How the Turkish language affected the modern naming of the seas surrounding it

A map I created on the hypothesis © 2021

The allure of learning languages is in knowing how the same world we live in is perceived differently in other language speakers. Such as the way language shapes how the brain perceives time or the way we count differently.

While learning about the Golden Horde and the Mongolian culture during a project, I noticed a pattern in using colours for different geographical areas. While searching about the reasons I came across a page that enlightened my thought; some languages, typically East Asian, associated the cardinal directions with colours.

Those East Asian languages, specifically Turkic, Chinese and the Mongolian language associate the 4 cardinal directions (North, East, West, South) with different colours. In China, they use animals and seasons too:

Diagram from the Polyglottando where I got the inspiration from

The centre is yellow and is associated with the human realm. The North is associated with the colour black, as well as winter and a turtle 龜 Guī or snake. The South is thought of as red, and its associated animal is the phoenix 凤凰 Fènghuáng and the summer season. The East is associated with the Chinese colour qing 青, which denotes green as well as blue. (See a previous blog post on colour perception in different languages). Its animal is the dragon 龍 lóng and its season is spring. The West is white, and its animal is the tiger 虎 and the season of autumn.

While in the Turkic languages (Turkish and Turkic people originated from the far East before settling in Anatolia) the North is associated with black (kara), the East with sky blue/turquoise (gök), the South as rusty red (kızıl) and the west with white (ak). Note, that even the colour shades are perceived differently than our usual red, blue and green.

These colours according to the same author could highlight the naming of the seas surrounding Turkey, which made some sense considering in Arabic we call the Mediterranean the White Sea (بحر الأبيض المتوسط).

This led to a Hypothesis where I created the map of highlighting the names of the seas around Turkey.

Again, like everything in history, we never have the full information, instead we try to piece together any information we have. So the naming could be for other reasons, a few of which was that the Black sea was called so for its black sediments while the Red sea was called so for its red sediments too.

(this map later got much exposure on the internet; youtube, reddit and linguistic forms)




Industrial & Exhibition Designer. Ex-Traveler. Interested in Islamic aesthetics, languages, museums, culture, mental clarity and chai

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Ibrahim Al Balushi

Ibrahim Al Balushi

Industrial & Exhibition Designer. Ex-Traveler. Interested in Islamic aesthetics, languages, museums, culture, mental clarity and chai

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