Sunday, January 20, 2013

50 Words to Confuse Your Linguist

Pioneering anthropologist Franz Boaz set off a century long debate when he reported that Eskimos had 50 words for snow. The newest and seemingly most careful research seems to show that he was indeed right. Also, the Sami people of Scandinavia and Russia pay a lot of attention to Reindeer.

The Sami also have as many as 1,000 words for reindeer. These refer to such things as the reindeer’s fitness (“leami” means a short, fat female reindeer), personality (“njirru” is an unmanageable female) and the shape of its antlers (“snarri” is a reindeer whose antlers are short and branched). There is even a Sami word to describe a bull with a single, very large testicle: “busat.”

Do you suppose reindeer with especially red noses are called "Rudolfs?"