Is it Warm or Warm?


Japanese language often assigns more than one kanji to the same word, giving the writer more than one way to put the word on the page. Conceptually this can be bewildering since it is impossible in English. Upon first explanation, some people try to equate this with synonyms and/or homonyms, but they are actually the same word with the same reading. (Proper synonyms and homonyms do exist in Japanese). I think of these kanji assigned to the same word as being like definitions (or nuances) in English.

Atatakai is an adjective typically translated as ‘warm’. Generally it has a positive meaning, being associated with a high temperature which gives a comfortable feeling; other words are used when the temperature is uncomfortably high or high but not comfortable. These other conditions might be ‘hot/scalding’ or ‘luke/tepid’ in English.

Commonly we use ‘warm’ (as an adjective) to describe colors, temperatures, proximity, friendliness, and a number of other qualities. Two characters commonly used with atatakai are 温かい and 暖かい. The first would be used to describe warm soup, heart, home. The second would be used to describe a warm day, place, sweater, color. Interestingly, the antonyms of these characters are different: tsumetai (冷たい) and samui (寒い), respectively.

We can easily understand the definitions in English by usage: “Am I getting warm?” probably is discussing proximity in a game; and “Are you getting warm?” most likely is checking someone’s temperature. The same applies in Japanese which is a highly contextual language.

Other characters with the reading atatakai exist, but I consider them to be different words; one being a noun (燠) meaning ‘cinders’ or ’embers’. (This character is rarely used, being outside the standard use list, and uses a different reading, oki, where it is used.)

In the original Bikkuri Blog, almost two and a half years ago, I posted about hill, town, forest, and wave having these non-homonyms. It was interesting reading the recovery file and realizing I have learned a bit since then. Hopefully we will get those recovery files loaded into this blog in the March/April timeframe.


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