Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

If you feel that your question or comment doesn't fit into the categories above, feel free to post it here.

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by pingpong fan » Mon Jun 13, 2005 8:58 pm

It is said there are lots of words for snow in Inuit language but there are not many for the precipitation in the English vocabulary. Would the wise wizards know what thing can come close to the snow example, if even calculable? I was just curious.
Post actions:

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by Phil White » Mon Jun 13, 2005 10:29 pm

The "Eskimo words for 'snow'" tale is another language myth.

R.L. Trask has this to say:
Those Eskimo words for 'snow'. By a comical series of events, the legend has grown up that the Eskimo languages have vast numbers of words for different kinds of snow. In fact, the several dialects of the two Eskimo languages variously exhibit between two and four distinct words for snow. This is about the same as English with its snow, slush, sleet, blizzard (not to mention skiers' terms like hardpack, powder and crust).
R.L. Trask, Key Concepts in Language and Linguistics
(The use of "Eskimo" above to refer to a language group spoken by several peoples remains, to my knowledge, common and correct.)

There are a vast number of pages on the Web which debunk the myth and most point to Geoffrey Pullum or Steven Pinker for in-depth treatment. Try this one for a start: http://www.socc.ca/inuit.cfm .

Although some languages lack explicit terms for concepts common in other languages and vice versa, I'm not familiar with a realistic example of the scale of the (sadly) unfounded "snow" story.

Clearly, many native languages of the Amazon Basin will lack thousands of words for technological concepts merely due to a lack of exposure. In the same way, English lacks words to describe Alpine agriculture, German has no really suitable word for a "crofter" as understood today, and so on.

English being a more verb-oriented language than some, I would guess that it would be easier to look for verbs than nouns to find the sort of thing you're looking for. But even for the the verb "to rain", where one could perhaps expect a vast stock of words in English, I can only think of about four (rain, mizzle, drizzle, shower) single verbs, along with a few metaphors (pelt, piss, stream, rain cats and dogs, rain in torrents) or similes (rain coming down like stair rods).

But even if you do find a rack of words used for broadly the same concept, it's not often that they carry exactly the same meaning ("mizzling" is not the same as "raining"). Indeed, none of the examples I have given are really synonymous with "to rain".
Post actions:
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by haro » Tue Jun 14, 2005 12:10 am

Phil, although 'crofter' is pretty British (no offence / offense intended) while my English is under heavy American influence, I'd say 'Kleinbauer' is a fairly acceptable German word for it. Or does your remark, "as understood today" imply that I may have missed something? Granted, a crofter usually is a tenant, whereas a 'Kleinbauer' may be the owner of the land he cultivates, but then, there hardly ever are 100% accurately equivalent translations. You know the situation as well as I: "Phil, what's 'xxxxxx' in German?" In most cases the only possible answer is, "Depends on the context." Works the other way round too.

By the way, you may add 'pour' to the rain list, although that's off topic too.
Post actions:
Signature: Hans Joerg Rothenberger
Switzerland

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by pingpong fan » Tue Jun 14, 2005 12:33 am

But there is only one word for taking one's pleasure at another's misfortune so we have to use that borrowed German one if I may ski slightly off piste here. I take my hat off to Phil for his quick grasping of the nettle and debunking of the "snow job" that is the Eskimo snow drift of names for snow.I remember it featured heavily in a film so may have settled too heavily in public minds to be easily shifted. Frank Gibbard
Post actions:

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by Phil White » Tue Jun 14, 2005 8:43 am

Hans Jörg,
I actually added "as understood today" quite late in drafting my reply. Certainly in the UK, we tend to associate the word with crofts on the Scottish islands, which is heavily contextual. You are quite right that "Kleinbauer" ("smallholder"), or perhaps "Kleinpächter" ("small tenant farmer") gets close to the actual denotation of the word, but fails utterly to render the weight of connotation (windswept, isolated whitewashed cottages) that is probably now the primary sense as understood in the UK. But that's precisely the issue both in relation to the question ("words for snow") and in relation to translation generally. My experience is that it is actually extremely rare for two words in different languages to occupy an absolutely identical semantic space, at least in terms of connotation. The few that do tend to fall into the category of proper nouns and similar designations.

Frank,
Dozing off last night, I was juggling this one around again in my mind. To say that the Eskimo languages have many words for snow is rather like saying that English has hundreds of words for "soil":

Dirt: Soil which gets tramped in on the carpet on the bottom of your husband's boots
Clay: Soil used to make pottery and sculpture
Brick: Tightly compressed soil baked in a kiln used to make dwellings
Mud: Wet soil which is impossible to remove from your husband's boots
Humus: Soil comprising decayed organic material
Earth: Soil which remains firmly where it is meant to
Compost: Soil sold at an inflated price in garden centers
Muck: Soil contaminated with animal droppings (usually moist) often brought into the house on the bottom of your husband's boots (cf "mud")
Ochre: Soil which is, for some inexplicable reason, yellow. Some people assume that the color derives from prehistoric husbands relieving themselves on that patch of soil.
con variatione sine fine
Nonsense!
Post actions:
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Jun 14, 2005 11:23 am

In the good old days, the only meaning of 'Croft' was 'relaxing glass of sherry'. ;-)
Post actions:
Signature: -- Looking up a word? Try OneLook's metadictionary (--> definitions) and reverse dictionary (--> terms based on your definitions)8-- Contribute favourite diary entries, quotations and more here8 -- Find new postings easily with Active Topics8-- Want to research a word? Get essential tips from experienced researcher Ken Greenwald

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by Bobinwales » Tue Jun 14, 2005 12:36 pm

This is a bit off piste as well, but The Great Eskimo Snow Job got me thinking. It is known that Wales is known for not being flat, and, although not a good Welsh speaker, I was aware of a number of words in Welsh meaning "HILL". I checked with a couple of dictionaries and made it to 16 without actually getting anything as big as a mountain.
Post actions:
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by Phil White » Tue Jun 14, 2005 1:21 pm

- The hill in front of the church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio's of the red cave
- The hill behind the church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio's of the red cave
- The hill to the North of the church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio's of the red cave
- The hill to the South of the church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio's of the red cave
...

?
Post actions:
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by Bobinwales » Tue Jun 14, 2005 2:26 pm

For those of you who are wondering what Phil is on about, there is a town in North Wales that rejoices in the name llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Phil has given the translation.

You don’t believe me? http://llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrn ... och.co.uk/.

What I was on about (and fear not I am not going to give examples of all 16), Troedrhiw – Foot of a very steep hill, Alltwen – White Hill with a road, Crug-y-nos – Rocky Hill of the Night.
Post actions:
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Jan 20, 2007 7:22 am

This week's email newsletter from Michael Quinion (the etymologist behind the World Wide Words website) draws attention to some recent further comments by Geoffrey Pullum (whom Phil has referred to above) on the subject of Inuit/Eskimo words for snow.

Below is the nub of Pullum's dissection of the myth that the Inuit languages have hordes of words for snow:

"All eight Eskimo languages have extraordinarily rich possibilities for deriving new words on the fly from established bases. So where English uses separate words to make up descriptive phrases like "early snow falling in autumn" or "snow with a herring-scale pattern etched into it by rainfall", Eskimo languages have an astonishing propensity for being able to express such concepts (about anything, not just snow) with a single derived word. To the extent that counting basic snow words makes any real sense (it is often difficult to decide whether a word really names a snow phenomenon), Eskimo languages do not appear to have more than English has (think of snow, slush, sleet, blizzard, drift, white-out, flurry, powder, dusting, and so on)."

Visit Geoffrey Pullum's page to read about the current context of his discussion.
Post actions:
Signature: -- Looking up a word? Try OneLook's metadictionary (--> definitions) and reverse dictionary (--> terms based on your definitions)8-- Contribute favourite diary entries, quotations and more here8 -- Find new postings easily with Active Topics8-- Want to research a word? Get essential tips from experienced researcher Ken Greenwald

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by minjeff » Sat Jan 20, 2007 5:32 pm

Isn't there a place in Scotland that's name when translated means Hillhillhill?
Post actions:
Signature: Letters go together to make words; words go together to make phrases, and phrases sentences, but only in certain combinations. In others they're just non-sense.

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by Bobinwales » Sat Jan 20, 2007 9:01 pm

Near where I live there is Tyle Alltwen, which translated from the Welsh is White hill Hill.
Post actions:
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by minjeff » Sun Jan 21, 2007 6:04 am

Is per chance called Tyle Alltwen Hill?
Post actions:
Signature: Letters go together to make words; words go together to make phrases, and phrases sentences, but only in certain combinations. In others they're just non-sense.

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by zmjezhd » Sun Jan 21, 2007 3:21 pm

There are several Rivers Avon (river river) in England. There used to be an El Cerrito Hill (the hill hill) in California, but it was renamed Albany Hill. Nearby, Mount Diablo was named via a mistranslation and displacement from Monte del Diablo (devil's thicket).
Post actions:

Most words query / Eskimo words for snow

Post by Bobinwales » Sun Jan 21, 2007 3:44 pm

No Jeff, In English it is Alltwen Hill, and in Welsh Tyle Alltwen.
Post actions:
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Post Reply