Tid: torsdag 31 mars 2016, 15:00–17:00
Plats: C307, Södra huset, Frescati


“AFFECTION IS WARMTH” is one of the most widely quoted “universal” conceptual metaphors. Cognitive linguists suggest these to be conceptual, based on frequently used English expressions as “warm words, feelings”. In this talk, we will reflect on their cross-disciplinary collaboration, using both the findings of a large-scale cross-linguistic study of the meanings and uses of the temperature terms in the world’s languages and the insights from (social) psychology. Our first question – inspired by Geeraerts and Grondelaers (1995) – was to explore whether these reflect universal patterns or whether they are based on specific cultural traditions. Their presence across languages indeed varies considerably: while some languages demonstrate elaborated systems of such uses, quite a few lack them altogether, and yet others vary as to which temperature term has predominantly positive associations in its extended uses (e.g. ‘cold’ rather than ‘warm’). This disconfirms the idea that this conceptual metaphor is universal, and further confirms suspicions from social psychology, which has falsified another basic assumption from conceptual metaphor theory – unidirectionality (IJzerman & Semin 2010). In the remainder, we first explore these patterns, and then provide first explorations for why they are likely to differ across languages.

Perhaps surprisingly, the edited volume by Koptjevskaja-Tamm (2015) clearly reveals 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. The actual cross-linguistic variation is both striking, thought-provoking, and calling for more research (cf. also Vejdemo & Vandewinkel in press)

Insights from (social) psychology may provide us with further answers for why such cross-cultural variation exists among languages. The most important reason is likely that temperature metaphors reflect how people deal with the metabolic demands of the environment. Thermoregulation is one of the most metabolically expensive activities across the animal kingdom. Other animals (and thus also humans) help regulate the temperature environment when this gets too cold, making a comfortable warm touch seem to answer basic biological necessities in mammalian sociality (Harlow & Suomi 1970; IJzerman et al. 2015). The second part of this talk will discuss the biological mechanisms behind social thermoregulation, and point to how others keeping us warm can help us answer to basic metabolic needs (cf. Beckes & Coan 2011; Beckes et al. 2014). From that, humans have developed so-called “cultural complements” to deal with the demands of the environment, and we will speculate that different linguistic metaphors are reflective of different metabolic needs across cultures, which are implemented according to different cultural practices (e.g., differences in touch) and rely on different needs depending on the environment (e.g., different climates). Together, we discuss how language can facilitate culturally coordinated metabolism regulation, and thus point to the role of different attention-driving functions of linguistic – not conceptual – metaphors in cultural coordination.

Beckes, L., & Coan, J. A. (2011). Social baseline theory: The role of social proximity in emotion and economy of action. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5(12), 976-988.

Beckes, L., IJzerman, H., & Tops, M. (2015). Toward a radically embodied neuroscience of attachment and relationships. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9, 266.

Geeraerts and Grondelaers (1995). Looking back at anger: Cultural traditions and metaphorical  patterns. In J. R. Taylor & R. E. MacLaury (eds.), Language and the Cognitive Construal of the World. 153-179. Berlin, de Gruyter

Harlow, H. F., & Suomi, S. J. (1970). Nature of love: Simplified. American Psychologist, 25(2), 161.

IJzerman, H., & Semin, G. R. (2010). Temperature perceptions as a ground for social proximity. Journal of experimental social psychology, 46(6), 867-873.

IJzerman, H., Coan, J. A., Wagemans, F. M., Missler, M. A., Van Beest, I., Lindenberg, S., & Tops, M. (2015). A theory of social thermoregulation in human primates. Frontiers in psychology, 6.

Koptjevskaja-Tamm, M. ed. (2015). The linguistics of temperature. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins

Vejdemo, S. & S. Vandewinkel (in press). Extended uses of body-related temperature expressions. In Juvonen, P. & M. Koptjevskaja-Tamm (eds.), The lexical typology of semantic shifts. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton

Ljuba Veselinova