That's what people actually mean when they repeat the story about Eskimo words for snow. The multiplicity of concrete terms "in Eskimo" displays its speakers' lack of the key feature of the civilized mind--the capacity to see things not as unique items but as tokens of a more general class. We can see that all kinds of snow--soft snow, wet snow, dry snow, poudreuse, melting snow, molten snow, slush, sleet, dirty gray snow, brown muddy snow, banks of snow heaped up by wind, snowbanks made by human hand, avalanches, and ski runs, to name but fourteen--are all instances of the same phenomenon, which we call "snow"; "Eskimos" see the varieties, not the class. (This isn't true of real Inuit people, only of the "Eskimos" who figure in the Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax.)
Translation between "civilized" and "primitive" languages distinguished in this way was clearly impossible. The solution was to teach colonial subjects a form of language that would enable them to acquire civilization, and the obvious tool to carry out the mission was the language of the imperial administrators themselves. In some cases, as in the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the impoverished resources of native languages were seen as such a threat to the spread of civilization that the languages and their written records had to be eradicated. But the destruction of the Maya codices wasn't solely an expression of naked power, religious fervor, and racism.
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