Contrastive Analysis of English, Russian and Hebrew Yellow Idioms



The problem studied in the article is relevant and important for the Russian and foreign scientific community since color Hebrew idioms have not yet been described against the background of numerous similar studies in other languages and the comparison of idioms with the lexeme yellow/желтый/ צהוב (further YIS) didn’t do still. The material of the work was about 140 yellow idioms: about 70 English, 40 Russian, and 30 Hebrew. They were collected from trilingual electronic lexical, phraseological dictionaries, and Internet searches and analyzed with qualitative and quantitative contextual-functional, semantic and cultural-linguistic analysis within the lingua culturological approach. The article proposes the following YIS classification based on microsystems consisting of meaning associative chains with logically and semantically related relations that cover physical and mental characteristics, and a large number of human activity areas and allows the inclusion of new YIS in the future: 1. Object optical color.1.1 Nature. Natural Phenomena, Physical Objects - Geography; Fauna; Body - skin color; Reference color. 1.2 Human activity. Reference Color; Food; Medicine - Medicines; Sports; Information - Traffic signals - Alerts; Terrorism; Employment; Vote; 1.3 Moral and ethical issues. Sensation; Bribe. Unique YIS, enriching the linguistic picture of the world, in English related, in particular, to such topics as Cowardice, Goal Achievement Strategy, and in Russian - Acquisitiveness, Inexperience. In the 21st century, YIS are of great importance in road signs and danger warnings in medicine, meteorology, and civil and defense fields. The results of the work can be effectively used in comparative, cultural, lexicographic, and lexicological work and contribute to SLA, human and automatic translation of idioms.

General Information

Keywords: color terms linguistics, contrastive linguistics, yellow idioms, English, Russian, Hebrew, SLA, translation

Journal rubric: Linguodidactics and Innovations.Psychological Basis of Learning Languages and Cultures.

Article type: scientific article


Received: 08.06.2022


For citation: Kigel T. Contrastive Analysis of English, Russian and Hebrew Yellow Idioms [Elektronnyi resurs]. Âzyk i tekst = Language and Text, 2022. Vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 67–75. DOI: 10.17759/langt.2022090208.

Full text

The study of Hebrew yellow metaphors and the comparison of YIS in three languages ​​ is relevant and important for the Russian and foreign scientific community since Hebrew color idioms have not yet been described in the background of numerous similar studies in other languages. The widespread intercultural communication, exchange, and the growth of social and scientific information create a need for translation, SLA, effective textbooks, phrasebooks, and dictionaries that reflect the national-specific features of the studied and source language [2, p. 22]. Currently, linguistics contributes to understanding the speaking community's thinking, worldview, and national culture, and the comparative research arose out of curiosity and high respect for other cultures [3].

According to the theory of determining the primary color [Berlin and Kay 1], the lexeme yellow refers to the basic color terms that appear at the fourth stage of development of various languages in the following sequence: achromatic dark-cold and light-warm (in English "black" and "white ”), red, green and/or yellow, blue, brown, lilac, pink and grey.

The scholars analysed yellow English idioms (Chielens [3]; Hamilton [4]) along with other basic color terms, and revealed many bi- and multilingual contrastive works, for example, English & Italian [5]; Russian, Serbian, Slovenian, and Croatian [6]; Japanese, English, and Russian [7]; Polish, Portuguese and Spanish [8]; Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian and Czech [9]. There are also YIS studies in Russian [10,11], and Russian and Chinese [12].

As a part of the project "Comparative analysis of English, Russian and Hebrew idioms" the work aims to fill the missing data on Hebrew color idioms and study trilingual YIS. Some project articles were already published (Red [13]; Green [14]; Blue [15]; Gold and Silver idioms [16]) when the articles on black, white, and secondary color idioms are in print.

The study results could be used in L2 teaching both children and adults, comparative, cultural, lexicographic, and lexicological work and also improve the human and automatic idiom translation, with currently no unresolved problems due to literal translation [15].

Due to the work's aim addressed the following key research issues: identify modern English, Russian, and Hebrew YIS, distribute meanings into groups of equivalent and unique idioms, count their number, and analyse similarities and differences.

Method. The sources of the study are electronic definitions and phraseological dictionaries and token searches on the Internet. The procedure of the work is described below: in the initial stage creating the lists of YIS meanings in three languages, comparing them to explore equivalents, and unique idioms, creating the classification, analysing them, and summarising.

The study used a comprehensive research methodology, such as linguistic descriptive, contextual, statistical, and comparative methods, as well as the method of component analysis of the phraseological units.


Results of the research

Equal Yellow Idioms

Object Optical Color A. Nature

Natural phenomena, Physics Objects: yellow dwarf/жёлтый карлик/ ננסית צהובה (called a G-type main-sequence star).

Geography: Yellow River/Жёлтая река/נהר צהוב  ( China river); the Yellow Sea/Жёлтое море הים הצהוב/ (West Korea Sea).

Fauna: yellow jacket/ ז'קטים צהובים (predatory social wasps).

Human Body: yellow spot/ желтое пятно/ כתם צהוב (macula, a particularly light-sensitive area of the retina at the exit of the optic nerve).

Skin color: yellow race/ желтая раса/ גזע צהוב (a yellow-brown skin color, a person from Far East Asians, especially of Chinese origin); yellowish face/ желтоватое лицо/ פנים צהבהבות (caused by jaundice, a high level of bilirubin in the blood).

Etalon Color: yellow as a lemon, gold, an old tooth, butter, yolk of eggs, amber / желтый, как яичный желток, янтарь, желтей желта золота / צהוב כמו לימון, זהב, שן ישנה, חלמון,ענבר.

B. Human Activity

Etalon Color: yellow as hey/  חציר, פשתן צהוב כמו;  yellowed, yellowy, yellowish /пожелевший; желтоватый / צהבהב; turn yellow/ пожелтеть/ להצהיב (become yellow due to age or deterioration).

Food: yellow cheese / жёлтый сыр/ גבינה צהובה (Emmental and baby Swiss varieties with holes and color; Russian- голландский сыр, твердый сыр).

Medicine: желтуха /צהבת(jaundice); неонатальная желтуха/ צהבת הילוד (neonatal jaundice); yellow fever/жёлтая лихорадка/ קדחת צהובה (tropical countries, acute contagious disease caused by a virus that is spread through mosquito bites); Yellow Card Scheme (YCS)/ תוכנית כרטיס צהוב(a system for collecting information on suspected adverse drug reactions); yellow & black flag, jack / דגל צהוב ושחור (quarantined ships due to disease).

Drugs yellow pill/ жёлтая лирика/ גלולה צהובה (a synonym for Valium ).

Sports: yellow card/жёлтая карточка/כרטיס צהוב (card of warning, but not expulsion from the referee); yellow jersey / жёлтая майка/ חולצה צהובה (competition, racer after the final stage is considered the winner of the Tour de France).

Information: yellow pages/жёлтые страницы/ (telephone alphabetical directories of telephone with the classification of companies by products and services numbers by the type of business or service; Hebrew -,דפי זהב golden pages).

Traffic signal yellow light/  жёлтый светофор/רמזור צהוב/   (traffic light, slow down, but not stop, between the green light and the red light, hesitance to proceed; limited approval or permission to proceed; high danger level).

Alerts safety yellow /безопасный желтый /בטיחותי צהוב ( one of the standard high visibility safety colors); yellow warning, yellow alert/ желтый уровень опасности/ התראה צהובה (the early stage of alert); yellow dashboard lights /желтые огни приборной панели/אורות לוח מחוונים צהובים (car warning lights are indicators on the dashboard that warn of a certain malfunction in the vehicle, but you can continue driving as usual).

Terrorism: Yellow/Желтый התראה צהובה/(high level of danger, data on the possibility of a terrorist act are confirmed, but the time and place of the impending attack are unknown).

Employment: yellow-collar worker /желтый воротничок/ צווארון צהוב (the creative field, photographers, filmmakers, directors, editors).

Voting: yellow vests, jackets / жёлтые жилеты/ אפודים צהובים (France, weekly protests for economic justice, institutional political reforms on 2018).

C. Intellectual, Mental, and Moral Issues

Sensation: yellow press, journalism, journalist, publishhing / жёлтая пресса,  журналистика,  журналист, издательское дело צהובה  / עיתונות ( lurid content, scandalous).

Bribe: yellow trade union/ жёлтый профсоюз/ איחוד מקצועי צהוב (conciliatory, reformist; venal, non-independent able workers' organization, controlled by or influenced by an employer).

2. The Unique Trilingual YIS

2.1 English

Etalon Color: yellow as a guinea (21 shillings), like ginger; mustard.

Coward: is yellow, yellow streak/ have a yellow streak, yellow-belly/yellow-bellied/yellow-bellied chicken;  down one's back yellow streak/have a yellow streak; yellow livered  (fearful, timorous vs milk-livered, lily-livered).

Rascal: yellow dog (worthless person); yellow dog contract (employer & employee agreement, employee not to be a member of a labor union); yellow back (scoundrel).

Executing Strategy: Yellow Brick Road  (in the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the road to success or happiness; an action step, the smaller tactics to success).

Miscellaneous: yellow сake ( a yellow spongy cake that is in color due to the egg yolks); yellow about the gills (dejected or in ill health; synonym-green /blue/white vs to be rosy about the gills, to look in good health); high yellow (light-skinned African-Americans); code yellow (a urinary accident); yellow line (U. K., parking at this location is only possible for a short time); mellow yellow (laid and relaxation;  psychedelic drug LSD; dried banana peel fibers for smoking);); a yellow map(built-up or urban areas);

yellow ware (clay dishes; pottery); yellow metal (brass); yellows (liberalism, libertarianism, anarcho-capitalism);

yellow state (high risk of Covid-19 in some Us states); Yellow Dog (committed members of the Democratic Party).

2.2 Russian

Money-grubbing: - жёлтый металл (yellow as gold, yellow metal, any metal, or alloy that looks like gold); жёлтый

дьявол (writer M.Gorky, yellow devil, gold that enslaves people; the spirit of profit).

Inexperience: - желторотый, желторотик (yellow-mouthed, inexperience, English, Hebrew – green); желт как цыпленок (yellow like a chicken ).

Miscellaneous: желтая карточка  (medicine, yellow card serious psychiatric diseases, dangerous both for the health of the person himself and for the people around him, the complete inability of a person to lead a full life); желтая карта (yellow card, certificate required for a child to enter kindergarten and school).

2.3 Hebrew

Miscellaneous: צהוב (yellow, army slang, a soldier exceeds according to the rules and procedures or more than expected of him); אבטיח צהוב (a melon).



Discussion. In this pioneering study of trilingual phraseology, about 140 trilingual yellow idioms were presented and analyzed, including about 70 English, 40 Russian, and 30 Hebrew YIS, Trilingual YIS is synonymous with green phraseological units, which can be explained by the yellow-green symbiosis of the early stages of language development [14, p.80]. In addition, Russian unique YIS with the meaning of inexperience have something in common with English and Hebrew green idioms, and the ratio of YIS in the three languages ​​is similar to the ratio of green idioms (162 in total; 85-45-38).

We have found a significant number of trilingual equivalents of YIS (yellow as egg yolk), although the three languages ​​belong to different language systems, since English and Russian are Western European languages, and Hebrew is a Semitic language. Stahl and Dembowiak [8,67] wrote that Europe is quite homogeneous in terms of secondary colors, and in their perception, there is more unity than disagreement, and this statement corresponds to the YIS trilingualism. On the contrary, the sinologist notes significant differences in the semantics of yellow in Russian and Chinese linguistic cultures (European and Sino-Tibetan languages) [12, p.742].

Various trilingual IISs were combined into two microsystems by logical connections: 1. Optical color of an object. 1.1 Nature. Natural phenomena, physical objects - Geography; Fauna; Body - skin color; Reference color. 1.2 Human activity. reference color; Food; Medicine - Medicines; Sports; Information - Traffic lights - Alerts; terrorism; Employment; Vote; 1.3 Moral and ethical issues. sensation; bribe.

As in other studied colors (black, white, red, blue, and green), the "Human Activity" microsystem is much larger than the "Optical color of the object" group and the "Moral and ethical issues" group, but unlike them "Moral and ethical issues » is very extensive, small and associative semantic chains are very short, for example, Information - Traffic Lights - Notifications.

YIS is distinguished by a pronounced or relatively transparent connection with the natural or artificial color of the object, for example, a yellow jacket is a common color of wasps; the yellow press is the yellow color of a cheap newspaper, and this corresponds to Niemeyer's conclusion that in all languages ​​the name of natural objects is the starting point for a metaphorical name [16, p. 141]. In terms of parallels, in addition to the parallel with green idioms and, to a lesser extent, with blue idioms (blue/green/yellow envy; blue/green/yellow around the gills), there is a parallel with the golden idiom (yellow pages/gold pages) and plain metaphors with the lexeme white, milk, lily (yellow liver, white-liver, milk-liver, lily-liver).

Unlike other primary base terms, YIS are characterized by undeveloped antonymy (yellow around the gills - pink around the gills), polysemy (yellow vests - Protestant; wasps), and variability (yellow belly / being yellow) except for the metaphor yellow belly / yellow streak.

JIS have a small number of positive connotations associated with gold and amber as semi-precious stones, as well as a strategy to achieve the goal, such as the yellow brick road, and some neutral connotations (yellow body, yellow pages) but most of them are characterized by negative connotations. Moderately negative connotations of YIS are associated with a warning, such as a yellow card in sports, while sharply negative connotations are associated with tabloids and labor unions. Unique trilingual YISs demonstrate differences due to extralinguistic factors - traditions, culture, customs, historical conditions, and if the number of equivalents in quantitative terms, unique English-language YISs outnumber Russian ones, and even more so Hebrew ones. English YIS not only expand the themes of equivalent idioms about skin color, and reform union, but also add new meanings such as cowardice, and earthenware, and are rich in strong negative connotations (yellow dog). Separate literary expressions, such as the English metaphor of the yellow brick road and the Russian metaphor of the yellow metal, have firmly entered the culture as unique phraseological units.

In the 21st century, various color idioms are actively used in various areas of human activity (medicine, computers, household appliances, finance, employment, etc.) in some basic sense. So the meaning of the antinomy is black-white - prohibition-permission, red-green-undesirable-recommended, green is associated with environmental protection [14-16], and gray indicates a combination of features or a new area for which the rules have not yet been established (Kiegel, Gray's Idioms - in press). The most important contemporary meaning of YIS is warning in the traffic sign triad (red-yellow-green), misdemeanor warning in sports, and hazard warning in medicine, weather, warfare, defense, etc. Conclusions In this innovative trilingual study in the field of phraseology, a significant number of English, Russian, and Hebrew idioms with the lexeme yellow were identified and analyzed, which is important both for translation theory, intercultural communication, understanding of national worldviews, and for studying foreign languages, studying foreign language textbooks, phrasebooks, and dictionaries. Quantitatively, English YIS outnumber Russian and even more so Hebrew idioms.

YIS is distinguished by a transparent connection with the color of the object, but unlike other color idioms, they have short associative semantic chains, a very small group of moral and ethical problems, rare cases of polysemy, antinomy, and variability. YIS is smaller than green phraseological units, but they are semantically parallel to them and their quantitative ratio in three languages ​​is similar. The paper notes single parallels of IS with other color idioms.

It is emphasized that the trilingual JIS is characterized by partially negative and sharply negative (unique idioms) connotations, as well as neutral but practically no positive connotations. English and Russian YIS not only expands the subject of equivalent idioms but also add new meanings.

In 21 studies, YIS actively participates in the triad of road signs and various types of danger warnings in medicine, meteorology, military, defence, and other arias.

To get more data on yellow idioms, it is necessary to collect and evaluate trilingual proverbs and sayings, as well as professional YIS. Future research will focus on the antinomy of black and white idioms, peripheral trilingual colors (purple, pink, etc.) and generalization of both primary and peripheral trilingual idioms within the innovative project "Comparative analysis of English, Russian and Hebrew color idioms".


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Information About the Authors

Tali Kigel, Independent Researcher of Multilingualism, Behazlaha-center, Petah-Tikva, Israel, ORCID:, e-mail:



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