Languages and dialects of the Inuit

Included in the discussions of the Chemistry of Inuit Life and Culture are some of the Inuit terms. To appreciate any culture, it is important to know a little about the language. The language of Inuit peoples, from northern Alaska, across northern Canada, to Greenland, is unique and has no resemblance to any other language. As you can imagine, spread over thousands of kilometres and over thousands of years, the oral language differentiated regionally into different constituent languages. In Canada, Inuktitut is spoken throughout much of Nunavut and Nunavik, though Inuktitut is not unitary but has several regional dialects. Inuttut, a dialect, is spoken in Nunatsiavut, while Inuinnaqtun, a significantly different language, is spoken in western Nunavut.

In these articles, you will encounter singular and plural terms. For example:

  • INUK one Inuit person
  • INUUK two Inuit persons
  • INUIT three or more Inuit persons

In English, we use adjectives to define a noun more precisely (such as light rain, heavy rain, torrential rain, etc.). In the Inuit languages, the way to provide more information is to add-on to the end of the word – hence, making some extremely long words at times!

Some words are common across Inuit lands. For example, a woman’s knife is called an ulu (plural: uluit) from Alaska to Greenland (see “The Ulu: Chemistry and Inuit women’s culture” – article five). By contrast, the term for aurora is called: atsanik (Inuttut); aqsarniit (Inuktitut); or akhaliak (Inuinnaqtun) (see “The Arctic atmosphere: Unique and amazing” – article seven). We, the authors, hope that as you learn of the links between chemistry and Inuit life, you will also come to appreciate the fascinating and unique language of the Inuit peoples.

The languages of the Inuuk co-authors

Chaim Christiana Andersen lives in Nunainguk (Nain), Nunatsiavut, where Inuttut is spoken. German missionaries settled there and developed written Inuttut using the European alphabet. Thus, the terms she uses in her co-authored articles reflects this background.

Rosalina Naqitarvik comes from Ikpiarjuk - ᐃᒃᐱᐊᕐᔪᒃ (Arctic Bay), northern Baffin Island, Nunavut, which has its own unique dialect called Iglulingmiut. The missionaries arriving in eastern Nunavut came from southern Canada. There, they had devised a syllabic written form of the Cree language. These missionaries used the same syllabic set for a written form of Inuktitut. Thus, Inuktitut can be written in both syllabics and in the European alphabet.