Eskimåernas ord för snö

Det här är en kort svenskspråkig sammanfattning om eskimåernas ord för snö. Jag skriver med anledning av att en gång för många ha blivit tillfrågad om saken.Bitarna nedan har jag plockat ur LINGUIST list 1994 (nr 5.1239, 5.1276;


1. Kort svar

Här ett standardcitat som alla lingvister bör bära med sig på en liten lapp om de skulle hamna på galleriinvigning eller teaterpremiär:

Geoffrey K. Pullum, in _The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax_ (Chicago, 1991), pp. 168-171, reports the results of his consultation with Anthony Woodbury, a bona fide expert on Yupik Eskimo, and provides the following statement for use at cocktail parties:

“Let it be known that Professor Anthony Woodbury (Department of Linguistics, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712) is prepared to endorse the claim that the Central Alaskan Yupik Eskimo language has about a dozen words (even a couple of dozen if you are fairly liberal about what you count) for referring to snow and to related natural phenomena, events, or behavior.” This is, he [Pullum] adds, “not remarkably different in size from the list in English.”

2. Vadåra?

Poängen med det ursprungliga påståendet om eskimåer och snö var att de förment hade flera ord för olika sorters snö men inget för just bara “snö”. Tanken var att deras omgivning präglat dem att tänka så mycket på snö att generaliseringen var ointressant för dem. Det intressanta skulle då inte vara att det finns flera ord – för det går att hitta speciella ord på varje språk – utan att det övergripande begreppet saknas.

Typ att svenskar inte har ett allmänt begrepp som täcker både “sill” och”strömming”. (för mer info om sill, strömming och skillnaden dem emellan jfr “Sill, strömming och strategiska skribenter”)

Och det är faktiskt så att eskimåerna har olika ord för “fallande snö”och “snö som håller sig på plats på marken”, typ. Men det har klassisk grekiska också, och så var det med den teorin.

3. Äkta oförfalskade data

I. Originalartikeln som avslöjade myten.

Laura Martin”Eskimo words for snow”: a case study in the genesis and decay of an anthropological example. AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST 88, pp. 418-423, 1986.

II. Uppföljningsartikeln som alla läste:

Geoffrey K. Pullum. _The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax_ (Chicago, 1991),pp. 168-171.

Och vad Pullum tyckte om att bli eskimåkändis:

… my essay was not for the most part an original contribution, and it didn’t try to represent itself as such; it originated as nothing more than an attempt to publicize the work of an anthropologist that I thought linguists should have paid more attention to, namely Professor Laura Martin, chair of the Department of Anthropology and Director of the Program in Linguistics at Cleveland State University.

[…] my essay features Laura Martin prominently and quotes her copiously. What … [you] may not know is that every time I have been contacted by the press about this subject (scores of times now), I have tried to refer them to Laura. Every time I have been interviewed on this topic (dozens of times) I have mentioned her name and affiliation. Every time I have been asked by someone whether they could reprint my essay in a reader or a magazine or use copies of it for a class, I have asked why they are not using Laura’s paper instead. But mostly to no avail. People cite me and they don’t even read her. It’s hard not to see this in terms of sexism: does nothing carry any weight unless it is uttered by a male scholar? Well, I’m a male scholar, so listen to me: read Laura Martin’s paper (American Anthropologist, 1986).

III. Riktiga eskimåord

Och här, för journalister att publicera i nästa helgupplaga, ärProfessor Woodburys riktiga lista på riktiga ord:


Counting Eskimo words for snow:

A citizen’s guide

Lexemes referring to snow and snow-related notions in Steven A. Jacobson’s(1984) Yup’ik Eskimo dictionary[1]

Anthony C. Woodbury

University of Texas at Austin

July 1991

This is a list of lexemes referring to snow and related notions in oneEskimo language, Central Alaskan Yupik (or just Yup’ik Eskimo). It isspoken by about 13,000 people in the coast and river areas of SouthwesternAlaska from Norton Sound to Bristol Bay. It is one of five Eskimolanguages. (Of these five, probably the best-known is Inuit, spoken in aseries of well-differentiated dialects ranging from Northern Alaska, allacross the Canadian far north, and up to the coast of Greenland. While theterm Inuit is preferred to Eskimo by many in Canada, the term is retainedhere because (a) it properly refers to any Eskimo group, not only theInuit; and (b) its use is widespread in Native communities in Alaska.)This is a list of lexemes rather than of words. Roughly, a lexeme can bethought of as an independent vocabulary item or dictionary entry. It’sdifferent from a word since a lexeme can give rise to more than onedistinctly inflected word. Thus English has a single lexeme _speak_ whichgives rise to inflected forms like _speaks_, _spoke_, and _spoken_. It’sespecially important to count lexemes rather than words when talking aboutEskimo languages. That’s because they are inflectionally so complicatedthat each single noun lexeme may have about 280 distinct inflected forms,while each verb lexeme may have over 1000! Obviously, that would put thenumber of snow words through the roof very quickly.

The list is organized according to lexeme *meanings*. Perhaps somewhatarbitrarily I have counted fifteen of them, placing within each of themnoun and/or verb lexemes having the same basic sense. And perhaps evenmore arbitrarily, I’ve grouped these fifteen meanings into four largersets. But the most arbitrary decision of all is left to the discretion ofthe reader-the decision of how to count the lexemes themselves. Here aresome of the problems you face:

(a) Are all fifteen lexeme meanings really ‘snow’-meanings? That is,do words with these meanings really count for you as words for snow?[2]

(b) There are some synonyms present–alternative lexemes with the samemeaning, like garbage vs. trash in English. Are you going to count themseparately, or together?

(c) If you decided to count synonyms together, will you also counttogether both of the members of noun-verb pairs having basically the samemeaning? (The members are, technically speaking, separate lexemes sincepartly idiosyncratic morphological changes mark the verbal forms, and musttherefore be listed separately in any truly informative dictionary, asindeed Jacobson’s dictionary does.)

(d) Following Jacobson, I’ve specially labelled those lexemes that onlyoccur in a small subpart of the Central Alaskan Yupik-speaking region. Areyou going to try to make counts for each separate dialect? If yes, youwill wonder if you really have enough information to do so. (You’re notalone in this-such information is difficult to compile, whether or not youare a linguist, and also whether or not you are a native speaker of alanguage.)[3]

A. Snow particles

(1) Snowflake
qanuk ‘snowflake’
qanir- ‘to snow’
qanunge- ‘to snow’ [NUN]
qanugglir- ‘to snow’ [NUN]
(2) Frost
kaneq ‘frost’
kaner- ‘be frosty/frost sth.’
(3) Fine snow/rain particles
kanevvluk ‘fine snow/rain particles
kanevcir- to get fine snow/rain particles
(4) Drifting particles
natquik ‘drifting snow/etc’
natqu(v)igte- ‘for snow/etc. to drift along ground’
(5) Clinging particles
nevluk ‘clinging debris/
nevlugte- ‘have clinging debris/…’lint/snow/dirt…’

B. Fallen snow

(6) Fallen snow on the ground
aniu [NS] ‘snow on ground’
aniu- [NS] ‘get snow on ground’
apun [NS] ‘snow on ground’
qanikcaq ‘snow on ground’
qanikcir- ‘get snow on ground’
(7) Soft, deep fallen snow on the ground
muruaneq ‘soft deep snow’
(8) Crust on fallen snow
qetrar- [NSU] ‘for snow to crust’
qerretrar- [NSU] ‘for snow to crust’
(9) Fresh fallen snow on the ground
nutaryuk ‘fresh snow’ [HBC]
(10) Fallen snow floating on water
qanisqineq ‘snow floating on water’

C. Snow formations

(11) Snow bank
qengaruk ‘snow bank’ [Y, HBC]
(12) Snow block
utvak ‘snow carved in block’
(13) Snow cornice
navcaq [NSU] ‘snow cornice, snow (formation) about to collapse’
navcite- ‘get caught in an avalanche’

D. Meterological events

(14) Blizzard, snowstorm
pirta ‘blizzard, snowstorm’
pircir- ‘to blizzard’
pirtuk ‘blizzard, snowstorm’
(15) Severe blizzard
cellallir-, cellarrlir- ‘to snow heavily’
pir(e)t(e)pag- ‘to blizzard severely’
pirrelvag- ‘to blizzard severely’

APPENDIX: An unordered list of English snow lexemes

blowing snow
ice lens
igloo (Inuit iglu ‘house’)
pingo (Inuit pingu(q) ‘ice lens’)
snow bank
snow cornice
snow fort
snow house
snow man


1. Published by Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska,

2. The indeterminacy and difficulty of this question is due to the fact
that words don’t merely match pre-existing things in the world. Rather,
they shape and encapsulate ideas about things–how they are categorized
(compare dog vs. canine), how we are interacting with them (compare sheep
vs. mutton), how the word functions grammatically (compare the noun cow vs.
the adjective bovine), and how we wish to represent our attitudes about
them (compare critter vs. varmint). It was in connection with this point
that discussion of Eskimo words for snow first arose (in the writings of
two major 20th Century anthropological linguists, Franz Boas and Benjamin
Lee Whorf). Unfortunately, their point has been pretty much missed by
those who insist on counting.

3. Here are the dialect area abbreviations used:

NS Norton Sound dialect

NSU Norton Sound, Unaliq subdialect

HBC Hooper Bay-Chevak

Y Yukon River area subdialect of General Central Alaskan Yupik dialect

NUN Nunivak


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s