The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

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The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Wed Apr 04, 2012 12:30 pm

I've finally got my hands on these two books and I'm very happy to have them.

I'd recommend reading Williams & Colomb's "Style, Lessons in Clarity and Grace" as a wonderful style guide, intended to both professional and non-professional audience.

As the writers note in the foreword, the reader should be familiar with the basic grammatical terms used in the book to make effective use of their instruction. A well-read native speaker of a language may write very well, at least within their specialty field, without having grammatical knowledge, but if we are talking about very high standards of writing, even native speakers will need knowledge of the basic language structures and structuring of the specific piece of writing to be able to improve their writing style. For example, to know the purpose of "passive" clause in English, we first need to know how it is formed. Or, to know why resumptive, summative and free modifiers are convenient tools in shaping the sentence, one first needs to have an idea of the term "modifier" etc. On the whole, the book is written in plain language, and it takes only a reasonable amount of basic linguistic knowledge and a bit of concentration for a reader to be able to benefit from reading it. Anyone who is keen on improving their writing, be it a native or non-native speaker of English, should have this book on their shelf.

Again, most of the book content is something that academic native speakers routinely and intuitively use in their writing without having to have knowledge of the formal terminology, but some concepts will be new to them, and all of the book content will help them systematize their intuitive writing skills.

The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax by Geoffrey Pullum is an interesting compilation of essays on a broad range of language topics and I can't wait to read this one too.
Last edited by dante on Tue Aug 07, 2012 11:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Wizard of Oz » Thu Apr 05, 2012 11:14 am

.. The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax .. I wonder what type of snow they are talking about ?? .. or maybe it's about how to name a polar bear ..

WoZ counting the snow flakes
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Thu Apr 05, 2012 4:43 pm

I wonder what type of snow they are talking about ??
You know WoZ, I have reasons to believe that it is most likely that your question would infuriate the author of the book :)

Here is what the opening paragraph of the short description of the book content on the back cover says:
"Oft-repeated nonsense about the number of Eskimo words for snow; crazy consequences of libel laws; how Star Trek's Commander Spock would react to Noam Chomsky's linguistic theories: these are some of the curiosities addressed in this collection of essays on language and the people who study it - essays that present a wry and often zany slant on topics normally treated with gravity."
Well, I will join those believing this nonsense and say that it makes sense to me that the Inuit language use lexically different words instead of using descriptive phrases to differentiate between various types of snow, and that the people speaking this language use them as a matter of course, while I wouldn't expect that the languages people speak around the Equator are as rich with words describing something most of those people only heard of, and never have seen it. I believe that the lexicon of any language in the world shapes around whatever specific needs people have, and I wouldn't think that any linguistic theory now or in the future will be able to come up with some different, inexplicable to ordinary people, mysterious, and possible to be explained only in hieroglyphic algebraic script, theory of language origins. From what professor Pullum wrote I believe that it is enough to qualify me as ignorant :)

Anyway, this widespread belief infuriated professor Pullum so much that he ranted for pages about this, lamenting over "falling standards in academia" and the "tendency toward fundamentally anti-intellectual (!) "gee-whiz" mode of discourse and increasing ignorance of scientific thought (!!) He also says that even "if there were large number of root for different snow types, discussing it would not be intellectually interesting, it would be most mundane and unremarkable fact." . This is followed by the argument about different professions (horse breeders, botanists, printers, interior decorators are mentioned) developing various words for the things within their respective areas (which seems irrelevant here, because when snow falls it's everyone's business :)) : "If these obvious truths of specialization are supposed to be interesting facts about language, thought and culture, then I'm sorry, but include me out."

The lexical choice isn't that mundane thing to me as professor Pullum's find it to be, on the contrary. To take an example from this essay, I find it interesting that Pullum included "blizzard" in the list of words that can be used as alternatives to "snow" in English:
"I recall the stuff in question being called snow when fluffy and white, slush when partly melted, sleet when falling in half-melted state, and blizzard when pelting down hard enough to make driving dangerous."
Unlike professor Pullum, in my 6.0 years experience of struggling to learn English, I can't recall that I've ever thought of "blizzard" as a type of snow. Including "blizzard" in the list of the words describing the "stuff in question" the author contradicted himself, showing that he struggled to find another word to corroborate the claim about "anti-intellectual" and false character of the hoax about Eskimos' words for snow. While the words "snow", "sleet" and "slush" may be used to describe the property of (similar) "stuff", a substance that falls or is on the ground, the word "blizzard", (at least for me, a struggling ESL learner) doesn't entail the meaning of a property of a substance, denoting weather condition, specifically, kind of a storm, and therefore doesn't belong to the group of the stuff in question, simply because it is not a stuff, in question or otherwise. "Blizzard" is a snowstorm which means that, speaking from the anti-intellectual point of view, belongs to storms: snowstorm, hailstorm, rainstorm, sandstorm, thunderstorm etc.

I hope WWs will give a bit of thought to this anti-intellectual topic and discuss the stuff in question.
Last edited by dante on Thu Apr 05, 2012 6:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Thu Apr 05, 2012 6:14 pm

Here are some anti-intellectual dictionary definitions for the word "blizzard" :

Collins dictionary
noun

a strong bitterly cold wind accompanied by a widespread heavy snowfall

Britannica
blizzard, severe weather condition that is distinguished by low temperatures, strong winds, and large quantities of either falling or blowing snow.

Wikipedia
A blizzard is a severe snowstorm characterized by strong winds and low temperature

Yourdictionary
noun

a severe snowstorm characterized by cold temperatures and heavy drifting of snow
Google dictionary
A severe snowstorm with high winds and low visibility

Macmillan dictionary

a storm with a lot of snow and strong winds

Cambridge advanced learner's dictionary


a severe snow storm with strong winds
Oxford dictionary online ODO
a severe snowstorm with high winds and low visibility.

Merriam Webster dictionary
1. a long severe snowstorm

2. an intensely strong cold wind filled with fine snow

Free dictionary
a. A violent snowstorm with winds blowing at a minimum speed of 35 miles (56 kilometers) per hour and visibility of less than one-quarter mile (400 meters) for three hours.
b. A very heavy snowstorm with high winds.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Apr 05, 2012 6:49 pm

It is easy to be left confused by the assertions that the Inuit either do or do not have "100 different words for snow" (a question previously discussed in this forum here). Intuitively (or should I say inuitively) one would expect them to have a wide range of descriptive terms for the types of snow they encounter in their environment. The confusion partly arises, I think, from the difference between "100 different words for snow" and "100 different words for types of snow".

Even in English we have many different terms for types of snow. Among others, there is corn snow (granular snow formed by alternate thawing and freezing), graupel (snow or snowflakes with some crystallized ice forming soft ice pellets that are not as hard as hail), powder snow (newly-fallen, uncompacted snow), crud (heavy wet snow that is unsuitable for skiing), névé (a young, granular type of snow which has been partially melted, refrozen and compacted, a stage prior to becoming ice), and firn (a type of snow that has been left over from past seasons and has been recrystallized into a substance denser than névé, and is at a stage intermediate between snow and glacial ice). (A much longer list than this one can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_snow .)

Geoffrey Pullum discusses the question of Inuit words for snow here. This is part of what he says:
"...all eight Eskimoan languages are polysynthetic to a high degree, not just most; [...] the distinction between bases and derived words isn't even hinted at here, but it's crucial; [...] the point is not about what an Inuit person would do, it's about the structural resources an Eskimo language provides; [...] it's not clear that English has more words (who's counting?), it's just that it appears to be roughly comparable by most sensible ways of counting distinct genuinely snow-related lexeme roots. The point is that we want to count one for each family of derived words like snow, snowy, snowing, snowlike, snowstorm, etc.; if you don't do that, then Eskimoan languages not only have millions of words for snow, they have millions of words for fish, millions of words for coffee, millions of words for absolutely anything, which makes the whole discussion irrelevant to anything about snow."
He summarizes his argument as follows:
The idea that Eskimos have many more words for snow than English speakers is a myth. 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).
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Thu Apr 05, 2012 8:10 pm

It doesn't seem important to me if the exact number of Inuit words for snow is a hundred, ten or whatever. The point is that it is expected that the lexicon of any language has to do with the world around, it doesn't develop according to some cosmic rules known only to professor Pullum. Whatever "stuff" people are concerned about, that affects their lives in whichever way, they will, according to their needs, name it appropriately. The more it is important to them, the more they are going to be specific about it.

At moments, the author got really worked up because of the whole thing with people lying about Eskimos' words for snow:
And actually, when you come to think of it Eskimos aren't really that likely to be interested in snow. Snow in the traditional Eskimo hunter's life must be a kind of an assumed background, like sand on the beach. And even beach bums have only one word for sand. But there you are: the more you think about the Eskimo vocabulary hoax, the stupid it gets.
Same goes for this kind of argument. And for this one too:
Don't be coward like me. Stand up and tell the speaker this : C.W Schultz-Lorentzen's Dictionary of the West Greenlandic Eskimo Language (1927) gives you just two possibly relevant roots: quanik "meaning snow in the air" or "snowflake", and "aput", meaning "snow on the ground". Then add that you would be interested to know if the speaker can cite any more.
Nice instruction really. Ok, I won't be a coward but.. am I supposed to stand up and say that if it's not in C.W Schultz-Lorentzen's Dictionary of..then no such words in the Eskimo language? But what if C.W Schultz etc dictionary is sort of a student's edition of the Eskimo Language?
Anyway, that was about the main evidence I found in this essay that is supposed to prove that believing in such things reflects anti-intellectual plot and everything. It is possible that Pullum has stronger evidence than this, but not that he offered them in his essay, so I guess that is confidential information. The best that can be found is:
But the truth is that the Eskimos do not have lots of different words for snow, and no one who knows anything about Eskimo (or more accurately, about the Inuit and Yupik families of related languages spoken by Eskimos from Siberia to Grenland) has ever said they do. Anyone who insists on simply checking their alleged facts about snow vocabulary (but nobody ever checks, because the truth might not be what the reading public wants to hear)
And then, when you would expect the truth to be said, by someone who always checks, and who, it is assumed, knows a lot about Eskimos from Siberia to Grenland, you get what you Erik would name "an embittered diatribe" against anti-intellectual & unknowledgeable "don't know nothing and never check" illiterates. For the answer about the Eskimos' words for snow you will need to look somewhere else.

Unfortunately, I don't know a word of the Inuit or Yupik languages, from Siberia to Grenland, so I can corroborate my opinion with even less argument than professor Pullum did in his essay. I'll need to wait to meet an educated Inuit to tell me about this, I can see that.

What I'd really like to read now is some statistics and field research about the usage of the words "graupel", "crud", "firn", "névé" among the people in the Miami region. My uneducated guess is that the researcher would raise some serious eyebrows with his inquiry.

And, I almost forgot.."blizzard" is not a type of snow.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Apr 05, 2012 8:26 pm

Not that you were off flogging your hobby-horse till it dropped or anything, but you overlooked this:
Erik_Kowal wrote:The confusion partly arises, I think, from the difference between "100 different words for snow" and "100 different words for types of snow".
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Thu Apr 05, 2012 8:42 pm

Let me make some more uneducated guesses here Erik.
Since this variety of different words for roughly the same concept is to be explained by the polysynthetic nature of the structure of the Eskimo languages, not doubting that professor Pullum knows about the structure of all eight Eskimo languages, I'll follow the instructions from his essay and I'll stand up and ask the speaker to check C.W Schultz-Lorentzen's Dictionary of the West Greenlandic Eskimo Language (1927) for the word "bikini". If it's true that Eskimos "have millions of words for fish, millions of words for coffee, millions of words for absolutely anything, which makes the whole discussion irrelevant to anything about snow." the same must be true for bikini. And I'll be happy with less than million.
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).
And, I almost forgot..blizzard is not a word for snow.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Thu Apr 05, 2012 8:48 pm

Don't let the nuances stand in our way Erik, we have serious research to do here. We need to find C.W Schultz and the rest of the guys' Dictionary and also people speaking those eight Eskimo languages to find out the truth on this matter. I mean, someone else than professor Pullum who speaks all eight.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Thu Apr 05, 2012 8:56 pm

Ok, on the second thought, bikini is a pretty new word so we'll need some updated edition of C.W Shultz& brothers Eskimo dictionary:
bikini (n.) Look up bikini at Dictionary.com

"low-cut two-piece women's bathing suit," 1948, from Fr. coinage, 1947, named for U.S. A-bomb test of June 1946 on Bikini, Marshall Islands atoll, locally Pikinni and said to derive from pik "surface" and ni "coconut," but this is uncertain. Various explanations for the swimsuit name have been suggested, none convincingly, the best being an analogy of the explosive force of the bomb and the impact of the bathing suit style on men's libidos (cf. c.1900 British slang assassin "an ornamental bow worn on the female breast," so called because it was very "killing").

Bikini, ce mot cinglant comme l'explosion même ... correspondant au niveau du vêtement de plage à on anéantissement de la surface vêtue; à une minimisation extrême de la pudeur. [Le Monde, 1947]

As a style of scanty briefs, from 1960. Variant trikini (1967), with separate bra cups held on by Velcro, falsely presumes a compound in bi-.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Wizard of Oz » Fri Apr 06, 2012 4:25 am

.. dante I am not sure which side you are on in this debate, pro100 or anti100, but next time you are in Italy ask an Italian to buy some pasta ..

WoZ who LOVES pasta
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Fri Apr 06, 2012 1:28 pm

The confusion partly arises, I think, from the difference between "100 different words for snow" and "100 different words for types of snow".
It doesn't in my head, Erik. The author's claim is that Eskimos do not use any more concepts for the types of snow than the English speaking people do, only they do express these concepts in one word (where only two words for snow have different roots according to C.W Shultz..), which is due to the astonishingly polisynthetic nature of their language, and they do the same with all other words such as "coffee" , "bikini" etc. Here's the full text of the essay:

http://users.utu.fi/freder/Pullum-Eskimo-VocabHoax.pdf

In other words the claim the author makes in this essay is that whether you have a lot of snow around or not has nothing to do with lexicon of the language. English is taken for comparison, and it turns out (even when blizzard is left out) that English has as many words for snow as Eskimos do, if not more, which is explained by the fact that Eskimos take snow as a kind of constantly assumed background, like sand on the beach. So, it can even be inferred that the snow precipitation might affect the lexicon of the Eskimo language but in a way to actually reduce the number of words they use for snow, due to the fact that they ignore it, snow being around all the time.

I think that English is not the right language to prove this theory of "constantly assumed background", because one can stand up, refer to C.W Shultz..dictionary and say that the snow is equally assumed thing for native Yupik people on Alaska and Alaskans whose mother tongue is English.
..the point is not about what an Inuit person would do, it's about the structural resources an Eskimo language provides..
I don't know a word of Inuit, but I can hazard an anti-intellectual guess. If catching fish for their families depends on the type of snow professor described as "snow with a herring-scale pattern etched into it by rainfall", I'll place my bet that Inuits thought of more concise and less stupid way to refer to that kind of snow.

Physical environment is one of who knows how many factors shaping the lexicon of any language, be it polysynthetic or not. As to the such mundane and anti-intellectual thing as word formation is, I guess that economy must be one of the guiding principles there. My anti-intellectual guess would be that the generic concepts are never descriptive phrases or too long words in any world language, or at least they are not in English or Serbian. Here's a list of 100 most common words in English http://www.duboislc.org/EducationWatch/ ... Words.html . The length of the seven most commonly used words, for example, is equal to the length of the word "notwithstanding" :


theofandatoinis
notwithstanding


I guess that the same intuition that shaped, for example, "and" as a crucial connector of ideas, instead of hamgrfffumph, which was, how I hear,also on the table, shaped the form of other prepositions and all the rest of the most commonly used words.


For the sake of comparison, here are the most common prepositions (words) in Serbian that come to mind:

u, na, o, i, a, sa, po, ka, na, do, uz, pri, kod...


I don't know about polysynthetic or synthetic, but those seem comparable to English prepositions.

Languages shape around our need to communicate the feelings and thoughts important to us as clearly and as concisely as possible. I guess that the trends in English show this clearly. I believe that reducing "would", "did", "have" etc to "d", "ve" etc., developing "weak" forms of words in English like "t" for "to", or "wd" for "wud", "kd" for "could" etc., the shrinking of the language in the modern internet correspondence, and similar phenomena indicate a clear tendency of the language towards developing ever more concise ways of communication.

Finally, the author of this research http://www.andrew.cmu.edu/course/88-301 ... words.html finds Pullum's essay about this unheard of hoax excellent , and says that he identified 15 different words for the types of snow in Yupik language.
Aside this thing about polysynthetic character of Eskimo languages, and their being astonishingly able to put a lot in only one word, the question is still if the concepts like "nevluk" or "natquik" can be translated into anything similar to an established phrase in English. I mean some phrase heard frequently enough to be able to expect it from a native speaker like:

I need to shake these clinging particles off my coat.

or

These drifting particles are getting into my eyes, I can barely see the road ahead of me.



..dante..who rode off on his hobby-horse..yippeee.
Last edited by dante on Fri Apr 06, 2012 4:26 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Fri Apr 06, 2012 1:43 pm

I don't like pasta much WoZ. I like pizzas though, especially "cappriciosa" with ham, cheese and mushrooms. Pizza names are not translated in Serbian, at least not where I live, so when you are in pizzeria you will order "cappricioza", "quattro stagione" etc, by their original Italian names.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sat Apr 07, 2012 10:59 pm

.. dante I was suggesting that pasta is an Italian's snow .. you simply say I don't like pasta much WoZ. .. the response from me would be What pasta don't you like? ..

WoZ who likes pasta in all its 100 words
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Sun Apr 08, 2012 9:01 am

So there are different kinds of pasta? So it is not an assumed dish for the Italians? :)
Not that I know much about different kinds of pasta WoZ, but I guess that it would be a thumb down to all of them, as far as I am concerned.
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