I know that the members of SE stay awake at night wondering
by Ziks511 - 1/3/13 9:33 PM
if the Eskimos (Inuit in Canada) actually do have 50 words for snow.
"Igor Krupnik, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Washington DC believes that Boas was careful to include only words representing meaningful distinctions. Taking the same care with their own work, Krupnik and others have now charted the vocabulary of about 10 Inuit and Yupik dialects and conclude that there are indeed many more words for snow than in English (SIKU: Knowing Our Ice, 2010). Central Siberian Yupik has 40 such terms, while the Inuit dialect spoken in Nunavik, Quebec, has at least 53, including matsaaruti, wet snow that can be used to ice a sleigh's runners, and pukak, for the crystalline powder snow that looks like salt. For many of these dialects, the vocabulary associated with sea ice is even richer. Krupnik has documented about 70 terms in the Inupiaq dialect of Wales, Alaska, which mark such distinctions as: utuqaq, ice that lasts year after year; siguliaksraq, the patchwork layer of crystals that forms as the sea begins to freeze; and auniq, "rotten" ice that is filled with holes like Swiss cheese."
The "Boas" referred to is Franz Boas, one of the original Cultural Anthropologists who founded the field. His researches in Arctic Canada, especially Baffin Island, were conducted in the 1880's.
Matthew Sturm, geophysicist with the US Army Corps of Engineers "is particularly admiring of Inuit knowledge of the processes that lead to different snow and ice formations, mentioning one elder who "knew as much about snow as I knew after 30 years as a scientist". In Sturm's opinion, documenting this knowledge is far more important than finding out exactly how many categories for snow there are."
At least some of this specialized knowledge is being collected and recorded, before the ice is all gone.