Asymmetries in Italian temperature terminology

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The Italian system of temperature terminology features the basic terms <i>caldo</i> &#8216;hot&#8217; and <i>freddo</i> &#8216;cold&#8217;, two intermediate terms, <i>tiepido</i> &#8216;warm&#8217; and <i>fresco</i> &#8216;cool&#8217;, and two terms for extreme temperature, <i>bollente</i> &#8216;very hot&#8217; and <i>gelato</i> &#8216;ice-cold&#8217;, and might look remarkably symmetrical. However, a closer inspection uncovers a number of asymmetries, regarding both the intermediate and the extreme terms. It is argued that such asymmetries depend on perceptual and experiential factors that constitute the basis for conceptualisation of different degrees of temperature. In addition, data on usage and frequency point toward a special status of <i>fresco</i> with respect to other temperature terms. A diachronic survey of changes in the history of temperature terminology from Latin to Italian indicates that this is a result of the late introduction of this term, which was accompanied by a thorough restructuring of the system of temperature terms.


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