Monday, June 12, 2006

Language Myth #1:
Hawaiian has no word for snow

False. Hawaiian does indeed have a word for snow, and ice. The word is hau. Granted such cold weather words are never needed in most of Hawai’i, but the ancient Hawaiians were certainly aware of the white stuff on the Big Island of Hawai’i where Mauna Kea is covered with it each year. (In fact, Mauna Kea means "white mountain" and was so named by the Hawaiians for its winter coat.) When snow covers the mountain, the Hawaiians say

Ua kau ka hau
PF rest DEF snow
Snow is resting [on it]

If the Hawaiians want to specifically distinguish snow from ice, they use hau kea, white hau. To distinguish frost from snow, they can use the word hau’oki, cut snow or ice. The term poke hau (sliced hau) is used for ice cubes.

A poetic term for ice is used in some stories:

Wai pū’olo i ka lau lā’au
Water wrap in DEF leaf tree
Water wrapped in the leaves of trees

since ice was carried from Mauna Kea down to the lowlands in ancient times.

The Māori of New Zealand also have much experience with snow. Their word is huka, which is cognate with the Hawaiian hu’a (an example of the Hawaiian habit of turning Polynesian k into a glottal stop), meaning froth or foam (of a beach).

From Pila Wilson, University of Hawai'i.


rob said...

It's good to see more language blogs popping up, especially one with more focus on linguistic anthropology. I have always wondered where a lot of these linguistic myths come from, i.e. Eskimo has X number of words for snow, Hawaiian has no words for snow, etc. The first thing asked my beginning Arabic class when we learned the terms for weather was, 'There are words for rain and snow in Arabic?' Perhaps this misunderstanding reveals a greater misunderstanding of the world around us.

Anyway, Coptic. There are a lot of books floating around geared toward Bohairic Coptic, but that is liturgical Coptic and most people have an interest in the Sahidic dialect, in which most of the old texts are written. A problem arises as grammars are hard to find. There are, however, a handful out there. For a good introductory grammar, I would recommend Lambdin's Introduction to Sahidic Coptic. I have been using that and some guys MA Thesis about teaching Coptic. More advanced grammars, ones dealing with the more esoteric linguistic aspects, are harder to find. I did find one of note: Bentley Layton's A Coptic Grammar.

Dave said...

Thanks for the info on Coptic. I'll see if I can locate the books you recommended. I always thought it would be nice to know something about the only somewhat living descendant of Ancient Egyptian!