Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A new book on temperature in the languages of the world is firing up cross-linguistic research into semantics

There has just come out a new edited volume on words of temperature in the languages of the world. It is edited by Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm of Stockholm University and features many prominent scholars of current research into linguistic diversity. The volume deals with at least 35 languages (most likely more but I cannot count carefully right now).

Did you know that Ojibwe [ojg] (Algonquian language of Canada) differentiates between temperature as perceived by tactile touch, ambient and inner personal experience? Or that in Bardi [bcj] (Nyulnyulan language of Northern Australia) temperature terms are not used metaphorically, as opposed to European languages where for example a warm person is a friendly and generous person etc.

Abstract of the entire edited volume
The volume is the first comprehensive typological study of the conceptualisation of temperature in languages as reflected in their systems of central temperature terms (hot, cold, to freeze, etc.). The key issues addressed here include questions such as how languages categorize the temperature domain and what other uses the temperature expressions may have, e.g., when metaphorically referring to emotions (‘warm words’). The volume contains studies of more than 50 genetically, areally and typologically diverse languages and is unique in considering cross-linguistic patterns defined both by lexical and grammatical information. The detailed descriptions of the linguistic and extra-linguistic facts will serve as an important step in teasing apart the role of the different factors in how we speak about temperature – neurophysiology, cognition, environment, social-cultural practices, genetic relations among languages, and linguistic contact. The book is a significant contribution to semantic typology, and will be of interest for linguists, psychologists, anthropologists and philosophers.

As if that doesn't sound exciting enough it's received some rather fantastic reviews by some very prominent scholars of linguistic typology:

A groundbreaking collaborative work in lexical typology, which will quite possibly be seen as the beginning of a new era in the study of world-wide word meanings.
— Martin Haspelmath, University of Leipzig

A cool collection guaranteed to heat up the discussion on sensory language. Koptjevskaja-Tamm provides an inspiring volume on the linguistics of temperature.
— Asifa Majid, Radboud University Nijmegen

By the way, did you think prof Majid's comment was hilarious? Well, this book has (to my knowledge) not yet hit the popular science pages of the internet - but when it does remember who made these puns in public first ;)!

For full disclosure: prof Koptjevskaja-Tamm is my old professor and many of the authors are also people I know.

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