Inuit Words for Snow?

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Inuit Words for Snow?

#1  Postby lpetrich » Feb 02, 2015 8:08 pm

There is a well-known factoid that Eskimo / Inuit people have numerous words for snow. Some people have challenged that claim, notably Geoff Pullum in "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax". But others disagree, and point out that part of the problem is what counts as a word in Inuit languages. They are polysynthetic, taking affixation to an extreme.

In any case, these are words for different kinds of snow, and English speakers are no slouches there. Snowpack, snowstorm, snowdrift, snowfall, snow crust, graupel, powder, hardpack, slush, blizzard, ...

Here also, many of the words are derived from other words, with "snow" in several of them.

Inuit words for snow - Wikipedia
Counting Eskimo words for snow
Snow | Alaska Native Language Center
Counting Eskimo Words for Snow
More Eskimo Words for Snow
There really are 50 Eskimo words for ‘snow’ - The Washington Post
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#2  Postby Zwaarddijk » Feb 02, 2015 8:37 pm

In Kazakhstan, there's fifty different terms for unibrow.
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#3  Postby Varangian » Feb 02, 2015 8:39 pm

In Swedish, we have plenty of words describing different kinds of snow ("snö"). Here are some of them:

Kramsnö (perfect for snowballs)
Skarsnö (snow with a thin ice crust)
Blötsnö (wet, heavy snow)
Pudersnö (powdery snow)
Drivsnö (drifting snow)
Kornsnö (granular snow)
Lappvantar ("Laplander mittens"; big heavy snowflakes)
Lössnö (fluffy snow)
Modd (slushy snow on the ground)
Nysnö (new snow)
Spårsnö (track snow)
Yrsnö (wispy snow)
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#4  Postby lucek » Feb 02, 2015 10:13 pm

Petrichor.


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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#5  Postby Veida » Feb 02, 2015 10:38 pm

The sami people have at least 300 words for snow and snow conditions.
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#6  Postby lucek » Feb 03, 2015 12:24 am

Veida wrote:The sami people have at least 300 words for snow and snow conditions.

Another point is this is like saying there are 1500-2000 words for bird spoken by the African people. (probably not entirely true there is some overlap between neighbors).
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#7  Postby don't get me started » Feb 07, 2015 1:27 pm

At the heart of this whole issue is the differing ways that different languages chop up aspects of reality and give separate words for things which are covered by one word in another language, or, alternately, give one word for things which are covered by several words in another language.
This aspect of language has been a source of interest for academics and thinkers for centuries.
Here is what John Locke said in his famous essay:

"A moderate Skill in different languages will easily satsifie (sic) one of the truth of this, it being so obvious to observe great store of words in one language which have not any that answer them in another…. Nay, if we look a little more nearly into this matter, and exactly compare different languages, we shall find that, though they have words which in translations and dictionaries are supposed to answer one another, yet there is scarce one of ten amongst the names of complex ideas …that stands for the same precise idea which the word does that in dictionaries it is rendered by."

And this is what the famous semanticist Anna Wierzbicka had to say:

“Meanings are not universal, because reality is, by and large, open to different conceptualizations, and different meanings embody those conceptualizations which have emerged within a particular speech community and are shared by its members.”

(Citation details available on request.)

Whether Eskimo languages have many more words for snow than English or not is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things. It is clear that languages do indeed differ in the way they give names to things. Here are some examples from the two languages I know best, Japanese and English.

The Japanese, word YAKU (焼く)does not have one translation in English. The Japanese word refers to the process of applying heat to bring about a change in some object. The nature of the heat (convection, conduction, radiation), its directionality (mono-directional or omni-directional), the kind of object changed by the heat, and other aspects are not really salient.
English, on the other hand, attends to these matters and requires the speaker to differentiate the vocabulary used to refer to the process. These words are fry, roast, bake,broil, grill,toast, sear, burn, tan and some others.

Here are some rough and ready explications of the English words:

Fry is the application of mono directional heat, bringing about change by conduction, the conducting medium being oil.
Japanese uses YAKU
Bake is the application of omni-directional radiated/convection heat bringing about change.
Japanese uses YAKU
Grill is the application of mono-directional radiated heat bringing about change.
Japanese uses YAKU

These three English words all refer to food preparation techniques.

Tan refers to mono-directional radiated heat to bring about change in the skin of humans.
Japanese uses YAKU

So you can see here that English seems to be particular about certain kinds of aspects of the 'change by application of heat' schema, but Japanese doesn't seem to bother so much with spelling out the sub-genres of this act, and just leaves it to context and common sense to work out what is meant.

By contrast, English draws with broad brush strokes when it comes to clothing, but Japanese is particular as to what item is being referred to.
For shoes, socks, tights, pants, underwear Japanese uses the verb HAKU
English uses wear.

For shirts, jackets, coats, tops and the like Japanese uses the verb KIRU
English uses wear.

For neckties, bracelets, rings and the like Japnese uses TSUKERU
English uses wear.

For glasses Japanese uses KAKERU
English uses wear.

For hats, helmets, caps, and all sorts of headgear Japanese uses KABURU
English uses wear.

So in this case we can see that Japanese wants to pay attention to the nature of the item being worn, its position on the body, whether it is draped over, fastened around, perched on top or whatever. English is just not concerned with these details and refers to all items of clothing, headgear, jewellery, adornment with the verb wear.

Even the human body can be perceived differently and labelled differently.
In English there is a clear distinction between 'leg' and 'foot', the boundary being at the ankle joint.
Japanese does not overtly differentiate between the leg and the foot, referring to both as ASHI
If one had blisters from new shoes one could say 'Ashi ga itai' (Ashi is foot/leg, ga is a topic marker and itai means pain.)
If one ran a marathon, the next day you could rub your calf muscles and thighs and say 'Ashi ga itai.'

To refer specifically to the foot Japnese could say ASHI MOTO, literally, 'leg tip'.

(I once heard that Greek divides the leg at the knee, with above and below being referred to by two different words, like English 'foot' and 'leg' but taking the knee rather than the ankle joint as the demarcation line. Perhaps any Greek speakers here could confirm this.)

So, as I said above, whether Eskimo languages really do have multiple words for snow or not is beside the point.
English has multiple words for YAKU and Japanese has multiple words for wear, illustrating the background phenomenon conclusively.
Locke was right to assert that languages are not so constituted by the rules of logic that a word in one language will be answered exactly with a word in another.
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#8  Postby lpetrich » Apr 03, 2015 3:17 am

Varangian wrote:In Swedish, we have plenty of words describing different kinds of snow ("snö"). Here are some of them:

Kramsnö (perfect for snowballs)
Skarsnö (snow with a thin ice crust)
Blötsnö (wet, heavy snow)
Pudersnö (powdery snow)
Drivsnö (drifting snow)
Kornsnö (granular snow)
Lappvantar ("Laplander mittens"; big heavy snowflakes)
Lössnö (fluffy snow)
Modd (slushy snow on the ground)
Nysnö (new snow)
Spårsnö (track snow)
Yrsnö (wispy snow)

Seems like German, which is legendary for its compound words. BTW, I found snopes.com: Eskimos have multiple words for snow?

Don Enrico:

German has different words for snow, too, but (as Swedish) packed into one word: Powdery snow would be "Pulverschnee", snow that is wet and sticks together is "Pappschnee", freshly fallen snow is "Neuschnee" and so on.
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#9  Postby epepke » Apr 03, 2015 3:25 am

don't get me started wrote:At the heart of this whole issue is the differing ways that different languages chop up aspects of reality and give separate words for things which are covered by one word in another language, or, alternately, give one word for things which are covered by several words in another language.


I'm sorry I didn't see this here before, because it's quite interesting.

The big problem I see is that the claims of Inuit words for snow, and the "hoax," and the anti-hoax, or whatever, happened when nearly everybody believed in a classical concept of what a category is.

I'm convinced that developments in Cognitive Science has shown that this classical categorization, which people have believed for 2500 years, though Descartes gave it a big push, is complete bullshit. Not ordinary bullshit, but complete, floppy, steaming, stinking bullshit. You can't build anything on bullshit.

We are just now getting some idea of how categorization and therefore language actually works.
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#10  Postby Scar » Apr 03, 2015 7:10 am

I like Skarsnö
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#11  Postby Blackadder » Apr 03, 2015 7:40 am

A Hindi/Urdu word that found its way into the English language during the colonial era is "pukka". It's assumed to mean "good" by Brits. Which is true, but in Hindi or Urdu it has a much wider set of meanings which in English would be translated as any of the following

Good
Sound
Solid
Cooked
Ripe

So, a plan, a friend, a road, a curry and a fruit can all be described as 'pukka'.
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#12  Postby twistor59 » Apr 03, 2015 10:45 am

Word is "thatbastardwholetthesoddingwildlingsin"
A soul in tension that's learning to fly
Condition grounded but determined to try
Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies
Tongue-tied and twisted just an earthbound misfit, I
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#13  Postby Scot Dutchy » Apr 03, 2015 12:36 pm

Dutch has words which impossible to translate into English properly. The same words do exist in German as well.
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#14  Postby Fallible » Apr 03, 2015 3:34 pm

She battled through in every kind of tribulation,
She revelled in adventure and imagination.
She never listened to no hater, liar,
Breaking boundaries and chasing fire.
Oh, my my! Oh my, she flies!
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#15  Postby Evolving » Apr 03, 2015 3:41 pm

Blackadder wrote:A Hindi/Urdu word that found its way into the English language during the colonial era is "pukka". It's assumed to mean "good" by Brits. Which is true, but in Hindi or Urdu it has a much wider set of meanings which in English would be translated as any of the following

Good
Sound
Solid
Cooked
Ripe

So, a plan, a friend, a road, a curry and a fruit can all be described as 'pukka'.


Good road
Sound fruit
Solid curry
Cooked plan
Ripe friend
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#16  Postby Blackadder » Apr 03, 2015 4:26 pm

Evolving wrote:
Blackadder wrote:A Hindi/Urdu word that found its way into the English language during the colonial era is "pukka". It's assumed to mean "good" by Brits. Which is true, but in Hindi or Urdu it has a much wider set of meanings which in English would be translated as any of the following

Good
Sound
Solid
Cooked
Ripe

So, a plan, a friend, a road, a curry and a fruit can all be described as 'pukka'.


Good road
Sound fruit
Solid curry
Cooked plan
Ripe friend


You speak Hindi?! Array, kya bhaath hain!
That credulity should be gross in proportion to the ignorance of the mind that it enslaves, is in strict consistency with the principle of human nature. - Percy Bysshe Shelley
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#17  Postby Evolving » Apr 03, 2015 4:28 pm

I'd really like to, actually. I like the way it sounds.
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#18  Postby Fallible » Apr 03, 2015 4:30 pm

I used to know swear words, from going to school with a lot of Hindi speakers. Or at least that's what they told me the words were.
She battled through in every kind of tribulation,
She revelled in adventure and imagination.
She never listened to no hater, liar,
Breaking boundaries and chasing fire.
Oh, my my! Oh my, she flies!
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#19  Postby Blackadder » Apr 03, 2015 4:40 pm

Fallible wrote:I used to know swear words, from going to school with a lot of Hindi speakers. Or at least that's what they told me the words were.


Oh if you want to learn seriously creative swearing, you need Punjabi. Hindi/Urdu is an elegant language, the language of the metropolitan ruling classes, of academia, poetry and philosophy. Punjabi is the language of the farms, the villages and getting pissed, dancing and fighting.
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Re: Inuit Words for Snow?

#20  Postby Fallible » Apr 03, 2015 4:42 pm

:eager:
She battled through in every kind of tribulation,
She revelled in adventure and imagination.
She never listened to no hater, liar,
Breaking boundaries and chasing fire.
Oh, my my! Oh my, she flies!
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