematical calculation.


Linguistic analysis of the study in which contexts the basic colour names in German political discourse are used showed the following results.


The colour name in modern political discourse carries a lot of semantic meanings. Green is the colour of life, pure nature, harmony, health, tranquillity. This colour is the one to represent freedom, security, and reliability. It is not surprising that green is a symbol of nature, environment, and ecology. The symbolic meanings of green are displayed in modern German political discourse either way. The analysis of practical material allows us to highlight the following main meanings:

1) the traditional meaning of green as, for example: Am Armgelenk trägt Maede Soltani zwei grüne Bändchen. Grün ist die Farbe der Demokratiebewegung in ihrer Heimat. Und. Die will sie nicht aufgeben: Schon einmal hatte ein Richterspruch gegen ihren Vater vor dem Revisionsgericht keinen Bestand, das Verfahren endete mit einem Freispruch in allen Punkten. "Meinen Vater", sagt Maede Soltani, "wird dieses Regime nicht brechen." (Maede Soltani wears two green ribbons on her wrist. movement in their homeland. And green is the colour of hope. She does not want to give it up: already once a judge's verdict against her father failed at the court of appeal, with the proceedings resulting in an acquittal of all charges. "This regime will not break my father," says Maede Soltani.) (SDZ 16.04.2012: 33). Maede Soltani hopes for a better fate for her father, who has been accused of propaganda and actions to undermine the state regime in his country. Green here symbolizes hope for a change, hope for a better future.

2) in Germany that appeared amid rising environmental problems in the 70-80s and uses "green" as its official colour. Having established green as the colour of the party, Die Grünen paved the way for the politicization of green in general. The colour designation in the form of a substantive adjective is used directly in the official name of the party: (DZ 31.10.2013: 9).

The indicated colour name bears other meanings in German political discourse, which, however, are closely related to this meaning:

3) () with the colour designation being the adverbial modifier of attending circumstances which modifies the predicate regieren: (SDZ 28.02.2012: 6). The green colour here indicates that the city council of Freiburg holds the absolute majority of the “green party” representatives.

4) (), where the colour name also acts as the adverbial modifier of attending circumstances modifying the predicate: (SDZ 07.02.2012: 1). This example indicates that the party Die Grünen is to be voted for. In the sentence (BZ 15.01.2013: 21) the speaker makes a choice in favour of Die Grünen to stand for their political program.

5), closely related to the symbolism of green: Horst Frank, die inzwischen ganz Baden-Württemberg erfasst hat: Die alten Jeans hat der ehemalige Maoist längst gegen ein Sakko eingetauscht. Manche fragen sich, was eigentlich noch Grün an dem Politiker sei. Die Konstanzer sagen dann: "Der OB fährt viel Rad." (Horst Frank that has now spread through all of Baden-Württemberg: the former Maoist has long since exchanged his old jeans for a jacket. Some wonder what is still green about the politician. The people of Constance then say: "The lord mayor cycles a lot.") (SDZ 07.02.12: 6). In this example, the colour name grün designates environmentally friendly behaviour and care for the environment.

Let us analyse the following example: Brüssel. Bundeslandwirtschaftsministerin Ilse Aigner (CSU) ist der Plan: Was sie in zweitägiger Sitzung mit ihren EU-Kollegen ausgehandelt habe, werde für “” des gemeinsamen Agrarmarktesgen. In den nächsten sieben Jahren werde also in Europa Ackerbau und Viehzucht auf eine viel schonendere Weise betrieben: mit mehr Rücksicht auf die Natur, Tierwelt, Ressourcen, Klima. Grüne und Umweltschützer können indes in dem Paket nur (Brussels. For German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner (CSU) the plan is: What she negotiated with her EU colleagues in a two-day meeting would ensure “” of the common agricultural market. In the next seven years, agriculture and animal husbandry will be practiced in Europe in a much gentler way having more consideration for nature, wildlife, resources, and the climate. The Greens and environmentalists, however, can only in the package) (BZ 21.01.2013: 32). It conveys an idea that there should be more focus on environmental protection and improvement in Europe to boost agricultural development, and the colour name grün here reflects the environmentally oriented nature of future changes.

Environmental issues largely determine the politics in Germany now. It is not surprising that the green colour has become so commonly used in a political discourse and took on new meanings, for example,, which could be translated into Russian as “green energy” or “renewable energy”: (SDZ 27.08.2012: 16). The adjectival colour name in this context means "extracted from natural sources, renewable".

Nowadays ecological issues are of particular importance for Germany in general; hence the reason the colour name in political discourse has acquired a new meaning. Let us take as an example the phrase which is false advertising aimed at misleading the consumer about the company's commitment to providing sustainable products or services in order to gain political and public support and pretend to be eco-friendly. Here means 6): (SDZ 27.07.2012: 33). Dow Chemical, which once was involved in the toxic spills scandal, was claimed to be using their sponsorship of the London Olympic Games as green marketing. This meaning is conveyed precisely through the phrase.

In general, mathematical calculations of how frequently separate meanings of the colour name are used in German political discourse have shown that the political party Die Grünen is the reason why the green colour bears a political connotation in the German language. Most often, green in political texts is associated with Die Grünen (35%) or reflects the party policy (19.8%) and the political views of the voters (14.2%). Green in German political discourse also relates to ecology and environmental protection (11.7%) and is the colour of hope (5.6%). In addition, in the phrase means “extracted from naturally resources, renewable” (9%), and in, green acquires the meaning of misleading about the environmental effects or impact of something (4.7%).

The colour name prevails as the most common among the basic colour designations analysed in the study (27.1% of the total number of linguistic units).


Traditionally, the blue colour symbolizes infinity, truth, devotion, loyalty, tranquillity and is associated with aristocracy and liberalism. This is the colour of nature: the colour of the sky, the colour of the water. In national flags all around the world the blue colour is used to represent freedom, national unity and belonging to a larger whole.

We analysed examples of colour naming in the German political discourse and the results show that most commonly the colour name is used to symbolize 1), a liberal political party in Germany which recognizes blue – along with yellow – as the official party colours. Moreover, in German media the colour name is often used to refer to 2)and, with blue being the colour of their flags, e.g.: (SDZ 03.05.2014: 15).

In the example above the colour name is used to symbolize the EU and NATO. The blue colour here indicates that the post-Soviet states and those previously focused on the USSR have changed their policy – and colour – and now identify with the economic and military institutions of the West.

The colour name blau is also used in German media to symbolize 3), e.g.: Das zweite Experiment heißt Chris Christie. Als republikanischer Gouverneur in einem Staat mit zwei demokratischen Parlamentskammern hat er keine andere Wahl, als dem politischen Gegner die Hand zu geben. Nach dem verheerenden Hurrikan Sandy im Herbst 2012 erhob Christie diesen Stil zum Markenzeichen. All seine Energie widmete er den Sturmopfern in seinem Küstenstaat. waren wie weggespült, Christie umarmte sogar den demokratischen Präsidenten Obama, weil der schnell Geld und Helfer geschickt hatte (The second experiment is called Chris Christie. As the Republican governor in a state with two Democratic Houses of Parliament, he has no other choice but to shake hands with the political opponent. After the devastating Hurricane Sandy in the autumn of 2012, Christie made this style a trademark. He devoted all his energy to the storm victims in his coastal state. were washed away, Christie even hugged the Democratic President Obama because he had quickly sent money and helpers) (SDZ 10.01.14: 18). As we can see, the colour here is designated by a substantivized adjective der Blau. Chris Christie represents the Republican Party (the official party colour is red) in a state with a pro-democratic majority in both houses of the Legislature (the official colour of the Democratic party is blue). In this context both political colours – Rot und Blau (red and blue) – as well as the differences between the respective parties and traditional political rivals seem to have lost their meaning in the face of a common threat.

In Germany, the colour name blau is also associated with 4) as the German police wear dark blue uniforms: Aus BGS wird Bundespolizei. Den neuen Namen für den Bundesgrenzschutz beschließt das Kabinett im Januar, ab 1. Juli soll er gelten. Auch das Erscheinungsbild der Innenminister Otto Schily (SPD) unterstellten Truppe verändert sich: Die Beamten erhalten (The Federal Border Guard becomes Federal Police. The cabinet decided on the new name for the Federal Border Guard in January, and it will apply from July 1. The appearance of the troops subordinate to Interior Minister Otto Schily (SPD) is also changing: the officers are given) (FOCUS 26.05.2014: 13). This example shows that in Germany blue is the colour of the Federal Police (formerly the Federal Border Guard) which after the renaming also changed the colour of their uniforms.

Recently, the colour name blau has also appeared in German media amid various national campaigns, projects and programs, e.g. 1. Um ein Zeichen gegen das Rauschtrinken zu setzen, startet die Krankenkasse DAK-Gesundheit jetzt zum fünften Mal ihre Präventionskampagne „ — Kunst gegen Komasaufen”. Seit 2010 wurden bei „” bereits 52 000 Schüler mit ihren Plakaten zu Botschaftern gegen das Komasaufen (In order to set an example against binge drinking, the health insurance company DAK-Gesundheit is now launching its prevention campaign “colourful instead of blue - art against binge drinking” for the fifth time. Since 2010, 52,000 schoolchildren have already become ambassadors at “bunt statt blau” with their posters against binge drinking) (RZ 17.01.2014: 15). In this example the colour name blau is used as a part of the campaign name and its motto – bunt statt blau (colourful instead of blue) – referring to the campaign against alcohol abuse and so-called coma drinking among young people which was organized by the German health insurance company DAK-Gesundheit. 2. Das soll sich jetzt ändern, und damit wollen die Verantwortlichen auch die EU-Wasserrahmenrichtlinie umsetzen, die den Mitgliedstaaten vorschreibt, ihre Gewässer in einen guten ökologischen Zustand zu bringen. „Die Renaturierung des Bachs ist eine erhebliche ökologische Aufwertung”, betonte Rummel. Nach Angaben von Dagmar Menges kostet die Umgestaltung 80 000 Euro. 90 Prozent finanziere das Land über das Förderprogramm „”. 10 Prozent kommen vom Kreis aus dem Ausgleichstopf für den Bau des Industriegebiets Plaidt Süd (That is about to change, and those responsible also want to implement the EU Water Framework Directive, which requires the member states to bring their waters to a good ecological status. "The renaturation of the stream is a considerable ecological upgrade," emphasized Rummel. According to Dagmar Menges, the redesign will cost 80,000 euros. The state finances 90 percent through the “” funding program. The district gives 10 percent from the compensation pot for the construction of the Plaidt Süd industrial area) (RZ 15.02.2014: 27). As we can see, the colour name blau here is used in the name of the natural water restoration program Aktion Blau Plus (Blue Action Fund).

During our research we also came across several cases of using the colour name in the meaning of 5) (along with yellow), e.g.: (DZ 06–14: 4). (SDZ 22.01.2014: 8). In both examples, the colour name is expressed by substantivized adjectives and used not only to symbolize the national colour of Ukraine, but also to refer to Europe. Considering the latest global political trends, the cases of using the colour name with the double meaning are becoming more and more frequent.

The frequency data of using the colour name are as following: «the Free Democratic Party of Germany (FDP) » (21.9 %), «the EU and NATO» (19.8 %), «the German police» (14.6 %), «Ukraine and Ukraine-related designations» (12.5 %), «the Democratic Party of the US» (10,4 %).

In general, it should be noted that the colour name does not appear very often in political media texts. The relevant frequency of its use from the total number of analysed colour names stands at 13.2 %.


A study of the functional potential of basic colour names and in German political discourse has shown that they have a political connotation, carrying both traditional and new meanings that reflect the modern realities of social and political life in Germany. The colour name is more common primarily due to wide-ranging political discussions of environmental issues and tensions around the world, as well as protesting moods in Germany.

One of the symbolic meanings of these adjectival colour names relates to freedom.

The results of the study expand the information available in political linguistics and modern Germanic studies on the semantics of basic colour names in the German language, illustrating their political connotation.


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Nikonova, Z. V., Yastremskaya, I. G., Akhmadullina, E. N., & Kharitonova, D. I. (2022). Symbolism Of Colour Names With The Meaning "Freedom" In German Political Discourse. In I. Savchenko (Ed.), Freedom and Responsibility in Pivotal Times, vol 125. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 614-624). European Publisher.