Thursday, 13 September 2007
It has been a popular belief that Eskimos have 200 words for snow.
Well, let's have a look...
In 1911, Franz Boas recorded that Eskimos had four words for snow: Aput 'snow on the ground', qana 'falling snow', piqsirpoq 'drifting snow', and qimuqsuq 'a snow drift'.
In a popular 1940 article on the subject, Whorf referred to Eskimo languages having seven distinct words for snow. Later writers inflated the figure: by 1978, the number quoted had reached 50, on February 9, 1984 an editorial in The New York Times gave the number as 100, and, also in 1984, television station WEWS Cleveland quoted 200.
The idea that Eskimos had hundreds of words for snow has given rise to the idea that Eskimos viewed snow very differently from people of other cultures.
Certainly Eskimo languages have more than one word to describe snow. For example, Yupik has been estimated to have around 24 — but English has at least 40 words that describe frozen water, including "berg", "frost", "glacier", "hail", "ice", "slush", "flurry", and "sleet".
But not 200.