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Dear Linguist List members,
On April 24 I posted the a query about the treatment of
the semantic distinction in (1):
(1) a. This tea is hot
b. I am hot
I was particularly interested in:
(a) accounts of this semantic distinction in languages
where it is not associated with any formal marking.
(b) whether there are any languages that use distinct
predicates to express (1a) and (1b).
The following people have replied to my query. I wish to
thank them once again.
Werner Abraham, Ron Artstein, Isabelle Barriere, Elena
Bashir, Bingfu, Lisa DeWaard Dykstra, Soren Harder,
Hans-Werner Hatting, Wim Honselaar, Peter Jacob, Ernest
McCarus, Asya Pereltsvaig, Hayim Y. Sheynin, Javier Sim
$B...O(J,J L Speranza,
The replies include data from:
Lebanese Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German,
Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Kurdish (Sorani dialect, Iraq and
Iran) ,Russian, Spanish, Squamish
It appears that most languages are unlike English. The
opposition between 'This is hot' and 'I am hot' is usually
marked. Only Chinese, among the listed languages, behaves
There is quite a variety of mechanisms used to this effect.
a. Case Marking (nominative vs. dative)
b. Choice of auxiliary (BE vs HAVE, BE vs. DO, BE vs.
c. Syntactic category of the predicate (adjective vs.
adverb, adjective vs noun)
d. Distinct lexical items
Languages may use one of the mechanisms or more. Thus,
German, Hebrew, Romanian mark the opposition only through
the case distinction. French marks it only thorugh choice
of auxiliary. But most languages use combined means. Hindi
and Spanish combine case marking with choice of auxiliary,
Kurdish choice of auxiliary and distinct syntactic
Russian seems to be the language marking the opposition
most thouroughly, as it uses different case marking on the
argument, combined with choice of different forms of the
predicate and sometimes different lexical items.
When a language marks the semantic distinction property
vs. sensation formally, the use of the property form with
human arguments leads to metaphorical reading.
It is interesting that none of the languages on the list
makes use of a form expressing directly the semantic
element 'feel' implied in 'I am hot'. The semantic
distinction beteen the property reading and the senation
reading is expressed indirectly, by marking differences in
the features of the participant (sentience, control,
I attach the relevant data:
RUSSIAN(dat vs. nom; adj vs. adv; lexical items)
Chaj gorjachij / gorjach (in the past/future tense, also
gorjachim 'hot.INSTR') tea.NOM hot.LONG.NOM / hot.SHORT
Chaj xolodnyj / xolodnovat.
tea.NOM cold.LONG.NOM / somewhat-cold.SHORT
HINDI(case and aux)
mujhe garmii lagii hai
I(DATIVE) heat attach-PERFECTIVE AUX(present)
'I feel hot.'
aaj baRii garmii hai
today much heat is
'Today it is very hot.'
1. Mir.DAT ist kalt = ''I am cold qua temperature''
2. Ich,NOM bin kalt = ''''I am frigid''
There are dialects which say instead of 1 above:
3. Ich habe es kalt ''I have it cold''
Dutch: deze thee is heet
lit. this tea is hot
Dutch: ik heb het heet
lit. I have it hot
The latter construction - with HEB, present tense form of
the verb HEBBEN,plus the dummy pronoun HET - is the normal
idiomatic way of expressing sensations:
`The tea is hot'
`I am hot'
Zhe-bei cha re.
this-cup tea hot.
wo juede re
I feel hot.
SPANISH (case and auxiliary)
This tea is hot.
Este te esta caliente. This tea is (temporary
characteristic) hot (adjective).
I am hot.
Me hace calor. It is hot to me (the weather is acting on
me and causing me to be hot).
1. a ce the est chaud/this tea BE-3rd person singular hot
2. b j'ai chaud/ I HAVE -1st person singular hot
(Literally; I have hot)
SQUAMISH (lexical items)
ts'lhulh ''something that is cold to the touch''
ts'ulhum' ''feeling cold, feeling chilly'' (sensation)
tesi7 ''feeling cold'' (sensation)
t'iqw ''cold weather''
DANISH(syntactic category, aux)
'har det varmt/koldt' (''has it warmly/coldly'')
The adjectives 'varm' and 'kold' would not be
used about people, except in metaphorical
senses:kind/unkind, numb or disinterested
KURDISH(synt category and aux)
''It is cold'' saard-a cold-is and
''I am cold'': saardaa m-a coldness-I-have
saard cold (adj)
saardaa cold (noun).
It is cold'':- fa freddo
''I am cold'': - ho freddo
LEBANESE ARABIC (syntactic category)
T-Taqs kaan bard 'the weather was cold';
bard is the noun ''cold''.
l-xubz kaan baarid 'the bread was cold';
baarid is an adjective meaning 'cooled off, cold'
yuusif kaan bardaan 'Joseph was cold';
bardaan is a [+animate] adjective of resultant state:
'(having become) cold'
yuusif kaan baarid ma`ii 'Joseph was cold with me'
baarid with human referents refers to attitude:
cool toward, a bit aloof with, not too happy with.
To these examples I might add the Japanese data which
prompted my query:
a. atsui (It is hot/ I am hot)
b. watashi-ga hitai-ga atsui
I-NOM forehead-NOM hot
My brow feels hot
c. watashi-ni kono ocha-ga atsui
I-DAT this tea-NOM hot
This tea is (feels) too hot to me
Notice that in both (b) and(c) there are two arguments.
This fact had made me curious about the treatment of the
semantic distinction in languages with no overt marking. I
was wondering whether it is customary to attribute
diferent semantic representations to the property and the
sensation readings or attribute the distinction to
pragmatic factors and keep the representation of the
I have received the following reading suggestions:
Moore, John and David Perlmutter (2000) What does it take
to be a dative subject? NLLT 18. 373-416H. P.
Grice(1989)'Some remarks about the senses' ,Studies in the
Way of Words, Harvard University PressH. P.
Grice()Aristotle on the multiplicity of being' Pacific
Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 69, sp. section 'Focal
Unification', on Aristotle on paronymy (Metaph. IV ii)
The gricean notion of _meanings-in-context_ and
Pustejovsky's Generative Lexicon were suggested as
possibly useful tools in dealing with this semantic
I thank all the people who took the time to reply to my
query. I have quoted only the most relevant data in order
to keep this message moderately short. I have received
many interesting comments and data. If you are interested,
please mail to me and I will send you the unabridged
version of all the messages.
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