Snow related concepts or how our surroundings shape our language

Snow related concepts

Snow related concepts

Some time ago I found a rather long discussion on whether the Inuktitut speakers, one of the languages spoken by the Inuit (Eskimos), have or do not have a long list of words for snow.

Apparently, there are several books and studies either asserting or denying a certain amount of snow-related words in Inuktitut. Maybe I even missed the point of the discussion. I certainly lack any linguistic or Inuktitut language background knowledge to take a stand on this discussion, but from reading the list posted in that forum, I do conclude that snow-related concepts are relevant enough to the Inuktitut speakers to have a wide variety of descriptions for it, whether it is through single nouns or through agglutinated phrases which look like one word to those of us who are not familiar with the language in question.


I’m familiar with snow. At home I get to see snow fall every winter. I walk on snow, I slide on snow, I eat snow, I make snowballs and snowmen, I appreciate the special light and stillness which comes with snowfall when there is no wind, I hate muddy and watery snow, I slip and get bruises on iced snow… Still, the list below includes concepts about snow I had never even thought about.

  • Aluiqqaniq: a snowdrift formed on the side of a steep hill, overhanging at top, concave at bottom
  • Aniu: snow often used for drinking water
  • Aniuvak: snow remaining in depressions on hillsides long after surrounding snow has melted
  • Aput: snow on the ground
  • Aqilluqqaaq: new soft snow
  • Auviq: a snow block for igloo construction
  • Isiriaktaq: yellow or reddish snow
  • Kanangniut: a snowdrift formed by a northeast wind
  • Kaniqtaq: compact, damp snow
  • Makpataq: a snow block cut sideways instead of downward
  • Masak: wet, saturated snow
  • Matsaaq: snow soaked in water and half melted (either on the ground or in a kettle)
  • Mauja: deep, soft snow that makes walking or sledding difficult
  • Mingullaut: fine, powdery snow that settles on objects
  • Mituk: small particles of snow or ice on a confined area of water, such as a fishing hole
  • Munnguqtuq: hard-packed snow that begins to soften slightly in the early spring
  • Naannguaq: a smooth, rounded snowdrift
  • Nataqqurnait: hailstones
  • Natiruviaqtuq: snow drift along the ground, surface drift
  • Niuma: hard, corrugated snow on sea ice, remaining after wind has blown away soft, loose snow
  • Pingangniut: a snowdrift formed by a southwest wind
  • Piqsiq: blowing snow, a blizzard
  • Pukajaaq: granular snow crystals
  • Qaniut: first snow, before it is swept by the wind
  • Qanniq: falling snow
  • Qannitaq: covered with fresh snow
  • Qikirralijarnaqtuq: snow that is squeaky or crunchy underfoot
  • Qiksukkaqsimajuq: soft snow that has been compacted by foot to make snow blocks for an igloo
  • Qimugjuk: a tapered snowdrift formed in the lee of a projection (house, igloo, boulder)
  • Qiqsuqqaq: snow surface that has thawed and refrozen
  • Tisilluqqaaq: very hard snow
  • Tullaaq: same as qiksukkaqsimajuq, different dialect
  • Uartgniut: a snowdrift formed by a northwest wind
  • Uluamaq: same as naannguaq, different dialect
  • Uqaluraq: a tongue-shaped snowdrift
    *

It is winter now in the Southern Hemisphere. Last month a heavy snowfall kept us without electricity for seven hours and the whole town paralyzed on a working day. My puppy dog, experiencing snow for the first time, freaked out at first but then really enjoyed running and playing on the snow. I worried that my newly planted trees would not resist the weight of the snow. I had to buy a new set of snow chains for my car… and so many other snow-related events. Still, nothing compared to a snow-surrounded life to achieve accuracy when talking about snow, living the snow and depending on the snow :-).

*pp. 577-580 inclusive, The Book of Lists: Canadian Edition (paperback), by Wallechinsky, David; Wallace, Amy; Basen, Ira; & Farrow, Jane. Published by Seal Books, (November 2006), a division of Random House of Canada, Ltd., by agreement with Canongate Books Ltd., Edinburgh, Scotland. ISBN-13: 978-0-7704-3009-2 – ISBN-10: 0-7704-3009-0

Quite Interesting Forum, where I found the discussion I mentioned.

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