“Hard sun, hot weather, skin pain”

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Temperature is talked about in different ways across languages. In this paper, I explore the linguistic expressions used to talk about temperature focussing on three domains of experience in two languages in an asymmetric contact relation, Ewe and Likpe, both Kwa (Niger-Congo) languages of West Africa. Likpe speakers are bilingual in Ewe but not vice versa. The empirical question addressed is: how do speakers of Ewe and Likpe talk about the hotness and coldness of (i) things such as food and water; (ii) places and the ambience; and (iii) the personal experience of hotness and coldness in one’s body. I will argue that both languages do not have equivalents for ‘temperature’. Secondly I will show that “temperature property”, being a physical quality, is basically expressed using verbs and verb phrases (less so by nouns and ideophones) consistent with their typological profile. Moreover I argue that the range of expressions available in the two languages for talking about ‘water’ is more elaborate than the other domains of experience, some of which are linked to cultural practices such as bathing. I also investigate the construal of ‘hotness’ in Ewe and propose semantic descriptions of the predicates involved representing them in Natural Semantic Metalanguage-style explications. While some of the expressions for ‘hotness’ can be accounted for through a link to ‘fire’ as suggested by Goddard and Wierzbicka (2007), I argue that we need another prototype anchor for other expressions of ‘hotness’, namely, ‘pain’. In the ambient domain, the experience of the temperature generated by the sun itself is talked about using predicates from the domain of the physical property of texture. The conceptual motivations for such usage are also explored.


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