This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Nuts and Bolts: a hundred words for snow.

Everybody knows that, despite what Franz Boas claimed in his 1911 book Handbook of American Indian languages, the Eskimo-speaking people do not have dozens of words for snow.

It's an urban myth, right?


Boas only studied Inuit (there's another Eskimo language called Yupik, and dozens of dialects) so he even didn't have a chance to look at the whole vocabulary, but the main reason why people have dismissed his claims to have knowledge of the Eskimo words for snow is that the Eskimo languages don't always come in words as we know them. In Yupik, for instance, angyagh means boat, while angyaghllangyugtuqlu means what's more, he wants an even bigger boat

Even so, the fact that there's an Inuit word, aqilokoq for softly falling snow, and another piegnartoq for snow that's good for a driving sled, always made it likely that there are going to be quite a lot of other snow-focused words in the language.

But now Igor Krupnik, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, has done some more research and has come to the conclusion that Boas was right all along.  

For instance, the Inuit dialect spoken in Nunavik has a word, matsaaruti, which means wet snow that can be used to ice a sleigh's runners. In the same language pukak is snow that looks like salt. In Wales, Alaska, the vocabulary of the Inupiaq dialect includes auniq, which means ice that's filled with holes like Swiss cheese.

But then of course the Eskimo languages have lots of words for snow. As must by now be clear, they need them. 

I'm English, so I don't. 

I get by with using the single word snow and lots of rude adjectives.

Word To Use Today: snow. This word comes from the Old English snāw.

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