Free «Eskimo Names for Snow» Essay

Eskimo Names for Snow

It is a well-known fact that across the globe different societies developed names for the same colors, objects, phenomena, etc. Among different linguistic issues there is especially interesting one: in one language there is one name for the object, and in another – huge amount of synonyms. Numerous researches in this area have demonstrated that in any natural, as well as professional language, vital for native speakers phenomena are described in details and have surprisingly great rows of synonyms (Robson 3). They state that no one described sea, sea water, and a coastline as bright, colorful and expressive as old pilot books (especially in the era before invention of compass). The snow names can be another interesting theme for discussion. This work is devoted to the depiction of Eskimo names for snow in cultural and linguistic contexts.

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American linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf contributed to the research of appearance of many snow lexemes in Eskimo language. He made a hypothesis on the basis of two principles that are linguistic determinism and relativity. The first one means that language determines the way of thinking.  Germans or Eskimos think differently than British people because they speak various languages. The second principle means that verbal differences in one language сan be optionally presented in another one. The usage of word snow and is synonyms can prove this. For example, Chukchi, northern nation, have one word for red, green and orange, but there are 17 words for shades of white. Eskimo use much more words to depict snow, nearly 50 (Robson 1).

In his article Whorf that a large number of words for snow in Eskimo were a proof of the principle of linguistic determinism (Martin 418). It happens because of their surroundings: every day they are faced with ice and snow, and see no sun or oranges. For example, in English language there is only one word for snow, but we can describe it by using different adjectives while naming its shades. Wharf argues that Eskimos speak about Arctic weather more vividly because their language has more words related to this subject (Deutscher 32). The researcher writes that English language has the same word for falling snow, snow lying on the ground, packed, ice, sticky, and wind-blown snow (James 1). Such a long phrase describing snow condition is impossible for Eskimo. He would say that the packed, sticky snow, etc. can be one word as all lexemes has different concepts, both in terms of use perception. In other words, Eskimos apply different words for different snow conditions (Robson 2).

Nevertheless, the fact of presence of a large number of words for one concept facilitates perception of its meaning. Scientists assert  that a small number of word synnonyms means that this concept is not important for this particular nation. Language system reflects the amount of experience in a specific field accumulated by native speakers (Woodbury 4).

According to another point of view, Eskimo language just simply consists of a set of few basic roots which can produce lexemes or phrases according to the situation (Martin 419). That means, that Eskimo language system allows creating words according to circumstances, and it does not have a huge amount of already formed words and phrases. This point of view is deserved to be taken more seriously because it touches the problem of language structure, not just the semantic filling.

In my opinion, both hypotheses are rational. It is easier for us to remember colors which have names than those which do not. But it does not mean that we cannot distinguish colors without their names.

In conclusion, it should be said that although Eskimo have many names of snow and the English language has only one, it definitely characterizes differences in world perception. Every nation has unique set of codes including special knowledge inherited from ancestors. This unconscious information is performed in language system structure too. That is why Eskimo are known worldwide as a nation with 500 definitions of snow, since this is their national feature.

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