There has been a recent popularization over the questionable use of the word 'literally' as an intensifier rather than as a marker of non-figurative, especially since it seems to be used non-literally by well-respected modern authors. There is a lot of evidence that it has been used non-literally literally for centuries.
"Literal", in English, is primarily used to imply 'exactly as spoken/written' so that when something is said that sounds like hyperbole, it will be taken as truthful rather than exaggerated.
But that situation also is semantically ambiguous in that things could seem truly exaggerated. And then, if one didn't know otherwise, the term 'literally' could be understood as an intensifier, and therefore taken in a non-literal manner.
It seems to me that there is nothing special about 'literal' in English that it should be the only one to have such ambiguity leading to semantic drift.
- The Romance languages all have a similar sounding word with base 'literal-' and it is just as opaque (no conscious implication of 'verbatim' or 'as written/read').
- The Germanic languages all have variants of 'buchstäblich' or 'wörtlich' which sound a little closer to 'word for word'.
- Similarly, Slavic uses cognates of either 'bukvalno' or 'doslownie'
- Chinese has 字面, meaning (closely) 'by character'. This meaning seems transparent to me (and therefore unlikely to lead to drift).
But as figurative meanings don't even need phonetic changes to help them become figurative, I wonder if there are similar figurative uses of the word or phrase corresponding to 'literal' in other languages.
Is there any evidence that the corresponding terms for 'literal' in non-English languages have similar figurative uses?