What are the Inuit words for snow

Do Inuit have 40 words for snow?

The Inuit, it is said, have 40 words for snow. At least this myth holds out sternly. But is that true or is it really 50? Or even 200 words?

If you ask Geoffrey Pullum about snow words of the Inuit, he almost bursts the collar. The linguist from the University of Edinburgh had already written his anger about this in an essay in 1991: "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax". Which apparently was of little use, because the myth of the numerous - but precisely countable - word forms of the Inuit to say "snow" is still unbroken today.

Apart from the fact that there is no such thing as "the language" of the Inuit: The structure of the numerous idioms of the Inuit, Yupik and Aleutians is extremely unsuitable for determining a serious number of snow words at all. The term "word" can hardly be grasped in these languages: Whole sentences are often expressed as a word form in the same way as names for things (as if "es schneit" were just as indissoluble in German as "snow").

The often mentioned 40 words for snow are fiction

This means that even relatively sentence-like expressions, such as "What always appears new", can be used as "words" for (fresh) snow - whereby their number is in principle infinite. Furthermore, there are numerous terms that can only be understood as snow words in context: such as igluksaq in a Canadian Inuit dialect, which basically only means "house building material", but is actually a special form of snow. Just like in Alaska Yupik muruaneq, "soft deep snow", originally only means "substance into which one usually sinks deeply". On the other hand, the number of "real" snow terms is very limited. In West Greenland, for example, there are only two unrelated forms: aput- for lying, and qanik- for falling snow. German has far more differentiations: harsh, firn, sleet, avalanche and so on.

However, aput and qanik are not words, but word stems that are used in the same way as German wind in "wind-strength" or "es wind-et". In other words: The number of snow names in Inuit languages ​​is between two and an infinite number. About a dozen of them are really in use - about as many as in German or English. The often mentioned 40 words are pure fiction. In view of the actually very small basic differentiation of the snow types (aput-, qanik-), Geoffrey Pullum even asks himself whether the ubiquitous snow is perhaps only of background interest to the polar inhabitants. After all, Europeans do not meticulously subdivide grass into "lawn grass", "meadow grass" and so on. Although they could.

And so the Inuit peoples could use 40 words for snow - or 200. Or two. Meanwhile, Pullum's question why it seems so incredibly important to keep the myth of the many snowy words of the Inuit alive is thought-provoking. No one would find it exciting, according to Pullum, if someone told him that a horse breeder knows a lot of terms for his animals. With the Inuit, however, legendary "raw meat eaters", "grandma-to-polar-bear-feeders" and "women-to-strangers distributors", one is greedy for everything that allegedly makes them different from us.

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