Teach Yourself Japanese
Subject: Re: Temperature questions
From: TAKASUGI Shinji (tssf.airnet.ne.jp)
Date: Wed, 19 May 2004 04:31:48 GMT
The scale hot > warm > cool > cold doesn't reflect our sense of temperature, because we treat hotness and coldness differently.
I've read a summary of Alan Cruse's Meaning in Language, and he says hot and cold are equipollent antonyms, neither of which is neutral. Compare them with long and short, which are polar antonyms and the former is neutral. You can say "which is longer" for two short things but you usually can't say "which is hotter" for two cold places. My understanding is that equipollent antonyms are positive/negative pairs, and polar antonyms are large/small positive pairs.
KUSHIMA Shigeru also insists that 熱い (hot) and 冷たい (cold) mean different sensations, and the former should be paired with ぬるい (not hot) to form polar antonyms. The word for not being cold is なまぬるい, which is not very common these days.
We should also remember that room temperature is lower than our body temperature, which is why coffee at room temperature is "冷たい コーヒー" but lemonade at room temperature is never "温かい レモネード." You can say "warm lemonade" in English for the latter, and this difference indicates warm and 温かい are not equal.
To know the meaning of 温かい more precisely, we need to think about the other sense of temperature. Your skin gives the abovementioned sensations of hotness and coldness, but it doesn't sense your own body temperature; it is your hypothalamus that senses it. When your body temperature is too high, you perspire, and when it is too low, you shiver. This sense is nothing to do with the temperature of an object you touch. As you know, Japanese makes a clear distinction between them. The terms used for body temperature are 暑い (hot), 暖かい (warm), 涼しい (cool), and 寒い (cold). If your body is hot, it must be cooled down, and the sensation is either 暑い, which is uncomfortably hot, or 涼しい, which is comfortably cool. If your body is cold, it must be warmed up, and the sensation is either 寒い, which is uncomfortably cold, or 暖かい, which is comfortably warm. You can use these terms of the sense of body temperature for the temperature of air or a place, because environments affect your body temperature.
That explains 温かい well; if an object, typically a food or water in a bath, warms up your body comfortably, you can use 温かい. I don't know why 涼しい cannot be used for a food that can cool down your body comfortably.
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