The 44 Different Words for Snow and Ice in Inuit Languages
Misinformation and Disinformation
Little Miss Know It All is a favorite character from a set of children's books about how to get along in life. It seems that she has escaped the books and is sending emails and newscasts of misinformation.
- Email circulations that contain urban legends draw in the unsuspecting public like an industrial vacuum cleaner and encourage them to forward this misinformation.
- False news articles attempt to discredit scientific and historical evidence, including articles that insist that the truth is an urban legend.
Incorrect information about languages and words is broadcast every winter.
All About Snow
Nonsense and Languages
Stuff and nonsense! Attention seekers often publish disinformation for attention, and perhaps a good laugh on the public.
It is not enough that we have a lack of correct education in some of our schools. We must have proud anti-truth buffs at work. They are not Orson Welles who played a joke on the public with War of the Worlds. They believe that they are correct.
"What are the 60 Canadian or Eskimo words for snow?"
This is an interesting question. In the 1980s, rumors circulated to the existence of 35 words for snow. In 2010, it is alternately 60, 75, 100, or 400 words, according to different sources. Some people send emails that there is only one or four words and these make a most annoying type of spam. I wonder who cares? Is it a PhD dissertation topic?
What you'll find, until someone receives a grant to live among the Circumpolar Peoples around the top of earth for 10 years and record each word for snow, is that the Inuit-related peoples may have two dozen different words, but probably not 400.
Among Northern European, Asian, Alaskan, Canadian, and Greenland-area Inuits and relations that somehow deniers do not want to think are related, there may well be 100 words for snow, but we don't know for sure.
Reverend Jesse Jackson performed a Saturday Night Live monologue once called The Point Is Moot. With that performance, he proved that he should have his own TV show and I don't know why he doesn't. Here are some other moot points -
First of all, there is no such thing as an Eskimo. That's a term in the same slop bucket now as Red Man for a Native American. Eskimo Pie is an ice cream treat and Red Man is chewing tobacco.
Therefore, no Eskimo words at all exist for snow - perhaps for choco-covered ice cream, yes. It's true that you can make ice cream from snow, but not from chewing tobacco. Ice cream covered with chewing tobacco may or may not sell.
Secondly, since the advent of global warming, it no longer snows on Earth
...at least not along the northern coast of Alaska, where the Native Alaskans are moving their village 40 miles inland to avoid the approaching shoreline that is overtaking them as the pack ice melts (PBS; Smithsonian Channel).
In addition, NASA satellites recently discovered the Northwest Passage, opened by melted ice in northern Canada, where additional Indigenous Peoples live and watch the ice disappear along with their livelihood in ice fishing.
The words for snow could be embroidered or produced in illuminated manuscript for museum display or a hefty coffee table book, like An Inconsiderate Truth. Strike that, I mean An Inconvenient Truth, by Al Gore.
The Oral Tradition among Indigenous Peoples of the north and the snow capped mountains could preserve the names of snow, with stories passed on from elder to younger generations. Among so many Circumpolar Peoples, there are must logically be several words for snow.
From All the Inuits
We must check all the dialects of Inuit and related languages, before deciding that there are only a dozen words for snow, ice, or both. Already found are at last 44.
"One develops a deeper understanding and appreciation for one of the biggest differences amongst Inuit just by listening to all the dialectal variations from Greenland, Sanikiluaq, Grise Fiord, Kangiqsuk, Arviat, Kugluktuk to Barrow, Alaska."
-- Edna Elias. Dialects show Inuit language diversity; February 22, 2010 via Northern News Service.
Inuktikut - Inuktikut Words for Snow and Ice
Let it qanik, let it qanik, let it qanik!
Some terms for SNOW in the Eskaleut language Inuktikut
(References, above links. There is also linguistic discussion afoot about words vs. lexemes in variants of snow, which might or might not shorten the list somewhat.)
PLURAL: -- piirsituq, pirsituq.
ICE in the same language:
- tuvaq (Tuvoc, isn't he on Star Trek® Voyager?).
In the mid-1980s, additional words for snow appeared in author Steven A. Jacobson's Yup'ik Eskimo Dictionary (1984) - I believe he is the person that lived among the Inuit for 20 years, but am not sure; but he found nowhere near 60 or 100 words. Geoffrey Pullum published The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax in 1991 to debunk the myth of "100 Eskimo words for snow" that was going around Fax machine spam letters for 15 years.
Additional words and definitions for snow and ice found by a researcher at SNOW WORDS (1979).
- akuvijarjuak = thin ice in the sea
- anijo = snow on the ground
- hiko = ice (generic)
- hikuliaq = thin ice
- ivuneq = high pack ice
- kaniktshaq = snow (generic)
- kanut = fresh snow without any ice
- kuhugaq = icicle
- manelaq = pack ice
- maneraq = smooth ice
- nahauliq = snow bunting
- nilak = freshwater ice
- peqalujaq = rather old ice
- pugtaq = drift ice
- qanik = falling snow
- quahak = fresh ice without any snow
- tsikut = large broken-up masses of ice blocks
- tugartaq = firm winter ice
In these references alone, we have potentially 34 words for SNOW and several for ICE.
A Yup'ik Man from Alaska
The Arctic Circle: Circumpolar-ness
Under periods of high concentration (being in the "zone"), an individual can see degrees of difference in a thing or a set of behaviors of a person that others cannot see. Take, for instance, the party game in which you have 20 containers of white powdered cooking ingredients and you must guess which each one is. Some people are lost and some can see the differences in grain sizes, shades of white, and textures immediately from experience, and some, after a few moments of concentration.
Think also about the caretaker caring for a loved one that is in a vegetative state: The caregiver concentrates and begins to notice a range of movements and sounds that others cannot detect (from the film of a true story Awakenings, staring Robin Williams; and from the Terry Schiavo case in Florida, 2005).
The same phenomenon can happen with snow. Living in an area that experiences various snowfalls for 6 or 9 months a year, residents begin to notice differences and to name them. Slang terms and mispronunciations produce new words, new dialects,and new languages as time passes. Writers make up additional words (we're allowed to do that).
Any language that is not a dead language is probably changing, even if that change is small and not noticeable to most people. We cannot write down every detail about a language, because we will never get it all. It's like stopping the blood pressure to get an accurate reading - the patient would die; it's a continuous variable. We need a constantly streaming update, if we were to record it all, along with dedicated future generations of researches to follow up.
Given all this, to tell others that there are are or are not a finite number of words for "snow" in Inuit and related languages, particularly when the researchers have not included all of the Indigenous Peoples relevant in Canada, is probably presumptuous.
We might find 100 words, after all.
Innuit Snows: Alaska, Canada and Greenland
Innuit Words for Snows: Alaska, Canada, Greenland
The Arctic and Subarctic Indigenous Peoples in
2) the Northern Provinces and Territories of Canada, and
include at least the Inupiat (Alaska), Yupik/Yup'ik (Alaska and Siberia), Inuit (Section 35 of the Constitution Act of Canada - 1982; also found in Greenland) or Inuinnait, Tlingit/Telenget (Alaska and relations in Siberia), Aleut (<500 people), Alutiiq (few people), and Kalaallit (Greeland), as well as several other nations and bands or communities among speakers of Eskaleut languages in northern Canada. Related languages exist in Northern Europe, Siberia, etc.
Once we discard the word Eskimo (arguably either an Ojibway or Cree word, and those two nations merged), we find that the Inuit Nation has lived and continues to live around the top of the globe in the Arctic and Subarctic regions. We have nk knowledge to date of just how many separate words for snow exist among these Indigenous Peoples and their relations.
The problems with the word Eskimo is that it
- Comes from an outside North American Nation somewhere in the Lower 48,
- Means "the people who make netted shoes" to some, and
- Sounds like "the eaters of raw meat" to some other tribes, possibly suggesting cannibalism.
Enough people dislike any of the three meanings to justify elimination of the word.
Moreover, the malady afflicting only "Eskimos", one in which they ran out into the winter wilderness naked and died, was eliminated from the APA's psychiatric DSM approved conditions after the 1980s. Somehow the condition still exists, along with snow blindness (for anyone), but Eskimos do not exist. Inuit peoples, of which nation Todd Palin (Yup'ik) is one, do exist.
It logically seems that words for snow would change somewhat along the way around the globe, as other words and legends have done; e.g. the legendary reindeer pulling up the daily sun in Northern Europe transforms to the dragon in Asia. I think we have yet to find all the Inuit-related words for snow.
- Don't believe that there are not 100 Inuit-related words for snow,
- Don't believe that there ARE 100 such words, yet.
- We DO know that there are at least 44 different words for SNOW and ICE in Inuit dialects, to date. Further research expeditions are needed.
© 2010 Patty Inglish
More by this Author
Which phrase is correct in proper English grammar–"in person" or "in-person"? Is it an adjective or an adverb? The answer depends on context.
"I will go up into the Mountains and you will not stop me." Traditional Sijo poetry of Korea has suffered under revisionist history. It is an art form like no other. Korean Poets are often taught as...
After writing resumes, cover letters, and job applications, candidates hope to interview well, impress the hiring officer, and secure the job. Here's what to avoid saying during the interview.