Inuit don’t have words for the species global warming sends their way

Among the many cruel and unexpected ironies of the melting Arctic — and fasten your seat belts, kids, there are plenty more coming! — is the fact that the Inuit people who populate the region are quite literally unable to describe their changing world. As global warming melts the polar ice, plant and animal species advance northward into areas where they have never before been seen. Elk, salmon, barn owl, robin: Many indigenous languages simply lack words for these species. “We can’t even describe what we’re seeing,” said Sheila Watt-Cloutier of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. Some species with which Inuit people do have intimate familiarity born over millennia of coexistence, like the polar bear and caribou, have fallen on hard times and may not be around to talk about much longer. The Inuit will also, presumably, need to develop words for “thunderstorm,” “swimwear,” and “bummer.”