Eskimos and Snow Again

Tue Jan 15 23:17:46 UTC 2013

The Washington Post today reprints an article from the New Scientist, suggesting that Eskimos really do have many more words for snow than English does,  The article also refers to evidence from the Sami people, who live in northern Scandinavia and Russia and whose dialects are not polysynthetic, making it easier to distinguish words.  These northern peoples also have large numbers of words for sea ice and, at least in the case of the Sami, for reindeer:  "leami" means a short, fat female reindeer, "njirru" is an unmanageable female, "snarri" is a reindeer whose antlers are short and branched, and "busat" is a bull with a single, very large testicle (does this come up often?).  The article does not address the other part of the snowclone, the supposition that Eskimos have no general term that covers all kinds of snow.

Geoff Pullum has posted a rebuttal on Language Log,, but it is a bit conclusory and does not really grapple with the substance of the article.

John Baker

The American Dialect Society -

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