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Over 100 Different Real "Eskimo" Words for Snow and Ice

Ms. Inglish has spent 30 years working in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.

How many names have you called your latest snow storm?

How many names have you called your latest snow storm?

Snowy Misinformation and Disinformation Resolved

The Little Miss Know It All book series is a favorite among children and teachers for its lessons in how to get along in life. It seems that the title character has escaped the books to send emails and newscasts of misinformation, as in:

  1. Email circulations that contain urban legends draw in the unsuspecting public like an industrial vacuum cleaner and encourage them to forward this misinformation. People succumb to the opportunity to spread gossip.
  2. False news articles attempt to discredit scientific and historical evidence, including articles that insist that the truth is an urban legend.

Every winter, we hear falsehoods about the Inuit language and its perceptions of ice and snow.

hubris-and-the-10-000-words-for-eskimo-snow

Nonsense and Misunderstanding About Languages

Stuff and nonsense reigns! 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 actually believe that they are correct.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! There should be a special word for this type of snow and ice, wouldn't you say?

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! There should be a special word for this type of snow and ice, wouldn't you say?

 "What are the 60 Canadian, Inuit. or "Eskimo" words for Snow?"

This is an interesting question, with various answers:.

  1. In the 1980s, rumors circulated to the existence of 35 words for snow.
  2. In 2010, the answer was alternately 60, 75, 100, or 400 words, according to different sources.
  3. Some people send emails today that there are only one to four words related to the topic and these posts make a most annoying type of spam.

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 probably 60 different words for the delicate winter precipitation, but probably not 400 unique words.

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 in the 2010s. No one is studying this topic through rips to earth's Arctic subpolar regions.

Some Word-Related Snow Blindness

We have no such thing as an Eskimo on Earth.

The E-word is a term in the same slop bucket now as Red Man for a Native American and the N-word for African Americans. Eskimo Pie is a play-on-words ice cream treat and Red Man is unfortunately a brand of chewing tobacco.

The thing the world wants to know is "How many words do Inuit languages and dialects have for snow and ice?"

Inuits at Cape Fullerton, Nunavut, Canada; 1905.

Inuits at Cape Fullerton, Nunavut, Canada; 1905.

Inuit peoples have lived for centuries around the Arctic Circle, from the Bering Strait through Canada, parts of Alaska, Greenland, and even Iceland, as discovered in the 2000s. Close genetic and language-related peoples reside today in the Far North of Europe, Mongolia, and Siberia.

Disappearing Languages

Snow no longer falls along part of the northern coast of Alaska, where the Native Alaskans and some Inuits are moving their village 40 miles inland to avoid the eroding shoreline (PBS; Smithsonian Channel, 2010 - 2015). In act, the dialects of these villages are disappearing and with them, some of the terms used for snow and ice.

In the late 2000s, NASA satellites recently discovered the Northwest Passage, opened by melted ice in northern Canada. There, too, native dialects are disappearing.

With disappearing snow, words for different types of snow may already have disappeared as well.

We must check all the dialects of Inuit and related languages around the top of the Earth, before deciding that there are only a dozen words for snow, ice, or both. Already found are at last 44 in the early 2010s.

Major Inuit Dialects to Examine

"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.

Let it qanik, let it qanik, let it qanik!

Let it qanik, let it qanik, let it qanik!

Inuktikut Words for Snow and Ice

Eskaleut Languages

Lexeme: a basic language unit that consists of one word or of several words, considered as an abstract unit and applied to a family of words related by form or meaning. (Miriam-Webster Dictionary, 2017).

Snow Words in the Eskaleut Language Inuktikut

Academia contains linguistic discussion about words vs. lexemes in variants of snow, which might or might not shorten the following list.)

  1. aniu
  2. apijaq
  3. aput
  4. isiriartaq
  5. katakartanaq
  6. kavisilaq
  7. kinirtaq
  8. mannguq
  9. masak
  10. matsaaq
  11. matsaaruti: snow wet enough to ice the runners of a sleigh.
  12. natiruvaaq
  13. pukak: looks like salt.
  14. qannialaaq
  15. qannik
  16. qiasuqaq
  17. qiqumaaq

PLURAL: piirsituq, pirsituq.

"ICE" in the same language:

  1. aggutitaaq
  2. ivuniit
  3. killiniq
  4. nilak
  5. puttaaq
  6. quasaq
  7. sarliarusiq
  8. siku
  9. sikuqraaq
  10. tuvaq

In the mid-1980s, additional words for "snow" appeared in author Steven A. Jacobson's Yup'ik Eskimo Dictionary (1984). He is the person that lived among the Inuit for 20 years, 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."

Additional words and definitions for snow and ice were included in a comment by a researcher at SNOW WORDS (1979). These include:

  1. akuvijarjuak = thin ice in the sea
  2. anijo = snow on the ground
  3. hiko = ice (generic)
  4. hikuliaq = thin ice
  5. ivuneq = high pack ice
  6. kaniktshaq = snow (generic)
  7. kanut = fresh snow without any ice
  8. kuhugaq = icicle
  9. manelaq = pack ice
  10. maneraq = smooth ice
  11. nahauliq = snow bunting
  12. nilak = freshwater ice
  13. peqalujaq = rather old ice
  14. pugtaq = drift ice
  15. qanik = falling snow
  16. quahak = fresh ice without any snow
  17. tsikut = large broken-up masses of ice blocks
  18. tugartaq = firm winter ice

Igor Krupnik found 70 words for "ice" used in the Inupiaq dialect in Wales, Alaska.

A Yup'ik man on Nunivak Island, Alaska.

A Yup'ik man on Nunivak Island, Alaska.

Languages Changes

Living in an area that experiences various snowfalls for six to nine months a year, residents begin to notice differences and to name them.

Slang terms and mispronunciations produce new words, new dialects, and even new languages as time passes. Writers and poets make up additional words as well..

Innuit Words for Snows in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland

These words come from dialects among:

  1. Arctic and Subarctic Indigenous Peoples in Alaska,
  2. Aboriginals in Canadian Northern Provinces and Territories,
  3. Natives in Greenland and Iceland.

Languages examined include at least the

  • Inupiat and Inupiaq (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 speakers), and
  • Kalaallit (Greeland),
  • Other nations and bands of Eskaleut languages in northern Canada.
  • Related languages in Iceland, Northern Europe, Siberia, etc.

Real Languages

Once we discard the word "Eskimo", which is either a Canadian Ojibway/Cree derogatory word, we find that the Inuit Nation has lived and continues to live around the top of the globe in the Arctic and Subarctic regions, as roughly depicted on the map below..

The problems with the word "Eskimo" is that it

  1. Means "the people who make netted shoes" to some, and
  2. "The eaters of raw meat" to some other tribes, possibly suggesting cannibalism.

Any living 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. We need ongoing language observation, to which end Google began its Endangered Language Project to save 3,000 disappearing languages.

Boas only recorded a small fragment of the words available. At his time there would have been many more terms than there are today.

— Igor Krupnik, 2013

Sources

  • Allpergen, B. and Dobrieva, E. 2009. List of the Naukanski Yupik Sea Ice terms. Unpublished manuscript prepared for the SIKU project (in Russian and Naukanski Yupik). Note: Hub author speaks Russian.
  • Bogoslovskaya, L. and Krupnik, I.; Editors. Our Ice, Snow and Winds (Nashi l’dy, snega i vetry). Indigenous and Academic Knowledge about Sea Ice and Climate Change in Eastern Chukotka. Lyudmila. 2013. Moscow: Russian Heritage Institute, 360 pp. (in Russian). Note: Hub author speaks Russian.
  • Google Endangered Language Project. www.endangeredlanguages.com/ Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  • Krupnik, I. Arctic people’s cultural and environmental knowledge. Modern sea ice and climate change, language loss, and culture shift. Ongoing research in publication.

© 2010 Patty Inglish MS

Comments

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 19, 2014:

Great! I'll be looking up those books by Sue Harrison. Thanks for posting and sharing, cclitgirl!

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on January 19, 2014:

Loved this. And I linked up with a soon-to-be-published hub. As I was reading, your hub made me think of Sue Harrison's books. She wrote a series of historical fiction novels, set at 5,000 B.C. (if I recall correctly) and presents a lot of research of this region. If you're into that, they're GREAT books. :) Voted up and shared.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 20, 2013:

How many names have you called YOUR latest snow storm?

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 03, 2011:

Yeah, An Inconsiderate Truth came to mind. I thought it was pretty funny. I'm still for not wasting resources, but I thought the book looked like a child's picture book. Thanks, Support Med!

And thanks for the new comments, everyone!

Support Med. from Michigan on February 03, 2011:

Well, I guess your title 'An Inconsiderate Truth' works best. As no one should convenience themselves with lies which they project to others as truth. Grand info! Voted and rated.

Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin, USA on December 02, 2010:

Very interesting hub. I think most of us when we are rushed don't check all the facts. Interesting reference to the language of the amazing people.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on December 01, 2010:

Thank you,Patty, for teaching me so much about these interesting people.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 28, 2010:

Thanks RedElf; I had not expected the comparison, but my favorite Estes quote: "If you have never been called a defiant, incorrigible, impossible woman, have faith… there is yet time."

And don't make ice cream of yellow snow :)

RedElf from Canada on November 28, 2010:

Patty, when you hit your stride, as you do here (and everywhere else ;) )you put me in mind of the great American storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes. This whole "snow" question is an interesting piece of internet foolishness - though I seem to remember a warning from my Inuit classmates about "yellow snow" :D

Deborah Demander Reno from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on November 27, 2010:

This is a well written hub. Voted up, and look forward to more of your work.

Namaste.

Eiddwen from Wales on November 27, 2010:

Great hub and so very interesting. You never know what topic you'll be learning about next here on HP and that's what makes it the great community that it has become.

Thank you so much for sharing this hub Patty and take care.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 26, 2010:

Thank you, Gal! I love the storytelling, because years ago I heard a pastor who is Algonquin tell stories in native dress and face paint of a story teller. It was wonderful and people of all ages sat around him and did not want him to stop - I think you are right about the bond you describe.

He and his son have a living history installation in western Ohio now. It's wonderful.

Thanks for the kind words and rating!

Susan Hazelton from Sunny Florida on November 26, 2010:

Patty, I believe we are all plagued with these annoyingemails - as for me I may give them a glance then delete them. So many of they are as you say, sent for attention or mistaken ignorance.

I find the Inuit fascinating, I like K9, have heard that the history and language is passed down from generation to generation by storytelling. What a shame we couldn't have more of it in our own families. The bond it would create would be so much better for the children of today than what many of them have. Wonderful hub - I found it fascinating reading from the first sentence to the last word. Voted up and awesome.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 25, 2010:

Yes, why do people not check, charkamman -- and sometimes these emails contain computer viruses and worms that work silently as people spread the spam across the Internet.

If schoolchildren and high school students are being asked to name 60 words for snow, then I am horrified. It takes me back to all the scientific misinformation I was served in Grades 1 - 5, like 'Blue Whales are small.'

charkamman from portugal on November 25, 2010:

That was a fun read Patty! And I agree with you, the fake mails get up my nerves too. yesterday I got an email from a friend, about a littler of Golden Retrievers that would be put down in 2 weeks time, with photo's of a beuatiful litter - all bogus - the email adresses in the mail were all not working or fake. Why do people not check that out before they send it to their whole adress book?

Anyway, this was a beuatiful Hub and I enjoyed the names for snow - especially the ones with the translations!

Charlotte

India Arnold from Northern, California on November 24, 2010:

Thanks for the response Patty. I see your point on the enormity of the project. When considered from a more philosophical scope; can it be that possibly the words for snow are as vastly many as there are snow flakes themselves?

Your point is well taken my friend...

K9

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 24, 2010:

Hi K9keystrokes - I've read a little about the father-to-son story and language passage, but don't know all about it really; but this seems to reinforce the opinion that we can't know all their words for snow without a pretty large project. The project for studying even Elephant language is pretty expensive, so for Inuits, it may be much more massive and expensive a task. Fun, though.

India Arnold from Northern, California on November 24, 2010:

What an amazing people the Inuit are, so creative and resilient in their survival. Correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that much of the history and language they pass through the generations is simply by way of story telling from father to child and so on? Remarkable bonds are created under remarkable constraints. Wonderful hub Patty, as always, Up and Awesome.

K9