Mäetagused vol. 64


‘Red’: Colour term and formulaic poetic language

Tiiu Jaago

Keywords: colour terms, Estonian old folk song regilaul, formula, red

In this article the occurrence of the colour term ‘red’ is studied comparatively in the regilaul of two Estonian counties. Earlier studies on colour terms in the Estonian regilaul have shown that colour terms are rarely found in songs. At the same time, they are conspicuous in set phrases, forming formulae, fixed lexical combinations characteristic of the regilaul tradition.

The analysis of the songs studied in this article is based on the formulaic concept (i.e. the premise that colour terms are found in set lexical phrases). In interpreting colour term-containing motifs and related topics, this article draws on context-centred folklore research (i.e. the premise that the meaning of neither the formulae nor the colour terms is autonomous, independent of their context of use).

A formula containing a colour term does not carry an unambiguous meaning. It is not possible to say, for example, what evaluation the modifier ‘red’ involves in such compounds as ‘pale punane’ (red countenance), ‘punane põõsas’ (red bush), ‘proua punane’ (red lady). However, it reveals that on the motif level these formulae carry a certain meaning: in the praise of the bride or the groom in wedding songs, the ’pale punane’ (red countenance) refers to health and youth, while in the ’indifferent maiden’ motif it refers to the angry disposition of the maiden. Partly, the meanings of ‘red’ become evident thanks to its parallel words (ilus / punane – handsome / red), while on the motif level it appears when the word is used to praise or warn against a character (ilus mees on ihusööja – punane aga verejooja (the handsome husband is a flesh-eater, the red one a blood-drinker): such a young man is not recommended to the girl, as working in the man’s house would ruin her health).

It is characteristic that ‘red’ tends to be related with the topic of courting and wedding. When the parallel word of ‘red’ is ‘blue’ (e.g. Minu hella emakene, / siruta see sinine lõnga, / poeta punane paela, / tõmba minu taevasse (Dear mother, / stretch out the blue yarn, / drop down the red ribbon, / pull me up to the heaven)), it remarkably often describes a border situation, either in the social (wedding, death) or natural environment (morning, evening).

In summary, it can be said that lexical phrases or formulae that contain colour terms can vary widely. However, the thematic context of using formulae that contain colour terms is considerably stable.

What is the colour of fairy tales?

Kärri Toomeos-Orglaan

Keywords: beauty, corporeality, colour symbolism, fairy tale

The article presents a research of the usage of colours in Estonian fairy tales and the associations that are created by means of colours. The topic of colour usage also includes the aspect of corporeality that generates a critical discussion on the presentation of a woman in fairy tales. The symbolical meanings of different colours in fairy tales largely overlap with their meanings in folk belief and runo songs.

The colours that are particularly meaningful are black, white, and red. Also, such colours as grey and gold occupy special places in fairy tales. In addition to physical description, colours are used to present characters’ or objects’ inner values, also expressing the way they differ from the ordinary, or hinting at the magical qualities they may possess.

Black and white form a pair of opposites, symbolising good and evil, beauty and ugliness, life and death. Those meanings remain with them also in case one is being used without the other. The colour red represents health, fertility, and beauty; that is why it is frequently used in the descriptions of women. At the same time, the colour red can be used as an opposite to white, having in this case a negative meaning.

Gold and other metals show the object’s magical characteristics, but at the same time also its value. Possessing a golden object can also hint at the owner’s high moral values. The colour grey represents wisdom but it can also be seen as a colour that disguises magical as ordinary.

Colour names and colours in the versions of the Snow White fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm

Urmas Sutrop

Keywords: oppositions, primary colour names, Snow White, structuralism, the Brothers Grimm

The article discusses three versions of the Snow White fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm (1810, 1812, and 1857), delving into the meanings of colours and colour names occurring in them as well as changes in the names and meanings. The analysis proceeds from the structural method of fairy tale study and explores the symbolic meaning oppositions of colours and their names, such as in/out, light/dark, life/death, logical/mythological. The analysis is also based on the differentiation drawing on the theory of primary colours, according to which black, white, and red are the most fundamental colour names. However, the use of colour names (semantics and symbolism) is complicated in the versions of the Snow White fairy tale, as a colour may have several oppositional meanings. It is not just simple binary oppositions. The Brothers Grimm regarded the colours black, white, and red as beautiful. Jacob Grimm depicted them as the three colours of poetry.

Colour terms and colour symbols in the subgenres of Estonian riddles

Piret Voolaid

Keywords: classical riddles, colour names, colours, compound puns, conondrums, droodles, folkloristics, riddles

The article analyses colour names in the three most widely spread subgenres of Estonian riddles – classical or ordinary riddles, conondrums, and droodles – focusing on the specific features of each subgenre and their specific differences. The main questions concern the more frequent colour names by subgenres, their more general usage relations, and the use of colours in image creation. Classical riddles belong to a more archaic layer and are, by their nature, poetic descriptions of an object or a phenomenon, in which the image expresses mainly the appearance of the answer object, the facets perceived by senses. Colour names occur frequently in the image creation of riddles, serving as primary indicators in describing an object or a phenomenon and providing a hint at the answer.

Classical riddles manifest the importance of colours in the semantic-lexical imagery of riddles (image stereotypes and form patterns), which can roughly be divided into two: 1. In texts with defined subjects, in which the image coincides with the syntactic subject of the descriptive sentence, the subject is often a zoological term, which is complemented by a colour (e.g. clichés such as grey/black/white ox; black pig and red piglets); yet, colour is also essential in human images (e.g. black man, red boy). 2. Texts with undefined subjects, in which the object to be guessed is presented indirectly by means of its activity, qualities, relations, places, time, etc., and colour names are applied in form stereotypes based on some kind of paradoxical differences or contradictions.

Conondrums and droodles as more recent subgenres are oriented on humour; they both express cultural stereotypes and symbols by means of colours. As compared to the colour statistics of classical riddles, in conondrums the leading position is occupied by the subject-related term ‘blond’, which marks a fair-haired and fair-skinned person, and is caused by the multitude of jokes about dim-witted blondes that became popular in the second half of the 1990s. Colours play an important role in the absurd questions beginning in ‘What is…?’, as well as internationally known absurd series of elephant-questions, in which the opposition of two colour shades (light-dark, white-black) is widely spread as a humour-creating method. The colour image of the black-and-white droodles often contains the inducing of visual imagination and the occurrence of colour in both the question and answer.

Text examples originate from internet databases Estonian Riddles (Krikmann & Krikmann 2012), Estonian Conondrums (Voolaid 2004), and Estonian Droodles (Voolaid 2002), based mainly on the manuscript material of the Estonian Folklore Archives as well as different publications and internet material.

Estonian colour names: Relations between structure and meaning

Vilja Oja

Keywords: base of comparison, dialect speech, Estonian, naming motives of colour, paronymy, structure of colour names

Estonian words for colours are often produced by adding an adjectival suffix to a noun stem. The most productive adjectival suffix -ne does not change the meaning of the word. The meaning of adjectives with the suffixes -kas and -jas, which occur frequently among colour names, depends on the part of speech of the derivation base. Denominal adjectives describe the colour on the basis of its similarity to an object (e.g. savikas ‘clay-coloured’ < N savi ‘clay’). If the suffix -kas or -jas (in Võru dialect -kane or -jane) has been attached to an adjective, the terms express partial hue content in a colour (e.g. hallikas ‘greyish’ < Adj. hall ‘grey’. Some moderating colour terms are derivatives with an ik- or lik-suffix.

Compounds and phrasal units make up nearly 80% of all Estonian colour terms. A term consisting of two or more words can conditionally be divided into two parts: the final component is the base word, while the initial one carries the attributive function. Either component may, in turn, be a root word, a suffixed derivative, or a compound or phrase. Colours are often described by phrases in which the final component is not inflected either in case or in number. This may be either (1) a parameter word meaning ‘coloured’ (e.g. värvi, karva) or an adjectival derivative from the stem (värviline, karvaline, etc.); or (2) a moderating adverb or adjective (e.g. -võitu, -sugune, -poolne).

A large number of Estonian colour names are motivated by the comparison with the colour of a well-known object. A closer look at such phrasal terms revealed that the combination of a part of speech and the way of compounding has a semantic function. Many colour names have their origin in a colouring substance. Borrowed foreign terms are often adapted to fit the Estonian phonetic and lexical system, and sometimes have an absolutely strange word stem (e.g. Gm Orleans > Est ordijoon, ort, etc.). Colour naming represents an open system in Estonian and everybody can find creative ways to describe colours. A new colour name is adequately understandable if it fits into the traditional system used to denote colours in Estonian.

Catechesis in Estonian Orthodox Church

Liina Eek

Keywords: catechesis, Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, Orthodox theology

The article describes how catechesis is given to Estonian-speaking people in two Estonian Orthodox churches – the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EAOC) and the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (EOCMP). An overview is also given of the opinions of Orthodox priests about the necessity of catechesis in parishes, which is deemed to be the minimum needed knowledge about Orthodox theology for being a church member, and about when the catechesis should be given (before baptism/confirmation, after that, or throughout life).

Catechesis in Orthodox church is usually given before joining the church and its length, content, and methodology vary, being dependent on resources in the parish (rooms, people, etc.), on priests’ knowledge, ability, and skills to give catechesis, and finally on the interest of congregation members. Catechesis before joining the church is not obligatory in the EAOC, even though it is encouraged and its importance is stressed by the metropolitan. In the EOCMP, catechesis before joining the church is obligatory, and its length is at least a couple of meetings with the priest. The article describes how different priests solve the problem of giving catechesis.

The article is based on original empirical data collected during a religious-sociological study, undertaken in 2012–2014, when 57 interviews were carried out with Estonian-speaking clergy and lay members of both Estonian Orthodox churches. Based on interviews with 18 priests, the article highlights the bottlenecks of Estonian Orthodox catechesis: churches do not have enough resources and skilled clergy for giving active catechesis in parishes, but both churches and their clergy make efforts to improve the situation. There is enough catechetic material available in Estonian, yet the problem is rather the lack of skills or willingness of some priests to give catechesis. In the EOCMP the problem could also be lack of publication opportunities or availability of information about catechetic materials in Estonian.

I could study everything – if only I had time…

Interview with Urmas Sutrop on his 60th birthday

Meelis Roll is interviewing the director of the Estonian Literary Museum.

The role of research in the compilation of educational material on the meaning of colours and colour terms at the Estonian National Museum

Jane Liiv and Virve Tuubel give an overview of the compilation of a popular educational programme and study material concerning colours, at the permanent exhibition Estonia: Land, People, Culture, displayed at the Estonian National Museum in 1994–2015.

News, overviews   

In memoriam

Katre Õim
August 25, 1970 – July 20, 2016.

The eulogy is written by Piret Voolaid.

About the links between phraseology and psychology at an international conference of linguistics

Anneli Baran writes about an international conference of linguistics, Slavofraz 2016: Phraseologie und (naive) Psychologie, which took place in Graz, Austria, on April 7–10.

“Young Voices” 2016

Ave Goršič and Piret Koosa bring to the reader an overview of the 11th conference of young ethnologists, folklorists, and other culture researchers, “Young Voices”, which was held on April 20.


A brief summary of the events of Estonian folklorists from April to July 2016.

A compact overview of the world of ghosts and demons.

Christa Agnes Tuczay. Geister, Dämonen – Phantasmen. Eine Kulturgeschichte. Wiesbaden: Marixverlag. 2015.
An overview by Reet Hiiemäe in English is available in Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore, Vol. 65.