Ice in the arcticNow that the holiday season is approaching most of us wish it would snow, at least a little. White Christmas is at the top of the list for most kids and even we adults would not mind sliding a sledge down some nice hill every once in a while. For Arctic indigenous peoples snow is almost an all year round experience and throughout the centuries snow has played an important role in their way of life. However, for Arctic residents snow is not just snow. In most Arctic indigenous languages can be found various expressions for different types of snow and for example in Icelandic there can be found at least 10 different words for snow of which many are also popular names, such as Fönn, Fannar, Mjöll and Snær.

The Icelandic repertoire is though nothing compared to the Inuktitut one, which has more than 200 different words for snow depending on the type of snow as well as the surrounding conditions. Qanniq means falling snow, maujaq deep, soft snow, kinirtaq wet, compact snow, katakartanaq crusty snow marked by footprints, uangniut snowdrift made by northwest wind and munnguqtuq compressed snow softening in spring.

shamanThe Saami languages also categorize snow according to texture and context. For example, words used in connection with skiing and reindeer husbandry are different, even though the snow would be the same. It is also interesting to notice that even though Saami and Finnish are related languages and many of the words for snow in Saami sound familiar to Finnish speakers, the Finnish language itself only has three different official words for snow.  The Saami word vahtsa means one or two inches of new snow on top of old snow. New wet snow is called slahtte and falling rain mixed snow slabttse. Falling wet snow lying on the ground is called släbtsádahka or släbsát. Skilltje, bulltje and tjilvve are words for snow and ice that fall on objects, reindeer moss and trees. Large lumps of snow hanging on the ridge are nearly always called bulltje. Åppås on the other hand is virgin, clear snow.

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