display | more...
The language of the Inuit, an indigenous people of Arctic North America, e.g. Nunavut, northern Quebec, and Greenland. The glyphs used in Inuktitut writing are not contained in the ISO-8859-1 charset (spellings like "Inuktitut" are just European-language approximations, and have varied over the decades), so I won't be putting any examples in this writeup.

Not that I had any examples...

Moving right along... from a question submitted by listener yerricde:

If you want to get started with Unicode Inuktitut support, start at one of many links: http://www.assembly.nu.ca/test/unicode/, a page on the Nunavut Legislative Assembly's site.
Inuktitut has many dialects; in fact it is considered a dialect continuum, where groups nearer each other can understand each other, but further away they effectively speak different languages. Yupik, the form used in Siberia and part of Alaska, may be considered a distinct language. It is (or they are) not recognizably related to any other language in the world except Aleut, that of a very few people in the Aleutian Islands. Together these are classified as the Eskimo-Aleut family.

In the Inuktitut form of the language, inuk means person, and has plural inuit, and their language is Inuktitut. These names are also used more broadly as synonyms for 'Eskimo'. (schist's write-up below gives more details.)

Inuktitut words are rather long; it is an example of what were once called holophrastic languages, where an entire sentence can be made in a single word.

Here are some names of different Inuit groups, with the people suffix -miut: Akkuliakattangmiut, Qeqertarsuarmiut, Netsilingmiut, Ungavamiut, Kanghiryuatjagmiut, Utkuhikhalingmiut, Ekaluktomiut. That's enough for a sample. The Inuktitut name for Greenland is Kalaallit Nunaat. (I believe the second element to be "land", same as in Nunavut.) The language in Greenland is called Kalaallisut, and in Alaska Inupiaq.

The syllabary has three vowels A I U, which also occur long AA II UU (these are indicated by a dot above the symbol). The syllable signs for e.g. PA PI PU are essentially the same sign variously rotated. When written smaller it indicates the consonant without a following vowel. Yupik also has a short neutral vowel E.

The consonants represented are P T K G M N S L J V R Q NG X in that order, where S can also be H (presumably a dialectal difference) and X is what I'm using here for a letter that has no English equivalent and that I've seen written in various ways: I don't know what it actually is; one source calls it a lateral fricative. I believe that G is a velar fricative (more GH), and R is a voiceless uvular fricative, and S is SH-like in some varieties (Kalaallisut). However, I have never seen (in bookshops or on the Web) any good-quality linguist-grade material on Inuktitut, so I'm partly bluffing here. (Oh wait, the Britannica has a good article: apparently the consonants vary a great deal by dialect.)

See the syllabary at http://omniglot.com/writing/inuktitut.htm

Okay, it's make fun of amateur dictionaries time. On the Web we find one that doesn't contain entries for kayak or canoe, nor parka, nor snow*, nor igloo or house or hut, but we do learn the following:

kangelrarpok = 'walks (ahead of the dogs)'
(no word for 'walk')
aimerpok = 'visiting and expecting food' (a darned useful word actually)
pilitak and attukattak both = 'useful but not necessary' (a self-descriptive word if ever there was)
pameiyut = 'tails up! (dogs)'
arnaserinerk, anguserinerk both = 'lust'
aglerolarpok = 'gnashing of teeth (has)'
unwangamiutak = 'egtoistical (is)' (sic)
five words for 'disobedient'
four words for 'avaricious'
three words for 'apt', two each for...


Inuktitut has a dual as well as a plural; and is inflected almost entirely with suffixes. These often cause stem changes: inuk 'person', innuk 'two people',inuit 'people'.

The first Inuktitut book was printed in 1742. The native name of the Pitman-based syllabary is titirausiq nutaaq.

* Don't get me started.

In July, 2002, I posted a short writeup about the movie Atanarjuat, where I said that the movie was entirely in the Inuit language. A knowledgeable friend wrote me to say that I was wrong and Atanarjuat is not performed in Inuit at all but in Inuktitut.

I posted a footnote, now peeled off and moved to this node. According to the Ethnologue (www.ethnologue.com), Inuktitut is a general name for one of several subgroups of Inuit. The movie may well be in some form of Inuktitut, though it's interesting that the official website does not mention this anywhere prominently. (http://www.atanarjuat.com/) The story is referred to there as an Inuit legend, and there are many references to Inuit actors, Inuit culture, etc. Perhaps they feel it is more meaningful to use a broader ethnic name than a highly specific and little-known linguistic name.

Those words of mine elicited comments from Gritchka, who has already contributed a writeup about Inuktitut:

Inuit are the people and Inuktitut is the language: both are generally used as synonyms for 'Eskimo'. But Eskimo has numerous dialects, and the names Inuit/Inuktitut are from one of them. Others are Yupik, Innut, etc. But as we usually don't want to get into this detail and just want to refer to Eskimos, but more politely, these two words are commonly used for the whole range.

And Ethnologue are too hung up on hierarchical classification, and need to coin names for every branch in their system. Their exact use of a name or level often doesn't bear too much scrutiny, though they're the best reference site out there for it.

Ethnonyms are indeed a tricky business, for they illustrate one of humankind's most fascinating phenomena: the drawing of boundaries marked by cultural and linguistic tokens, the meaning of which different demarcated groups do not always agree on. A Linguist List discussion in 1991 (posted at http://www.ling.ed.ac.uk/linguist/issues/5/5-1239.html) has Anthony Woodbury, an Eskimo specialist, writing as follows:
"Central Alaskan Yupik (or just Yup'ik Eskimo) ... is spoken by about 13,000 people in the coast and river areas of Southwestern Alaska from Norton Sound to Bristol Bay. It is one of five Eskimo languages. Of these five, probably the best-known is Inuit, spoken in a series of well-differentiated dialects ranging from Northern Alaska, all across the Canadian far north, and up to the coast of Greenland.

While the term Inuit is preferred to Eskimo by many in Canada, the term is retained here because (a) it properly refers to any Eskimo group, not only the Inuit; and (b) its use is widespread in Native communities in Alaska.I think I will leave the matter here, for someone else to pick up if they like.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.