Temperature: lexical typology and cognition

MARIA KOPTJEVSKAJA-TAMM (STOCKHOLM UNIVERSITY)



8. The issue of basic temperature terms

Plank 2003:
“For distinguishing perceptions/experiences of temperature, all human languages have basic terms. Basic terms are :

(i) salient;

(ii) generally known in the whole speech community, with their meanings generally agreed on;

(iii) native or at any rate nativized;

(iv) morphologically simple or at any rate non-compositional;

(v) specialized for this particular domain or at any rate, if shared with other domains, primarily used for this domain; and

(vi) within this domain not-too-restricted in their application”

”The number of basic temperature terms a language can maximally have is probably quite limited. Probably there are only 2-term, 3-term, or 4-term systems of basic terms.

The 2-term system only distinguishes warm and cold, as an equipollent opposition.

The 3-term system distinguishes warm (pleasant for the human perceiver/experiencer, unmarked), cold (unpleasantly non-warm, marked relative to warm), and hot (unpleasantly, even dangerously very-warm, also marked, forming the opposite of cold in terms of extremes).

The 4-term system adds a neutral term for the absence of either a pleasant or an unpleasant perception/experience of temperature, luke. Luke can probably not be added to equipollent 2-term systems.”

The criterion of applicability creates problems given the usual heterogeneity of the linguistic temperature systems: different frames of temperature evaluation and even different entities can have their own systems of temperature terms.

Tactile vs. non-tactile

Restricted applicability for each of the two terms:

• Not basic (Sutrop) ⇒ Hiw has only ONE basic term (is this possible, interesting?)
• Basic: “The 3-term system distinguishes warm (pleasant for the human perceiver/experiencer, unmarked), cold (unpleasantly non-warm, marked relative to warm), and hot (unpleasantly, even dangerously very-warm, also marked, forming the opposite of cold in terms of extremes).” (Plank)

Lukewarm

”The 4-term system adds a neutral term for the absence of either a pleasant or an unpleasant perception/experience of temperature, luke.”

Personal feeling

Often restricted

It is doubtful whether the notion of basic term makes much sense for the temperature domain ⇒
• central/core vs. peripheral
• frame-specific vs. frame-neutral (ising)


Table 3: Central temperature adjectives across Slavic (selected languages)

Peripheral adjectives for the extremely cold / hot temperatures, restricted to particular subsets of entities: e.g., Ru žgučij, paljaščij’burning, scorching, parching about the sun’, kipjaščij’ boiling hot, mainly about liquids’, raskalennyj ’red-glowing, about surfaces’, ledjanoj ’ice-cold, mainly about water, air, wind, fingers’, etc.

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