Snow in Language

For most of the thousands of years that people have inhabited the area that is today the state of Alaska, they lived off of the land and waters, and their lives and livelihoods have been interconnected with the rhythms of the seasons. Snow is a prominent element of the environment in Alaska, and all of Alaska’s indigenous languages include a wide range of terms that describe different kinds of snow features and events and the importance of snow to people.

Alaska’s indigenous peoples represent 20 distinct languages in 4 language families:  Eskimo/Aleut, Dene (Athabascan)/Eyak, Haida, and Tsimshian. The Alaska Native snow-related words here represent a small selection taken from existing dictionaries, the Alaska Native Knowledge Network, the Alaska Native Language Center, and conversations with individuals.

Note that missing entries do not necessarily mean that the language does not have such a term (although that could be true). Reasons for the omission may be related to the availability of dictionaries and other language resources online, current number of speakers of each language, nuances in the translation of terms to English, and the limited scope of our research efforts.

We would love to hear from you! Please contact us if you have additions or corrections, or to let us know about a great language resource!

Common terms for snow

A few terms for specific snow-related features

Table of terms for snow on trees in selected AK Native languages
Table of Alaska Native words for "sundog"
Table of Alaska Native language words for "snow-free area"

Travel and shelter words

Alaska Native terms for snowshoes
Alaska Native words related to snow shelters

Language sources consulted

We are aware of numerous dictionaries and other language resources published more recently than some of those listed below. This is a “living” website, and we look forward to updating and expanding our snow-related language content in the future, including adding Siberian Yup’ik terminology.

Ahtna – Smelcer, J.E. (Ed.) (1990). Ahtna Athabaskan Dictionary. Alaska Native Language Center

Alutiiq/Sugpiaq1. Alutiiq Dictionary (online). (n.d.). Native Village of Afognak. 2. Qik’rtarmiut Alutiitstun/Sugt’stun (Kodiak Alutiiq Language) Teaching Resource Workbook, Grades PK-5. (2009). Native Village of Afognak

Deg Xinag – Deacon, E., Dementi, J., Dutchman, R., Hamilton, K., Hamilton, L., Hamilton, H., Jerue, A., Maillelle, H., and Savage, E. (2007). Deg Xinag Learners’ Dictionary. Anvik Historical Society

Dena’ina – Wassillie, A. (1979). Dena’ina Athabaskan Junior Dictionary, James Kari (Ed.). Alaska Native Language Center

EyakdAXunhyuu Learner’s Dictionary (online). (2020). dAXunhyuuga’ eLearning Place

Gwich’in1. Peter, K. (1979). Gwich’in Junior Dictionary. Alaska Native Language Center. 2. Exploring snow terms, Observing Snow curriculum. (n.d.). Alaska Native Knowledge Network.

Haida – Lachler, J. (2010). Dictionary of Alaskan Haida. Sealaska Heritage Institute

Han – Ritter, J.T. (1978). Han Gwich’in Athapaskan Noun Dictionary. Alaska Native Language Archive, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Holikachuk – Kari, J., Alexander, J., Deacon, J., and Deacon, O. (1978). Preliminary Holikachuk Noun Dictionary. Alaska Native Language Center

Iñupiaq1. Sturm, M. 2009. Apun: The Arctic Snow. University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks. 2. MacLean, E.A. (1981). Abridged Iñupiaq and English Dictionary. Alaska Native Language Center and North Slope Borough 3. Webster, D.H. and Zibell, W. (1970). Iñupiat Eskimo Dictionary. Summer Institute of Linguistics, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Koyukon – Jones, E. (1978). Junior Dictionary for Central Koyukon Athabaskan. Alaska Native Language Center

Lower Tanana1. Exploring snow terms, Observing Snow curriculum. Alaska Native Knowledge Network, no date. 2. Lower Tanana Athabaskan Dictionary, First Preliminary Draft, compiled and edited by James Kari, 1994. Alaska Native Language Center

Minto KoyukonExploring snow terms, Observing Snow curriculum. (n.d.) Alaska Native Knowledge Network

Tanacross – Arnold, I.S., Holton, G., and Thoman, R. (2006). Tanacross Learners’ Dictionary (preliminary version). Fairbanks: Alaska Native Knowledge Center

Tlingit – Davis, H. (1976). English/Tlingit Noun Dictionary. Based on Naish, C. and Story, G. (1963). English-Tlingit Dictionary: Nouns

Tsimshian – Roberts, D.M. (2009). Dictionary of Shm’algyack. Sealaska Heritage Institute

Unangam Tunuu/Aleut – Geoghegan, R.H. (1944). The Aleut Language, Martin, F.A. (Ed.). United States Department of the Interior.

Upper Kuskokwim – Holton, G. (2013). Upper Kuskokwim Dinak’i-English Dictionary. Alaska Native Language Center. Based on Collins, R. and Petruska, B. (1979). Dinak’i (Our Words): Upper Kuskokwim Junior Dictionary. National Bilingual Materails Center)

Upper Tanana (Tetlin) – Milanowski, P.G. and John, A. (2009). Nee’aaneegn’ Upper Tanana (Tetlin) Dictionary

Yup’ik – Jacobson, S.A. (2012). Yup’ik Eskimo Dictionary, 2nd ed. Alaska Native Language Center