Feeling the heat

Today I have been giving a lot of thought to the different ways we have of expression our physical state in various languages. What do I mean by this?

Consider the English sentence: I am hot or I am cold. Here we are using the verb to be to express this. In English, we become part of the heat or the cold, it becomes part of us. Yet in French and Italian it is something that happens to us because we possess it, in a way. French: J’ai chaud/ j’ai froid or Italian: ho caldo/ ho freddo > in both cases we literally say “I have hot/cold”. In Italian it is also possible to say “mi fa caldo” > literally, “it makes me hot”. Again, the heat is not part of you, as it is in English.

This brings me to Welsh, in which you say: dw i’n boeth (hot) or dw i’n oer (cold). This translates the same way as the English sentence. The interesting thing is that other physical conditions in Welsh, such as hunger and thirst, are expressed quite differently. You would say: Mae syched arna i > literally, there is thirst on me.

This has of course set me wondering whether or not the hot/ cold phrases in Welsh have been affected by the exposure to English, leading the English construction to be adopted in Welsh.


5 thoughts on “Feeling the heat

  1. There probably has been an English influence on this Welsh construction. If you compare the two phrases: ‘I’m thirsty’ and ‘I’m hungry’ in other Celtic languages and French you can see that Irish and Scots Gaelic use the same prepositional formula:

    mae syched arna i – I’m thirsty (there is thirst on me)
    mae eisiau bwyd arna i – I’m hungry (there is need of food on me)

    Irish Gaelic
    tá tart orm (there is thirst on me)
    tá an t-ocras orm (the hunger is on me)

    Scots Gaelic
    tha am pathadh orm (the thirst is on me)
    tha an t-acras orm (the hunger is on me)

    but Breton looks as though it has been influenced by French:

    sec’hed am eus (I have thirst)
    naon am eus (I have hunger)

    j’ai soif (I have thirst)
    j’ai faim (I have hunger)

    The general rule for Welsh is that ‘temporary physical and mental states’ use the (ar + person) preposition construction:

    mae syched arna i – I’m thirsty (there is thirst on me)
    mae eisiau bwyd arna i – I’m hungry (there is need of food on me)
    mae salwch môr arni hi – she is sea-sick
    mae annwyd arno fe – he has a cold

    although aliments which specifically mention body parts headache, stomach ache etc. usually use a different preposition (gyda/gan) expressing the possessive in Welsh the same as English ‘have’.

    • Thankyou for that. I haven’t really looked at Irish or Scots Gaelic, interesting to see that they follow much the same pattern as Welsh with the prepositional phrase, whereas Breton, as might be expected, has been influenced by the dominant local language, French. It might be interesting to see how both Welsh and Breton formed these same phrases 500 years ago!

      • It would be interesting to investigate older versions of Y Beibl Cymraeg – The Bible to see if the modern translation has changed.

        Revelation 3:15 (King James Version)
        15: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
        Datguddiad 3:15
        15: Dw i’n gwybod am bopeth rwyt ti’n ei wneud. Dwyt ti ddim yn oer nac yn boeth!

        I did a quick search in google books but unfortunately there were no previews for old Welsh Bibles.

  2. In Spanish we use the verb ‘to have’: Tengo frío/Tengo hambre/Tengo calor. The change in the various languages is very interesting.
    Because of these variations, daughter (4), for example, sometimes says ‘Mami, I’m sed’ She doesn’t know the word ‘sedienta/o’ in Spanish but she’s literally taking the English way of saying it (verb to be) and adding a Spanish word that she knows related to thirst at the end.

  3. Russian – ‘mne holodno’/’mne zharko’ means ‘[there is] to me cold/hot’ (though note hot here specifically when a person or weather is hot as opposed to something else being hot).

    ‘Ya goloden’ is literally I am hungry but interestingly I am thisty is usually I want to drink (‘Ya hochu pit’). Though there is a word for thirst – ‘zhazhda’ which can also mean desire.

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