SIKU: Knowing Our Ice

pp 377-400


Franz Boas and Inuktitut Terminology for Ice and Snow: From the Emergence of the Field to the “Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax”

  • Igor KrupnikAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution Email author 
  • , Ludger Müller-WilleAffiliated withMcGill University

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Franz Boas, the “founding father” of North American anthropology, has long been credited with many pioneer contributions to the field of Arctic anthropology, as a result of his first and only fieldwork among the Inuit on Baffin Island, following the First International Polar Year 1882–1883. In this new “polar year” the SIKU project has initiated several studies of the Inuit terminology for sea ice and snow, including in the areas of Baffin Island once surveyed by Boas, as well as in the nearby regions of Nunavut, Nunavik, Labrador, and Greenland. Also, in the past decade the story of Boas’ fieldwork on Baffin Island has become known in full, in diaries, personal letters, and field notes. This chapter capitalizes on these new sources: it examines Boas’ knowledge of the Inuit terminology for sea ice and snow and its value to current discussion about language, indigenous knowledge, the Inuit, and beyond. It also addresses the so-called Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax debate of the past decades that misconstrues Boas’ use of the Inuit terms and the analysis of the contemporary Inuit ice and snow vocabulary.


Franz Boas Inuktitut Baffin Island Ice and snow terminology