“Before you study Zen, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers; while you are studying zen, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers; but once you have had enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and rivers again rivers.”

Scene I: College, Introductory Anthropology Class-late 70’s

Language is shaped by culture which in turn is shaped by environment. For example, because the Eskimos live in a snowy environment, their language has 37 names for snow because they need that many words to express the varied types of snow they experience. We, in contrast, have one word for snow.[Whorf 1939]

Scene II: Graduate School-late 90’s

Journal article: “Eskimo Words for Snow”: A Case Study in the Genesis and Decay of an Anthropological
Example
“A common example purportedly documenting
the inextricable linkage of language, culture, and thought refers to
Eskimo words for snow.”
“Such popularity is at once ironic and unfortunate because
the evolution of the example, a curious sequence of distortions and inaccuracies,
offers both a case study in the creation of an oral tradition and an object lesson on
the hazards of superficial scholarship.”

Scene III: The Web-2013

There really are 50 Eskimo words for ‘snow’

“Yet Igor Krupnik, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Washington, believes that Boas was careful to include only words representing meaningful distinctions. Taking the same care with their own work, Krupnik and others charted the vocabulary of about 10 Inuit and Yupik dialects and concluded that they indeed have many more words for snow than English does.

Central Siberian Yupik has 40 such terms, while the Inuit dialect spoken in Canada’s Nunavik region has at least 53, including “matsaaruti,” for wet snow that can be used to ice a sleigh’s runners, and “pukak,” for the crystalline powder snow that looks like salt.”

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