January 5, 2007

Another Myth Shattered

As it turns out, Eskimos don't have more words for "snow" that English speakers:

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).

6 comments:

mrc said...

Neat. Bust those myths. And those languages sound like German and Japanese with their compound nouns.

Barry G. said...

The Hawaiian language, on the other hand, has five superlative forms, as compared to English's three (good, better, best).

Instructivist said...

What happened to the Recent Comment feature? I kinda liked it.

KDeRosa said...

It's up on top on the sidebar, but for some reason it's not updating. I have to play with it a bit.

rory said...

Having more words for a concept is overated anyway.

Whats impressive is how many concepts or idea's that a single word can express.

There is a word in any language or the world that can compete with the "F-word"

michael i said...

I'm reminded of a Rex F. May (a.k.a. "Baloo") cartoon I saw years (decades?) ago in Reason magazine. Two Eskimos are heaving blocks of ice to build an igloo when one turns to the other and says "Did you know that people down south have 48 different words for building material?"