How many Eskimo words are there for snow?

OK this settles it.  In the Yup'ik Eskimo Dictionary published by the Native Language Centre at the University of Alaska, and found in schools throughout Alaska's Yukon Delta, there are 37 ways of referring to snow.

When snow falls from the sky, an Eskimo can say “it's snowing” in four different ways: aniu, cellallir, ganir or qanunge.

Once the snow is on the

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ground, things can get more complicated. Light snow is kannevvluk, soft and deep snow is muruaneq and drifting snow is called natquik.

Crusted snow, corniced snow and fresh snow all have their own word too.

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=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7668163.stm” target=”_blank”>this video, where Grant Kashatok, an Eskimo principal in Alaska, explains one reason there are so many words for snow. “When we say a word, instead of saying 'That is not safe snow!' we say one word and people know if it's safe or not.”

The word to look out for is “Mingqutnguaq!”. It means “rotten ice”. So the idea is if you're tramping through Alaska and you hear someone yell this word, be very still as you could be about to fall through the ice.

I think I'll blog about the number of Italian words for pasta next week. I usually get confused when I look at the restaurant menu…

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About The Author

Kenneth is Director of Euroasia. He is passionate about languages and cultures.