The linguistics of temperature

Posted to the Linguistic Typology (LingTyp) mailing list yesterday by Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm ‪<tamm@ling.su.se>, a query to the experts, incorporating some information about conceptual metaphors of temperature in (some of) the world’s languages. Her query

concerns extended uses of temperature terms (such as ‘warm’, ‘hot’, ‘cold’, ‘cool’, etc.), primarily in reference to emotions, human dispositions and interpersonal relations, which are the focus of my current cross-disciplinary research together with the social psychologist Hans IJzerman.

As you certainly know,  “affection is warmth”and “anger is heat” are two of the most widely quoted “universal” conceptual metaphors suggested by cognitive linguists on the basis of such expressions as “warm words, feelings” or “hot tempered”, well-attested in familiar languages.

However, the chapters in the volume The linguistics of temperature (John Benjamins, 2015), edited by [Tamm], clearly reveal a significant variance in using temperature metaphors.

Australian languages, Hup (Nadahup), Mapudungun (Araucanian), and Ojibwe (Algonquian) basically lack any extended use of temperature terms, while the Oceanic languages in Vanuatu and Nganasan (Uralic) have very few. This is in contrast both to some European and other Asian languages, but also to the African languages Ewe, Gbaya, Gurenɛ, Likpe, Sɛlɛɛ, Abui and Kamang (Timor-Alor-Pantar), and Yucatec Maya. These latter reveal a rich inventory of extended uses pertaining to their temperature terms, ranging from the more common ones, to the idiosyncratic ones. Interestingly, languages also vary as to which temperature term has predominantly positive associations in its extended uses (e.g. ‘cold’ rather than ‘warm’).

We would very much like to extend our linguistic database and get information on the existence of extended uses of temperature terms in other languages.

I’m not posting this to solicit responses to Tamm from the readers of this blog; I assume that language specialists will already subscribe to LingTyp or at least know about it.

But there is a larger point here, that some patterns of conceptual organization (like some associations of syntactic form and semantic content) are especially natural — but that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily universal and and cannot vary from one culture or language to another.

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