Boiling with rage. A warm embrace. A cool time in a hot town.
How do we think about heat and cold, and how does this work its way into language? And does this have anything to do with what the local climate is like?
Things are hotting up on this episode of Talk the Talk.
Listen to this episode
Promo with Paul van Lieshout
Patreon extras for this episode
Interview with Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm (complete) for patrons
Cutting Room Floor 313 coming soon
We’re very grateful for the support from our burgeoning community of patrons, including
You’re helping us to keep the talk happening!
Become a Patreon supporter yourself and get access to bonus audio and video, extra blog posts, Talk the Talk merch, our infamous Cutting Room Floor posts, and more!
— Janelle Shane (@JanelleCShane) 9 February 2018
Candy Heart messages written by a neural network
Where you are, do people use “hell” as an adverb?
For example, something is “hell good”?
WA = Western Australia
— Talk the Talk (@talkrtr) 8 February 2018
Unknown language discovered in Southeast Asia
Unknown Language Discovered in Malaysia
George North: Meet the 16th-century ambassador who software says inspired Shakespeare
Plagiarism software pins down new source for Shakespeare’s plays
Anti-cheat software reveals Shakespeare ‘borrowed’ phrases from little-known manuscript
Shakespeare stole from George North? How lucky for George North
ANTONYMY IN SEMANTICS
Also check out Lynne Murphy’s work in antonymy
Justin Trudeau interrupts woman during Q&A to tell her to use the word ‘peoplekind’ not ‘mankind’
Justin Trudeau Said ‘Peoplekind’ and Right-wing Media Is Very Upset!
Justin Trudeau apologises for ‘dumb joke’ after ‘peoplekind’ quote goes viral
Find the tracks we play on the RTRFM webpage for this episode.
DANIEL: Hello, and welcome to this episode of Talk the Talk, RTRFM’s weekly show about linguistics, the science of language. For the next hour we’re going to be bringing you language news, language typology, and some great music. Maybe we’ll even hear from you. My name is Daniel Midgley. I’m here with Ben Ainslie.
BEN: Good morning.
DANIEL: On this episode, we are talking about hot stuff and cool words. How do we think about heat and cold, and how does this work its way into language? And does this have anything to do with the local climate? We’re going to find out from an expert because things are hotting up on this episode of Talk the Talk.
BEN: I encounter this problem linguistically every single day of my life during summer.
DANIEL: What do you mean?
BEN: Talking about temperature and the linguistic ambiguity of air conditioning. Do you turn the aircon up, or do you turn it down, Daniel? What do you do?! WHAT DO YOU DO?!
DANIEL: I love this question.
BEN: Like, because I’m a teacher in a room, right? So… I Have The Power, and so it falls to me for kids to be like, “Oh, sir, like, it’s too cold.” Then I can go, “All right, no worries, I’ll turn the air conditioning… down.” Right?
BEN: But in so doing, I am in fact increasing the temperature.
BEN: By turning the numbers upwards! [LOOPY SCREAMING]
DANIEL: It’s one of those things where, you know, prepositions — did I say on the last episode? — prepositions are very slippery. The alarm went on; the alarm went off — they could both refer to the same thing, or not the same thing.
BEN: I’m hoping that we have a solution here, Daniel. I expect by the end of this hour you’d be able to say to me, “Ben, unlike every other linguistic thing we’ve ever done, I can give you a prescriptive absolute. You should say this.”
DANIEL: That may be a bit tricky, Ben, because that is not how I roll. In addition, Kylie’s not with us. We miss her. We hope she’ll be back next week. There’s something new that we’re doing this week.
DANIEL: Every once in a while, I like to ask one of the great questions, and I’ve got one.
BEN: Why is the sky blue instead of purple?
DANIEL: That is a great question, but that is not the linguistic question that I want to tackle.
BEN: Right, linguistics, yep, that’s what our show is about, gotcha.
DANIEL: So I was on Facebook with my friend Lee. Hello, Lee. Lee is a linguist. She asked the question, “What word would you use as an adverb before ‘good’?” Like, you could say that something is ‘quite’ good or it’s ‘really’ good or it’s…?
BEN: Um… very good.
DANIEL: Can we go a little bit more slangy? Farther afield.
BEN: Hella good.
DANIEL: Hella. You could say something is ‘way’ good.
BEN: Super good.
DANIEL: I said ‘hell.’
BEN: Hell good. Hella good. It’s a very American thing.
DANIEL: It is?!
BEN: Yeah, I think so. If something’s hell good, it sounds very surfer dude. “Braw! That tube was hell good!”
DANIEL: Okay, well, my friend Lee said “I’ve never heard this before.”
BEN: Maybe… maybe it’s my upbringing in the States that made it seem like… I’ve heard it before.
DANIEL: A bunch of WA people jumped in though, and said, “Yeah, I’ve totally said that.”
BEN: Yeah, okay.
DANIEL: So I thought: is it a WA thing? So I made a Twitter poll.
BEN: Ah, yes.
DANIEL: And you can take it, and if you take it during this show, I’ll read the results out at the end.
BEN: Yay science!
DANIEL: Here’s how you find it: tinyurl.com/ttthellgood.
DANIEL: That’s tinyurl.com/ttthellgood, all one word.
BEN: I feel like we’re gonna get some hell good results from this poll.
DANIEL: I think so too.
BEN: Well, now that we’ve got science underway, what’s been going on in the news?
DANIEL: A new language has been discovered by linguists.
DANIEL: And not necessarily a new language. The headline says “undiscovered language,” but of course, it’s not undiscovered by the people who speak it; it’s just by linguists.
BEN: White people have discovered a language!
DANIEL: Well, they’re not all White, but they are linguists. There are about 7,000 languages on Planet Earth, and with so many languages disappearing, it’s nice to know that there are a few that are coming into the count. This language is called Jedek, and it is in the Malay Peninsula. There are researchers from Lund University in Sweden who sort of noticed this. They were in a village. There were people speaking a language called Jahai, and then they noticed that not everyone was speaking Jahai. People were speaking a language and they weren’t able to find anyone who had researched it. There are about 280 people that speak Jedek, which is pretty small as languages go, but actually if it’s a home language, then it can be quite healthy.
BEN: How does Jedek relate linguistically to Jahai and to the other languages that it kind of geographically butts up against?
DANIEL: If we’re looking at its ancestry, it is on the Austroasiatic part of the human language tree, spoken in Southeast Asia. It turns out that it is related to Jahai.
DANIEL: So they’re kind of like sibling languages, or at least grandchildren languages. I’m just really encouraged to find that there are languages that keep popping up.
DANIEL: Let’s move on to the next thing.
DANIEL: There’s been some movement in the Shakespeare world. Sounds like you’ve noticed this story.
BEN: No no no, I just said yes because Shakespeare is like one of those yay-boo topics for me.
DANIEL: Okay, well, let’s get into it.
DANIEL: We’ve talked before about Shakespearean authorship, but now there’s a couple of researchers that have found maybe someone who’s had some influence on Shakespeare.
BEN: As in, like, artistically influenced?
DANIEL: Yeah, right down to the actual words.
BEN: Oh, okay.
DANIEL: There were a couple of researchers named Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter who used plagiarism software and ran Shakespeare through it, along with a bunch of other stuff. And they think they’ve found somebody who had a bit of an influence: somebody named George North. He was an ambassador. Not a heavy hitter in Queen Elizabeth’s court.
DANIEL: But still around. He wrote a book in 1576. It was unpublished. It was called “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion”. And what they noticed was that certain words in North’s text popped up in Shakespeare’s. In a passage on one single page of North’s manuscript, we see words like glass, proportion, fair, feature, deformed, world, shadow, and nature. They occur on one page of North’s manuscript, and they also occur in Richard III’s “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech.
BEN: Ah, okay, so like a fairly famous one.
DANIEL: And it would be weird for eight words that are so different to come up in such close proximity.
BEN: Do you know what my gut says?
DANIEL: What’s that?
BEN: This genuinely was the first thing that came to my mind.
BEN: And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to my head. So this guy has one fairly minorly sort of inobtrusive manuscripty thing that could be run through a corpus, right?
DANIEL: Never got published.
BEN: So it’s pretty unlikely that Shakespeare read this thing, and was influenced that way.
DANIEL: That is the one thing that I can’t get over, is like, how did Shakespeare read this?
BEN: Well, this is the thing. He knew him! Spoken interactions had to be the way that he was influenced by this guy. So these two sort of educated, probably fairly intelligent, but not particularly powerful dudes probably ran together.
DANIEL: Yeah, probably.
BEN: I do. I reckon they knew each other, and he was like, “Look, William, you write a lot of things. I’m just… I’m trying to do a thing here. Could you, would you do a…” What if it was the other way around?
DANIEL: Oh, very good, well, “Hey, can I see that thing you’re working on, Will?” It could have been either way.
BEN: When did the manuscript supposedly get written?
BEN: And when did Richard III?
DANIEL: It was written in 1592. Maybe Will was like, “Hey, George, this is quite good.”
BEN: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and if he was an ambassador, it would have been a political text, so very relevant to a historical play like Richard III.
DANIEL: Good point, and that was another thing that the authors said: the similarity of words in North and Shakespeare matched up the best when they were both talking about the same things. They probably had drinks, and were talking about stuff.
BEN: I reckon Shakespeare probably was kind of like, “Oh man, I’m really struggling with this bit when like Richard III is like doing his big piece,” and North might have gone, “Oh, you know, actually — this is a bit embarrassing — but like I wrote like a dumb unpublished manuscript that kind of dealt with this stuff. You can read it if you want.”
DANIEL: “Want to see it?”
And then, yeah, he probably went through I was like “A lot of this is garb— oh, that’s not bad, though, and…” This is cool! I like this. This humanises Shakespeare quite a lot in my head.
DANIEL: Doesn’t it just? They have things that were learning about, who he was running with, and what they were reading
BEN: That’s great. That’s really cool. I like that a lot.
DANIEL: Well we’d probably better cut to a track here.
DANIEL: Because we’ve got a lot of stuff to talk about about hot and cold.
BEN: Mm-hmm. Where do the air conditioners go — up or down? I need answers.
DANIEL: Ben, I don’t know if I’m gonna get to that one today.
BEN: [ANNOYED GRUNT]
DANIEL: Okay okay okay! But now let’s take a track, and this one is Last Quokka with ‘Northern Suburbs’ on RTRFM 92.1. Remember, if you have any questions or comments about anything that you hear, why don’t you get them to us. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
BEN: You can hit us up on twitter @talkrtr.
DANIEL: You can give us a phone call 9260 9210, or hit us up on our Facebook page.
BEN: There is such lovely people there. Such lovely people.
DANIEL: Yeah, usually Facebook people are just total dinkwads.
BEN: But no! Mm-mmm! Not our people. Our people are good people.
BEN: We are talking about the linguistics of temperature this week on Talk the Talk. Hot. Cold. Simple, right? Wrong! Wrong! It’s wrong. It’s not simple.
DANIEL: It’s so very wrong.
BEN: So very wrong. Because an air-conditioner up or down people? Do you turn it up or down if it’s too cold? What do you do to the air-conditioner?! [WHISPERS] Do you turn it up, or do you turn it down?
DANIEL: It just makes sense in context.
BEN: [ANGRY SOUND]
DANIEL: We get emails, and I got one from listener Shannon.
BEN: Hi, Shannon.
DANIEL: She says: “Hi Talk the Talk team, I had this random thought, based on conversations you had, somewhat related to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I know you’ve brought up languages that don’t have numbers beyond three and how that affects perception of quantity, but I was wondering if there was anything like this for, perhaps, opposites. Like, if for one culture/language warm is the opposite of hot (instead of cold). I tried to research this but nothing came up. There’s a possibility I wasn’t searching well, or maybe it is because it isn’t a thing. But I figured, if anyone knew, it’d be Daniel.”
BEN: Oh geez, no, Shannon stop it. Please stop it, okay? He… like, right now, you guys can’t see it. There is an insufferable smugness. There is a smile on his face like when the Grinch, before he becomes the good Grinch is just like: mm-hmm!
DANIEL: It’s the curly smile.
BEN: Oh, it’s so bad! Shannon: like, check yourself, all right? Check yourself.
DANIEL: I don’t know everything, but I know whom to ask.
DANIEL: And that’s why I decided to take it up with someone who’s written a lot about the language of temperature. It’s Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm of Stockholm University. Before we hear from Dr Koptjevskaja Tamm, though, I would like you to think about expressions for anger that involve heat.
DANIEL: I felt steamed.
BEN: Like, boiling over.
DANIEL: Hmm, I was so mad, I was about to boil over.
BEN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Um… [PAUSE] I don’t get angry very often. This is very hard for me. Emotions are so weird.
DANIEL: Emotions are weird, and it takes a bit of doing to understand them.
BEN: My god, Daniel, you could not have undersold that any more significantly… a BIT of doing? Ugh!
DANIEL: Sometimes you can bridge that gap with metaphors because what metaphors allow us to do is take something we understand like being hot.
DANIEL: And helps us to transplant that knowledge to another domain.
BEN: Oh! “He was white-hot with anger.” White-hot with anger.
DANIEL: Yeah, and by extension: “I’m seeing red.”
BEN: “Seeing red” — of course.
DANIEL: Now George Lakoff in his book “Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things” talks about how we conceptualise things and stick them into language, and he argues that, to some extent, language is the way it is because we have experience with human bodies.
DANIEL: And human emotions — many of us.
BEN: Sure. Other non-robotic creatures, yeah.
DANIEL: And then we write that into our language. We talk as if it’s true, and we use metaphors to help us understand. So, today is a little bit about metaphors and the language of heat and cold. So, now to our chat with Dr Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm of Stockholm University. I started by asking her about how different languages handle temperature.
MARIA: So, in some languages you actually don’t have a word for hot.
DANIEL: No word for hot?
MARIA: No, so what you will use there is saying something like “This is on fire.”
DANIEL: Oh, that’s interesting.
MARIA: Yes. So you have it, for instance, in the language Ewe, spoken in Ghana and Togo.
MARIA: So if something is hot, it’s on fire, and it’s really — I mean, it is on fire. So it’s transparent. That’s how this expression looks like.
MARIA: And this is funny. I mean, it’s quite weird.
MARIA: That means that for cold, you have a special word which is different from everything else, but for hot, you use this expression. Isn’t that weird?
DANIEL: It kind of is, and yet if I put on my Whorfian Hat…
DANIEL: Someone might say, “Well, that’s quite sensible that they don’t have a word for hot because it’s hot all the time. You don’t need a word for that.” Am I on the wrong track, though?
MARIA: Well, I don’t know if it’s completely correct.
MARIA: But I’ve only found these examples in Africa, and in the very hot parts of Africa.
MARIA: And I haven’t found anything like that for cold.
MARIA: So there’s a kind of asymmetry. So, I don’t know. I mean, I thought that was quite interesting.
DANIEL: Yes, that is interesting!
MARIA: But then the other thing is that… so getting back to this metaphor.
MARIA: So you started with hot. So hot is spicy, and there’s actually a physiological similarity between hot things and spicy. I mean, it’s a whole bunch of things that are involved in perception.
DANIEL: I mean, chilies would still be…
MARIA: Yeah, there has been work showing that — what do you call this — like, pain receptors that are involved the same, involved in perception of heat and perception of very spicy things. So then you would think that this is universal. So in most languages you will have this…
DANIEL: I would think so.
MARIA: …but it is not. It’s far from so.
MARIA: So Spanish is not the only one, even in Europe. So in Russian, if food is spicy, it’s ‘sharp’.
MARIA: So you don’t use hot; it’s sharp, and what you in Swedish, you say it’s “strong.”
DANIEL: So it’s sort of like we don’t have universals as far as that metaphor. We have to sort of choose what works.
MARIA: Yes, yes. So you don’t have universals here. And the interesting thing is, so I mean it’s not the only connection of metaphor, whatever, that you expect with respect to temperature because there are some other things that have been suggested to be universal. Like, you know in English, you have warm words.
MARIA: A warm person.
DANIEL: Oh, a warm embrace.
MARIA: Yes, you know these kind of things. So, it’s affectionate.
DANIEL: Yeah, okay.
MARIA: So something that makes you feel very nice. Cozy. And it has been suggested that this is something that is universal, that you will find it everywhere in all cultures and all in all languages. And this is far from being universal.
MARIA: So I think that’s… that’s — I think it’s very cool. [LAUGHTER].
DANIEL: So I have to ask: if people in other places don’t refer to a ‘warm embrace’ or ‘warm feelings’ or a ‘warm discussion’, what do they say?
MARIA: That’s an interesting question, and which I can’t answer.
MARIA: Because — you know the problem? I don’t know what a warm person is. How would you describe a warm person?
DANIEL: Well I guess a warm person would be a friendly person.
MARIA: Yeah, friendly, yeah? But it’s not only friendly; it’s something else.
DANIEL: Well, it’s… if there’s a warm per… they don’t mind getting close to you. There’s physical proximity, there’s… there’s… they don’t want to hurt you.
DANIEL: Um. What else?
MARIA: Empathetic, perhaps?
MARIA: So I mean, it’s a whole bunch of different things that you attribute to warm, right?
MARIA: And then you get into this anthropological enterprise. [LAUGHTER] So in English, or in some of the other European languages, you have a whole concept where things belong together. It’s difficult to actually explain what is meant by this. If you go to a different language or different cultures, perhaps they just don’t have this concept.
DANIEL: That’s the beginning of a discussion with Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm of Stockholm University.
BEN: That is cool. I’m a little bit in love with this woman, I think, because she’s clearly so very smart.
DANIEL: You have warm feelings.
BEN: I do. I have very warm feelings.
DANIEL: I thought the discussion of spicy food and hot temperature was interesting.
BEN: Sharp is really interesting to me; that in Russian, hot — chili hot…
BEN: …is sharp. Because it just… I mean, scientifically, as she mentioned, capsaicin — the chemical in chilies that makes us feel like it’s burning — is the response… is the physiological response of being burnt. It fires off the same receptors.
DANIEL: And yet people describe it in different ways.
DANIEL: And there’s a lot of ways to do it.
BEN: Now we are not, unfortunately, because of the demands of radio, gonna be able to play for you the entire interview that Daniel has done with Maria. But if you would like to hear it, just head to our Patreon page. We’ve got them all available.
DANIEL: But now let’s take a track, and this one is a little known track by Mac DeMarco. This is called ‘Horse Hot Wee Wee Water’ on RTRFM 92.1.
BEN: If you’re just tuning in, another episode of Talk the Talk, RTRFM’s show about linguistics, the science of language. We are talking this week about… I guess about metaphor, and how temperature and bodies and language all kind of mix together in this gross weird cool way.
DANIEL: Of course, remember that temperature isn’t the same all over the world.
DANIEL: And we’ve seen that in places where it’s super hot, they don’t use words or metaphors of heat quite as much, or at least it shows a difference.
BEN: Yeah, yeah.
DANIEL: I’ve been speaking with Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm of Stockholm University, and she busts out some mind-boggling facts about hot and cold and the way we talk about them.
MARIA: So in some parts of the world, it’s cold which is associated with more positive things.
DANIEL: Oh. You mean like cool?
MARIA: Well, it can be something like peaceful.
DANIEL: Oh, wow.
MARIA: So, okay, the additional thing is that most languages of the world will not distinguish between warm and hot. So it will be the same word. So anything warm, right?
MARIA: And then this word can be used for something that means dangerous, sexually aroused, if I may use this! [LAUGHTER] Or, what else? If you have calamities in the country.
MARIA: Sometimes it’s like power. So it can be all kinds of things. So it can be irritated.
MARIA: Starting with irritation, to something very very unpleasant.
DANIEL: This sounds really difficult to study.
MARIA: Yes yes, so it’s difficult to study! And then cold can be something like, as I said, peaceful, calm, these kinds of things which are associated with positive things in the culture.
DANIEL: So they would say “It’s cold”, and that would mean “That’s really nice.”
MARIA: Sort of. So people will say “This house is cold.” Again, in Ewe, I know that if you come to visit someone, they will tell you, “This house is cold.”
DANIEL: That doesn’t sound good to me.
MARIA: Well, it is very good. It means that everything is all right. But if they say, “The house is hot,” that means that someone has died.
DANIEL: Oh! Oh, wow.
DANIEL: Gosh. That’s the opposite of what I would have expected.
MARIA: Right, so that’s interesting.
MARIA: And then going back to ‘warm’ in Europe, there’s some languages where this metaphor — a warm person — did exist, but it’s not used any longer, because “a warm person” would mean “a gay person”.
DANIEL: Oh, right. Okay.
MARIA: So you had this in the Hungarian and Slovak and Czech, some of the languages in Central Europe, and it’s quite interesting. I mean, because it has these uses so strongly entrenched that it has “warm person” — meaning pleasant and friendly — is not used any longer because it will be misinterpreted.
DANIEL: Wow. Now, one of the things I’ve noticed at the conference we’re at is that linguists are becoming much more open to the idea that non-linguistic factors are influencing language. And I’m kind of wondering: do you think that the patterns that you’ll be finding are going to be motivated by the ambient temperature of the place these languages are in?
DANIEL: Or do you think it’s going to have more to do with the languages that these languages come from?
MARIA: Oh, it’s a combination.
MARIA: It’s a combination. So it’s a lot of different factors. So some of these uses, some of these terms have to do with the history of the languages. So languages which are related to each other, they will have the same words,
DANIEL: Yeah, that makes sense.
MARIA: But they will not… don’t have to mean the same thing actually, so it’s quite interesting. And then culture is very important and climate is absolutely… I mean, they’re no doubt that it’s very important for these extended uses. So I mean, there’s a whole idea of social psychology that connects warmth and affection. So like, you know, the baby is warmed by his or her mother, you know, all these kinds of things. So there’s this association between nice feelings affection and warmth. But this whole idea comes from, you know, the languages and cultures spoken in Europe basically, which is where heat and warmth is quite important. I mean, in the part of Europe where I live — so right now it’s very cold. So warmth is something that has to be appreciated, and when you come to other cultures — so again, in Ghana, it’s hot. Even when it’s cold, it’s still warm, right? So it’s hot most of the time. So warmth is perhaps not something that you appreciate as much, and that’s something that is also reflected in these metaphorical uses. So I mean, if a lot of your energy is spent on… how would you say… preventing yourself from being overheated, you don’t want extra warmth! So that’s why affection will be related to something else. It’s not warmth. So I mean, that’s the idea. I think that it’s these climatic conditions do play quite a big role.
DANIEL: So, by the time your research is over, you’re gonna have answered a big question. But what is the question?
MARIA: Oh, there’s several questions. I mean the big question, I don’t know — okay, let me see.
DANIEL: I like that.
MARIA: The big big big question?
MARIA: Oh. The big big big question.
DANIEL: Well, the big big big question is: what is the influence of ambient temperature on the lexicon?
MARIA: Oh, well, there’s a bigger question. That’s how you conceptualise things. Reality — or whatever it can be — and what factors can influence this conceptualisation. And also the reverse side of this: whether this conceptual — ugh! I can’t pronounce it now! — conceptualisation in language, how it can influence you. I mean, I don’t know.
MARIA: Yeah, so I mean these are the bigger questions, right? And then, what factors can influence this conceptualisation, and this includes both linguistic factors, but also non-linguistic factors like climate, culture, history, biological preconditions, and all that.
DANIEL: This is big stuff.
MARIA: It’s big stuff, yes. So you can’t solve it immediately, right? But we are sort of working on bits of this puzzle.
DANIEL: That’s Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm of Stockholm University.
BEN: Big stuff. I love it.
DANIEL: So Dr Koptjevskaja Tamm is discovering how language, culture, and climate interact, and ultimately she’s discovering how we conceptualise reality. So you know, once that’s done, that’ll be really good.
BEN: Yeah, yeah, we’ll just knock reality conception on the head.
DANIEL: Bomp. I did pose Shannon’s question to Maria. Remember Shannon’s question?
BEN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DANIEL: Is it possible that a language could have, instead of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ as opposites, have ‘hot’ and ‘warm’?
BEN: Well, I mean, Maria pretty much immediately put the kibosh on that, didn’t she? Because she blew my mind by letting me know most languages don’t differentiate ‘warm’ and ‘hot’.
DANIEL: They’re handled with the same item in the lexicon.
BEN: Like, hot is hot. Hot is warm.
DANIEL: They’re both the same but here’s another mind-blowing thing Maria pointed out: that there is actually some literature on whether hot and cold are even opposites in English at all.
BEN: Okay, Daniel, Daniel, Daniel.
BEN: I’m… every now and then, I just need to warn you that potentially the thing that you’re about to teach me will be so disruptive to my understanding of the world that I will be very angry at you.
BEN: The anger will pass — the anger will pass — all right? But I’m just acknowledging that, if you’re about to tell me that hot and cold are not opposites in our language, I might get very grumpy.
DANIEL: Well, usually they’re opposites, but there are some cases where they’re not. For example, a cold glass of water is not the same temperature as a cold day…
DANIEL: …which is not the same temperature as a cold war, which is not the same temperature as cold blood.
DANIEL: I don’t wanna make too big a deal out of these edge cases, but you know, there is some research that suggests that opposites are not as straightforward as all that.
BEN: Okay, fair enough, because they’re context-dependent, often.
DANIEL: That’s it.
BEN: But also they’re metaphorical often. Like, a cold war has no temperature.
DANIEL: And sometimes human language is very imprecise.
BEN: Whoof, tell me about it.
DANIEL: I mean, temperature is gradable, so it makes sense that the language we use to describe temperature would be gradable as well.
BEN: True. You can actually hear a much much longer unabridged interview, if you head to our Patreon page.
DANIEL: Big thanks to Shannon for that great question. But now a track, and this one is from Boards of Canada. This one’s called ‘Cold Earth’ on RTRFM 92.1.
BEN: And as we sit resplendent in the holy basking warmth of Daniel Midgley’s radiant glow, we ask ourselves: what possibly could be missing from this deep spiritual completion? As we search inwards, we find a tiny hole inside an otherwise blemishless fascia, and that tiny hole is this week’s Word of the Week.
DANIEL: I liked how you use ‘warmth’ in that bit.
BEN: Didn’t even… did not even do it deliberately.
DANIEL: So natural, isn’t it?
DANIEL: The word of this week comes from Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and it is “peoplekind”.
BEN: Peoplekind… ah… instead of mankind.
DANIEL: You’ve heard this story, haven’t you?
BEN: I have not heard this story, but I’m gonna go out on a limb.
DANIEL: Go for it.
BEN: Crazy old limb here, Daniel. I’m right out on the edge of it. I’m willing to wager that at least one person thought that this was PC madness! MADNESS!!!
DANIEL: You are correct, but let’s set up the scene here. So there was a Q&A, and one woman asked a big long question, and then finished up by asking him to check out the charitable status of religious organisations. She said, “Maternal love is the love that’s gonna change the future of mankind,” and the Prime Minister said, “We like to say ‘peoplekind,’ not necessarily ‘mankind,’ because it’s more inclusive.” And she said, “There you go. Exactly. Yes. Thank you.” A simple exchange, but for some reason ‘peoplekind’ just makes everyone foam and froth, especially…
BEN: PEE CEE GONE MAD!!!
DANIEL: I can tell you that on shows…
BEN: [INDISTINCT GARBLED FROTHING NOISES] That’s what I picture when I try and picture the person behind the typing comments that I see on such news stories.
DANIEL: I don’t have to imagine it, because for example on ABC Radio, when I do Speakeasy…
BEN: [LAUGHS] Boy oh boy, you must get some doozy callers!
DANIEL: …I have tackled this topic, you know, just to talk about the kinds of things that people are doing worldwide — hey, isn’t this interesting? And boy, the angry comments started early, and they just didn’t stop through the entire segment. So the idea is that some people like to avoid the use of the word ‘mankind’. What’s the problem? Well, people feel like representation matters, and if you say ‘mankind’, then you’re ignoring womankind.
BEN: Sure, and I, like, I think even the most sort of grumpy Jordan-Peterson-style language…
DANIEL: [SOTTO VOCE] You said his name.
BEN: …person needs to have at some point usually — I mean, I remember this thought occurring to me when I was really little, which is not my way of saying. “Oh, I was a real genius as a little kid,” but more just like: surely any little kid had this thought. “Oh, I wonder why it’s mankind, right? Like, why did men get that one?” And then of course you grow up, and you’re like, “Oh, because they ran everything for like several millenniums,” and I mean it’s not… it doesn’t seem to me like that much of a stretch to acknowledge that the continued use of the word ‘mankind’ is at the very least indicative of an ongoing power structure, right?
BEN: Like, that doesn’t seem like a stretch, and it doesn’t seem like a thing to like admit, and thus give up all of the things, right? Like, it’s not like: You will concede that, and then every single thing that you’re fighting as a grammar grouch or as a linguistic grouch is now like bupkis.
DANIEL: And yet comment feeds are full of comments like, “hey, mankind just means people.” But if you find ‘mankind’ unacceptable, what do you use to replace it?
DANIEL: Ah, but then you could say that it’s got the word ‘son’ in it.
DANIEL: And I’m only being partly facetious. Now, just a bit about that: Do you think that the ‘son’ in ‘person’ or ‘personkind’, if we traced it back far enough, do you think there would actually be a ‘son’ in there, as opposed to a ‘daughter’?
BEN: Is the… is the etymological root of that word actually got anything to do with a male offspring?
DANIEL: Take a guess.
DANIEL: It doesn’t.
DANIEL: ‘Person’ comes from Latin ‘persona’, a mask or a false face. That may come from Etruscan ‘phersu’, ‘mask’. And ‘son’ for its part took a different route. It comes from a Proto-Indo-European word ‘sunu’ which meant ‘son’. I’m not saying that this matters, but the ‘son’ is accidental.
DANIEL: In ‘personhood’.
BEN: It sounds like it, but it’s not.
DANIEL: How about this one: You could go with ‘humankind’, but that’s got a ‘man’ in as well. But is that just a coincidence?
BEN: I reckon that would be different as well.
DANIEL: It is. It comes from latin ‘homo’.
DANIEL: Which comes from Proto-Indo-European ‘ghomon’ which means ‘earthling’ or ‘earthly being’, so that was gender-neutral.
DANIEL: I’m not trying to say that that’s the way it ought to be, and that’s not how people perceive it today. Which is fine.
DANIEL: But that’s where it comes from. Whereas ‘man’, for its part, comes from a totally different Proto-Indo-European root from a long, long time ago, which was just ‘man’. Which also meant ‘a man or a woman’, so that was gender-neutral as well. Things change, words change.
BEN: But ‘human’ has a fairly solid gender-neutral root, whereas ‘man’ doesn’t have a gender-neutral root. Like, it might have come from a gender-neutral place, but it got very gendered.
DANIEL: Right, and when people think of ‘human’ they see the ‘man’ in there, and they think “Well, that’s gendered too.” So that’s fine. What happened a long time ago doesn’t matter as much as what’s happening now.
DANIEL: But ‘peoplekind’ is probably an okay alternative, unless you think that it sounds doofy. Which a lot of people do.
BEN: It… it does sound a bit. Peoplekind.
BEN: It sounds like the sort of thing that a Smurf would say: [SMURF VOICE] We gotta help peoplekind!
DANIEL: I don’t know what to do about it. ‘Humanity’, some people find that unacceptable, so I’m not sure what to do. ‘Peoplekind’ is just one option, but…
BEN: I think this is a great question for our listeners. So I’m sure we’ve got listeners who are like, “This is dumb, I don’t think this should be a thing.” But I would challenge that listener in particular to go, “Okay, cool, it’s dumb, whatever.” What could you use — if you had to accept that anything with ‘son’, anything with ‘man’, any of that kind of stuff is off the table?
BEN: What could you… I want you to be creative. Brian Eno famously said that the first thing he does when he makes music is reduce all of his options to, like, one. Like, one dumb synthesised instrument, and he forces himself to make music that way. I lay that challenge out on our listeners now. Like, that is your limitation. Whether you agree with it or not doesn’t matter — that’s the limitation. What could you say other than ‘peoplekind’ which Ben Ainslie thinks sounds dumb. Do better. Do better than ‘peoplekind’.
DANIEL: This might take some doing, so maybe while that’s going on…
BEN: Shall we make a Facebook post for it, that people can contribute their ideas to?
DANIEL: Good idea. If you want to, you can head over to our Facebook page, find the post, and give us your best shot. You have a little bit of time because we’re gonna play a track, but then I want to hear the best answers. I’ll read the best ones. In addition, please go over to tinyurl.com/ttthellgood. Give us your vote.
BEN: Voting time! Doing science.
DANIEL: Wow, this is really participatory.
BEN: Direct democracy at work.
DANIEL: Let’s listen to a track, shall we?
BEN: Please do get in touch in any of the ways, because apparently Daniel is very popular.
DANIEL: 92609210 on the phone, by email email@example.com
BEN: You can always drop us a tweet @talkrtr, and as previously mentioned, even if you don’t want to contribute to the Facebook ‘peoplekind’ alternative idea, the people there are wonderful. You should go check it out. Our Facebook page is great.
DANIEL: But now here is Yumi Zouma with ‘Other People’ on RTRFM 92.1.
DANIEL: This is Daniel here at the tail end of Talk the Talk.
DANIEL: Lots of participation today. I’m really grateful for everybody who clicked to give me some linguistic data. Let’s start out with the Twitter poll, shall we? “Hell good”, or “hell bad”. For some reason, “hell good” sounds more likely to me. I wonder if that has to do with positive terms. Let’s see: Joanna @joannascience said, “I would probably use ‘hella’ instead of ‘hell’, like it was hella good.” And in fact, I have heard that a lot. The Taylor Swift song, of course. But let’s get to the data: as far as the Twitter poll, it looks like for those that responded, you could say that you were from WA, and “Yes, it’s said here” or “No, it’s not”, or you could be “Elsewhere, yes” and “no”. For WA people, it was 8 to 1 in favor of ‘hell’ as in “hell good”: “Yep, that’s the thing that I hear around me.” Elsewhere — and I know that elsewhere is a broad category — it was 9 to 1 against. 9 people to every 1 said, “Yeah, I just haven’t heard that at all.” So I wasn’t sure if this was a WA thing, or an Australia thing; it looks like that might be a fruitful sort of area of study.
DANIEL: Let’s go on to ‘peoplekind’. As I’ve said before, this is a very contentious sort of area. As I’ve said, whenever I bring this up, people seem to have a hard time with it. You do get various kinds of reactions in responses. You get the people who say “That’s dumb, because it’s etymologically unrelated,” and then you get people who say “That’s dumb, just ’cause it’s dumb.” And then you get the kind of people who say “Representation really matters, and maybe we should be looking at this,” and then a lot of other people say “We should be concerned about representation, but maybe this isn’t a pressing sort of area.” But out of all that, I did get some good responses. Dave commented that maybe ‘earthicans’ (from Futurama) would be good, and Holly rejoined “I can only read that in Richard Nixon’s voice: ‘My fellow earthicans.'” Lucian suggested ‘peeps’, and I suggested perhaps ‘peepkind’ would be an extension there. Mack says “Terrans seems more inclusive than anything else, unless you want to include the rest of the solar system. Solarans? or the galaxy: Milky-Way-ans.” — Milky-Way-ans I don’t think I like very much — “or the Virgo-Superclusterons”. That’s fine. Also Martin suggested something along those lines: “What about Tellusian, as in us the people of Tellus? Has a nice galactic ring to it.” Phil suggested “let’sbekind?” and I can’t say that I disagree. But in general, most people on the Facebook thread who responded thought that ‘humankind’ was just fine. The etymological thing gives you enough wiggle room to be able to say, “You know what? it sounds like the best thing that’s going on right now.” Peoplekind, as I said, does sound kind of doofy. It makes some people angry, but then everything does for some people. Carter on Twitter said “I think anyone who gets chippy about human having ‘man’ in it or person having ‘son’ in it isn’t really advancing the conversation about language equity” and @NFQblog said “I agree. I’ve been thinking about this all night and I’m still upset about the idea. Oh no, ‘man-ufacturing’! Why not ‘wymxn-ufacturing’? I want this to be a strawman but I’m so scared it’s not.” Well, I regard all of this with some interest, and it’s interesting to sort of take the temperature, and I would say that the temperature is running warm to hot — although in some languages, that is the same thing. I’m inclined to listen to this kind of thing, I’m inclined to go out there — because people who get super angry about this are usually kinda the anti PC sort of people who complain about political correctness, and I don’t mean to be completely reactive but I sometimes do. So I’m inclined to be charitable to the person/people/human/man thing.
DANIEL: Nick phoned in, 9260 9210, and pointed out that in Indonesian they have two words for hot. There’s ‘panas’ for temperature — it’s a hot day — and then ‘pedas’ for spicy hot — it’s spicy food. And it reminded me of Spanish, which has the same kind of thing. This was a big thing for my dad. This was like the coolest thing about language that he told me a lot of times when I was a kid: that there was hot and there was spicy hot, but we just have the one hot. And the first thing that we think is, hmm, maybe people who have the two words for things are just really good at distinguishing. And the second thing we think is, they must have those two words because they need them, because it’s important culturally. And you know, I have to say that linguists have generally dismissed these claims, but now what we’re seeing is more and more research coming in that suggests that, yes, our surroundings can and do have an effect on language. And that kind of makes sense, because people condition the lexicon of their language. They choose what words to say and what words not to say, and so languages are honed over millions of tiny little interactions to be efficient. So I’m a little more open to that view than I used to.
DANIEL: One last one from Noisy Andrew about Valentime’s Day, coming tomorrow. “If you’re really romantic,” he says, “you don’t need a day to prove it, as you do so almost every day. But since we’re on it, what language is the best one for romance? Is it French (sigh) or something else?” Let me just return to something that we’ve said before in other shows: the feelings we have about which languages are sexiest or ugliest or have the weirdest accents is just because of our feelings about it, and is not intrinsic to the language itself. So the most romantic language is the one that your intended inamorato or inamorata thinks is the most romantic. So find out what that is. Communication: as always, it’s a great thing.
DANIEL: Thanks for listening to this episode of Talk the Talk. Thanks to Tess for taking us Out to Lunch very soon. Sorry to Mary Schmick, whose name I mispronounced in the last episode. Until next time, keep talking.
BEN: This has been an RTRFM podcast. RTRFM is an independent community radio station that relies on listeners for financial support. You can subscribe online at rtrfm.com.au/subscribe.
KYLIE: Our theme song is by Ah Trees, and you can check out their music on ahtrees.com, and everywhere good music is sold.
DANIEL: We’re on Twitter @talkrtr, send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you’d like to get lots of extra linguistic goodies, then like us on Facebook or check out our Patreon page. You can always find out whatever we’re up to by heading to talkthetalkpodcast.com
Image credit: http://unisci24.com/234310-fire-and-ice.html