Freitag, April 20, 2007

End of Rumour

Urban Legends, hearsay and rumours give us a different shape of how the world could be, they reveal also how people think about the world they live in, what they exspect and what they desire.
Since years I carry about with me the idée fixe that Inuits - who are in Germany often called Eskimos, a term which is not exactly accurate - have a whole bunch of names for something I just know one word for: snow.
Thanks to cultural theorist Stuart Hall who states that every word we use for things is arbitrary I have proof that there is indeed more than one word for the white stuff coming down from heaven in winter. Inuits have also lots of words to distinguish between different kinds of snowy wheather, between sleet and snow.
So, what are these terms? I cite the relevant passage of Stuart Hall's article "The Work of Representation" (1997, p. 23. In: Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices):


blowing (piqtuluk)
is snowstorming (piktuluktuq)
falling (qanik)
-- is falling; is snowing (qaniktuq)
light falling (qaniaraq)
light -- is falling qaniaraqtuq)
first layer of -- in fall (apilraun)
deep soft -- (mauya)
packed -- to make water (aniu)
light soft -- (aquluraq)
sugar -- (pukak)
waterlogged, mushy -- (masak)
-- is turning into masak (masaguqtuaq)
watery -- (maqayak)
wet -- (misak)
wet falling -- (qanikkuk)
wet -- is falling (qanikkuktuq)
-- drifting along a surface (natiruvik)
-- is drifting along a surface (natiruviktuaq)
-- lying on a surface (apun)
snowflake (qanik)
is being drifted over with -- (apiyuaq)
[Braces by me; "--" is placeholder for "snow"]

One explanation for why Inuits have those subtle distinctions is that they have to cope with extreme and hostile living conditions. However, I didn't find any particular word for "snow with footprints on it that could possibly come from a dangerous polar bear".

Want more rumours? Look here (German).

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