Global Warming - Coming to a Linguist Near You

April 7, 2007 at 8:17 AM

I'm a big fan of Language Log, an active (and often cheeky) blog about all things linguistic. One phenomena of choice about which the various authors love to harangue is the (infamous?) Eskimo Snow Words Hoax. This particular hoax is so ingrained in the repertoire of primary and secondary school teachers that nearly everyone hears it (and accepts it as truth) early on in life. It's an oft-used illustration that illustrates nothing in particular—a statement of "fact" to provide a quaint and enlightening illustration of the differences between the languages and cultural focus of distinct people groups.

If you've somehow (are you living in a cave???) escaped from hearing this fable, here's my rough rendition of it:

In Inuit languages, words are formed by [insert unique/complicated sounding process here]. This provides virtually endless combinations of words, each with distinct meaning. Obviously there's a special connection between the Inuits' language and the wintry world in which they live—this special sensitivity is most palpable in the fact that they have formed over [insert large number here] words for snow. Good—now you should be experiencing some tingly-feeling cultural enlightenment, right?

I'm pleased to pass along Language Log's latest insight (which is from the Onion). Inuit languages are being forced to undergo unfortunate modern adaptations:


I guess that (if nothing else) ought to impel you to live in a smaller "footprint"—right?