“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). “
With 100 inches of snow and weeks of bitter cold this winter, much of my conversations lately have been about snow. Languages evolve to suit the needs and the ideas most crucial to the speakers. To that extent, English seems to fall short in enough words for snow, and my one word for snow in Korean 눈 is even skimpier.
Linguists will nitpick about how to count words. Basically, what are the main ideas of snow? Snow lexemes that can be thought of as an independent vocabulary item or dictionary entry.
English snow lexemes: avalanche, blizzard, blowing snow, dusting, flurry, frost, hail, hardpack, powder, sleet, slush, snow bank, snow man, snowflake, snowstorm
Here is a list of lexemes referring to snow and related notions in one Eskimo language, Central Alaskan Yupik. This list was published by Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
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'