Inupiaq language

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Iñupiatun, Inupiatun, Inupiaqtun
Native to United States, formerly Russia; Northwest Territories of Canada
Region Alaska; formerly Big Diomede Island
Ethnicity 44,331 Inupiat (2015)
Native speakers
6,740, 15% of ethnic population (2009-2013)[1]
Latin (Iñupiaq alphabet)
Iñupiaq Braille
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ik
ISO 639-2 ipk
ISO 639-3 ipkinclusive code
Individual codes:
esi – North Alaskan Inupiatun
esk – Northwest Alaska Inupiatun
Glottolog inup1234[2]
Inuktitut dialect map.svg
Inuit dialects. Inupiat dialects are orange (Northern Alaskan) and pink (Seward Peninsula).
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Inupiaq /ɪˈnpiæk/, Inupiat /ɪˈnpiæt/ or Alaskan Inuit, is a group of dialects of the Inuit languages, spoken by the Inupiat people in northern and northwestern Alaska, and part of the Northwest Territories. The Inupiat language is a member of the Inuit-Yupik-Unangan language family, and is closely related to Inuit languages of Canada and Greenland. There are roughly 2,000 speakers.[3] Inupiaq is an official language of the State of Alaska.[4]

The name is also rendered as Inupiatun, Inupiaq, Iñupiaq, Inyupiaq,[5] Inyupiat,[5] Inyupeat,[6] Inyupik,[7] and Inupik.

The main varieties of the Inupiaq language are Northern Alaskan Inupiaq and Seward Peninsula Inupiaq.

The Inupiaq language has been in decline since contact with English in the late 19th century. American colonization and the legacy of boarding schools have created a situation today where a small minority of Inupiat speak the Inupiaq language. There is, however, revitalization work underway today in several communities.


The Inupiaq language is an Inuit-Yupik-Unangan language, also known as Eskimo-Aleut, has been spoken in the northern regions of Alaska for as many as 5,000 years. Between 1,000 and 800 years ago, Inuit peoples migrated east from Alaska to Canada and Greenland, eventually occupying the entire Arctic coast and much of the surrounding inland areas. The Inupiaq dialects are the most conservative forms of the Inuit language, with less linguistic change than the other Inuit languages.

In the mid to late 19th century, Russian, British, and American colonizers would make contact with Inupiat people. In 1885, the American territorial government appointed Rev. Sheldon Jackson as General Agent of Education.[8] Under his administration, Inupiat people (and all Alaska Natives) were educated in English-only environments, forbidding the use of Inupiaq and other indigenous languages of Alaska. After decades of English-only education, with strict punishment if heard speaking Inupiaq, after the 1970s, most Inupiat did not pass the Inupiaq language onto their children, for fear of them being punished for speaking their language.

In 1972, the Alaska State Legislature passed legislation mandating that if “a [school is attended] by at least 15 pupils whose primary language is other than English, [then the school] shall have at least one teacher who is fluent in the native language”.[9]

Today, the University of Alaska Fairbanks offers bachelor's degrees in Inupiaq language and culture, while a preschool/kindergarten-level Inupiaq immersion school named Nikaitchuat Ilisaġviat teaches grades PreK-1st grade in Kotzebue.

In 2014, Inupiaq became an official language of the State of Alaska, alongside English and nineteen other indigenous languages.[4]


There are four main dialect divisions and these can be organized within two larger dialect collections:[10]

Seward Peninsula Inupiatun consists of Bering Strait dialects (spoken on King Island and the Diomede Islands and the villages north of Nome) and Qawiaraq dialects (spoken in Teller, Qawiaraq, and the villages south of Nome as far as Unalakleet). Northern Alaskan Iñupiatun is spoken in the Northwest Arctic and North Slope regions, from Deering to Inuvik and Aklavik in the Mackenzie Delta in Northwest Territories.

Dialect Collection Dialect Subdialect Tribal Nation(s)
Seward Peninsula Inupiatun Bering Strait Diomede Iŋalikmiut
Wales Kiŋikmiut, Tapqaġmiut
King Island Ugiuvaŋmiut
Qawiaraq Teller Siñiġaġmiut, Qawiaraġmiut
Fish River Iġałuiŋmiut
Northern Alaskan Iñupiatun Malimiutun Kobuk Kuuŋmiut, Kiitaaŋmiut [Kiitaaġmiut], Siilim Kaŋianiġmiut, Nuurviŋmiut, Kuuvaum Kaŋiaġmiut, Akuniġmiut, Nuataaġmiut, Napaaqtuġmiut, Kivalliñiġmiut[11]
Coastal Pittaġmiut, Kaŋiġmiut, Qikiqtaġruŋmiut[11]
North Slope Common North Slope Utuqqaġmiut, Siliñaġmiut [Kukparuŋmiut and Kuuŋmiut], Kakligmiut [Sitarumiut, Utqiaġvigmiut and Nuvugmiut], Kuulugruaġmiut, Ikpikpagmiut, Kuukpigmiut [Kañianermiut, Killinermiut and Kagmalirmiut][11][12]
Point Hope Tikiġaġmiut
Anaktuvuk Pass Nunamiut
Uummarmiutun Uummarmiut


Iñupiaq is a polysynthetic language, meaning that words can be extremely long with many postbases, endings, and enclitics connected to the initial root. The Iñupiaq category of number distinguishes singular, plural, and dual. Nouns are inflected in nine cases and for possession. Iñupiaq's case inventory includes ergative, absolutive, instrumental, allative, ablative, locative, perlative, similative and vocative.[13] Iñupiaq does not have a category of gender and articles.

Verbs are inflected for number and person of their subject and object, as well as mood. Person, number and mood are expressed by a single morpheme. Iñupiaq marks future tense obligatorily while present and past tense are marked optionally.

Subject-object-verb is the most neutral word order. Subject-verb-object is also acceptable. Verb-initial sentences are grammatical but unusual. Iñupiaq displays ergative-absolutive alignment through case marking and verb agreement.[14]

Iñupiaq grammar includes morphological passive, antipassive, causative and applicative. Noun incorporation is also attested.


Inupiaq has three basic vowels: a i u, phonemically /a i u/, phonetically [ɐ i u].[nb 1] The vowels can also appear long: aa ii uu /aː iː uː/. When adjacent to the uvular consonants q ġ /q ʁ/, short vowels are lowered allophonically to [ɔ e o] respectively.[nb 2] Length is important in distinguishing meaning in Inupiaq. Short vowels may be joined to produce the diphthongs ai ia au iu ui.

The vowel i /i/ is derived historically from the merger of Proto-Inuit /i/ and /ə/; only the former causes palatalization of the following consonant. Only in pedagogical texts are the two kinds of i written differently.

Inupiaq has around 21 consonants. All stops are voiceless. The following consonants are found:

Labial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular
Stops /p/ ⟨p⟩ /t/ ⟨t⟩ /k/ ⟨k⟩ /q/ ⟨q⟩
Fricatives I /β/ ⟨v⟩ /s/ ⟨s⟩ /ʂ/ ⟨sr⟩ ~ /ʐ/ ⟨r, zr⟩ /ɣ/ ⟨g⟩ /ʁ/ ⟨ġ⟩
Affricates /tʃ/ ⟨ch⟩
Nasals /m/ ⟨m⟩ /n/ ⟨n⟩ /ɲ/ ⟨ñ⟩ /ŋ/ ⟨ŋ⟩
Laterals /l/ ⟨l⟩ ~ /ɬ/ ⟨ł⟩ /ʎ/ ⟨ḷ⟩ ~ /ʎ̥/ ⟨ł̣⟩
Approximants /ɻ/ ⟨r⟩ /j/ ⟨y⟩ /h/ ⟨h⟩

The Iñupiaq letter ñ [ɲ] is pronounced close to English ny in "canyon".

Writing systems[edit]

Inupiaq was first written when explorers first arrived in Alaska and began recording words in the native languages. They wrote by adapting the letters of their own language to writing the sounds they were recording. Spelling was often inconsistent, since the writers invented it as they wrote. Unfamiliar sounds were often confused with other sounds, so that, for example, 'q' was often not distinguished from 'k' and long consonants or vowels were not distinguished from short ones.

Along with the Alaskan and Siberian Yupik, the Inupiat eventually adopted the Latin script (Qaliujaaqpait) that Moravian missionaries developed in Greenland and Labrador. Native Alaskans also developed a system of pictographs,[which?] which, however, died with its creators.[15]

In 1946, Roy Ahmaogak, an Inupiaq Presbyterian minister from Barrow, worked with Eugene Nida, a member of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, to develop the current Iñupiaq alphabet based on the Latin script. Although some changes have been made since its origin—most notably the change from 'ḳ' to 'q'—the essential system was accurate and is still in use.

Iñupiaq alphabet (North Slope and Northwest Arctic)[16]
A a Ch ch G g Ġ ġ H h I i K k L l Ḷ ḷ Ł ł Ł̣ ł̣ M m
a cha ga ġa ha i ka la ḷa ła ł̣a ma
/a/ // /ɣ/ /ʁ/ /h/ /i/ /k/ /l/ /ʎ/ /ɬ/ /ʎ̥/ /m/
N n Ñ ñ Ŋ ŋ P p Q q R r S s Sr sr T t U u V v Y y
na ña ŋa pa qa ra sa sra ta u va ya
/n/ /ɲ/ /ŋ/ /p/ /q/ /ɹ/ /s/ /ʂ/ /t/ /u/ /v/ /j/

Extra letter for Kobuk dialect: /ʔ/

Inupiaq alphabet (Seward Peninsula)
A a B b G g Ġ ġ H h I i K k L l Ł ł M m N n Ŋ ŋ P p
a ba ga ġa ha i ka la ła ma na ŋa pa
/a/ /b/ /ɣ/ /ʁ/ /h/ /i/ /k/ /l/ /ɬ/ /m/ /n/ /ŋ/ /p/
Q q R r S s Sr sr T t U u V v W w Y y Z z Zr zr '
qa ra sa sra ta u va wa ya za zra
/q/ /ɹ/ /s/ /ʂ/ /t/ /u/ /v/ /w/ /j/ /z/ /ʐ/ /ʔ/

Extra letters for specific dialects:

  • Diomede: e /ə/
  • Qawiaraq: ch //
Canadian Iñupiaq alphabet (Uummarmiutun)
A a Ch ch F f G g H h Dj dj I i K k L l Ł ł M m
a cha fa ga ha dja i ka la ła ma
/a/ // /f/ /ɣ/ /h/ // /i/ /k/ /l/ /ɬ/ /m/
N n Ñ ñ Ng ng P p Q q R r Ȓ ȓ T t U u V v Y y
na ña ŋa pa qa ra ȓa ta u va ya
/n/ /ɲ/ /ŋ/ /p/ /q/ /ʁ/ /ʐ/ /t/ /u/ /v/ /j/

Text sample[edit]

This is a sample of the Inupiaq language of the Kivalina variety from Kivalina Reader, published in 1975.

Aaŋŋaayiña aniñiqsuq Qikiqtami. Aasii iñuguġuni. Tikiġaġmi Kivaliñiġmiḷu. Tuvaaqatiniguni Aivayuamik. Qulit atautchimik qitunġivḷutik. Itchaksrat iñuuvlutiŋ. Iḷaŋat Qitunġaisa taamna Qiñuġana.

This is the English translation, from the same source:

Aaŋŋaayiña was born in Shishmaref. He grew up in Point Hope and Kivalina. He marries Aivayuaq. They had eleven children. Six of them are alive. One of the children is Qiñuġana.

Vocabulary comparison[edit]

The comparison of various vocabulary in three different dialects:

North Slope Iñupiaq[17] Northwest Alaska Iñupiaq[17]
(Kobuk Malimiut)
King Island Iñupiaq[18] Qawiaraq dialect[19] English
atausiq atausriq atausiq atauchiq 1
malġuk malġuk maġluuk malġuk 2
piŋasut piñasrut piŋasut piŋachut 3
sisamat sisamat sitamat chitamat 4
tallimat tallimat tallimat tallimat 5
itchaksrat itchaksrat aġvinikłit alvinilġit 6
tallimat malġuk tallimat malġuk tallimat maġluuk mulġunilġit 7
tallimat piŋasut tallimat piñasrut tallimat piŋasut piŋachuŋilgit 8
quliŋuġutaiḷaq quliŋŋuutaiḷaq qulinŋutailat quluŋŋuġutailat 9
qulit qulit qulit qulit 10
qulit atausiq qulit atausriq qulit atausiq qulit atauchiq 11
akimiaġutaiḷaq akimiaŋŋutaiḷaq agimiaġutailaq . 14
akimiaq akimiaq agimiaq . 15
iñuiññaŋŋutaiḷaq iñuiñaġutaiḷaq inuinaġutailat . 19
iñuiññaq iñuiñaq inuinnaq . 20
iñuiññaq qulit iñuiñaq qulit inuinaq qulit . 30
malġukipiaq malġukipiaq maġluutiviaq . 40
tallimakipiaq tallimakipiaq tallimativiaq . 100
kavluutit . kabluutit . 1000
nanuq nanuq taġukaq nanuq polar bear
ilisaurri ilisautri iskuuqti ilichausrirri teacher
miŋuaqtuġvik aglagvik iskuuġvik naaqiwik school
aġnaq aġnaq aġnaq aŋnaq woman
aŋun aŋun aŋun aŋun man
aġnaiyaaq aġnauraq niaqsaaġruk niaqchiġruk girl
aŋutaiyaaq aŋugauraq ilagaaġruk ilagagruk boy
Tanik Naluaġmiu Naluaġmiu Naluaŋmiu white person
ui ui ui ui husband
nuliaq nuliaq nuliaq nuliaq wife
panik panik panik panik daughter
iġñiq iġñiq qituġnaq . son
iglu tupiq ini ini house
tupiq palapkaaq palatkaaq tupiq tent
qimmiq qipmiq qimugin qimmuqti dog
qavvik qapvik qappik qaffik wolverine
tuttu tuttu tuttu tuttupiaq caribou
tuttuvak tiniikaq tuttuvak, muusaq . moose
tulugaq tulugaq tiŋmiaġruaq anaqtuyuuq raven
ukpik ukpik ukpik ukpik snowy owl
tatqiq tatqiq taqqiq taqiq moon/month
uvluġiaq uvluġiaq ubluġiaq ubluġiaq star
siqiñiq siqiñiq mazaq matchaq sun
niġġivik tiivlu, niġġivik tiivuq, niġġuik niġġiwik table
uqautitaun uqaqsiun qaniqsuun qaniqchuun telephone
mitchaaġvik mirvik mizrvik mirrvik airport
tiŋŋun tiŋmisuun silakuaqsuun chilakuaqchuun airplane
qai- mauŋaq- qai- qai- to come
pisuaq- pisruk- aġui- aġui- to walk
savak- savak- sawit- chuli- to work
nakuu- nakuu- naguu- nakuu- to be good
maŋaqtaaq taaqtaaq taaqtaaq maŋaqtaaq, taaqtaaq black
uvaŋa uvaŋa uaŋa uwaŋa, waaŋa I, me
ilviñ ilvich iblin ilvit you (singular)
kiña kiña kina kina who
sumi nani, sumi nani chumi where
qanuq qanuq qanuġuuq . how
qakugu qakugu qagun . when (future)
ii ii ii'ii ii, i'i yes
naumi naagga naumi naumi no
paniqtaq paniqtaq paniqtuq pipchiraq dried fish or meat
saiyu saigu saayuq chaiyu tea
kuuppiaq kuukpiaq kuupiaq kupiaq coffee


  1. ^ The text formerly said: "As short vowels, 'a' is pronounced like the 'u' in English 'nut', 'i' is like the 'ee' in the English word 'sleep' and 'u' is like the 'u' in the English word 'rule'".
  2. ^ The text formerly said: "When adjacent to the uvular consonants 'q' and 'ġ', they are lowered to 'au' in 'caught', 'a' in 'Kate' and 'oa' in 'coat', respectively.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Detailed Languages Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English". US Census Bureau. Retrieved 2017-11-21. 
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Inupiatun". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "Alaska's indigenous languages now official along with English". Reuters. 2016-10-24. Retrieved 2017-02-19. 
  5. ^ a b "SILEWP 1997-002". Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  6. ^ "Inyupeat Language of the Arctic, 1970, Point Hope dialect". 2009-10-20. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  7. ^ Frederick A. Milan (1959), The acculturation of the contemporary Eskimo of Wainwright Alaska
  8. ^ "Sheldon Jackson in Historical Perspective". Retrieved 2016-08-11. 
  9. ^ Krauss, Michael E. 1974. Alaska Native language legislation. International Journal of American Linguistics 40(2).150-52.
  10. ^ "Iñupiaq/Inupiaq". Retrieved 2007-09-28. 
  11. ^ a b c Burch 1980 Ernest S. Burch, Jr., Traditional Eskimo Societies in Northwest Alaska. Senri Ethnological Studies 4:253-304
  12. ^ Spencer 1959 Robert F. Spencer, The North Alaskan Eskimo: A study in ecology and society, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, 171 : 1-490
  13. ^ Lanz, Linda A. A Grammar of Iñupiaq Morphosyntax. Houston, Texas: Rice University, 2010.
  14. ^ Lanz, Linda A. A Grammar of Iñupiaq Morphosyntax. Houston, Texas: Rice University, 2010.
  15. ^ Project Naming Archived 2006-10-28 at the Wayback Machine., the identification of Inuit portrayed in photographic collections at Library and Archives Canada
  16. ^ Kaplan, Lawrence (2000). "L'Inupiaq et les contacts linguistiques en Alaska". In Tersis, Nicole and Michèle Therrien (eds.), Les langues eskaléoutes: Sibérie, Alaska, Canada, Groënland, pages 91-108. Paris: CNRS Éditions. For an overview of Inupiaq phonology, see pages 92-94.
  17. ^ a b "Interactive IñupiaQ Dictionary". Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  18. ^ "Ugiuvaŋmiuraaqtuaksrat / Future King Island Speakers". 2009-04-17. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  19. ^ Agloinga, Roy (2013). Iġałuiŋmiutullu Qawairaġmiutullu Aglait Nalaunaitkataat. Atuun Publishing Company. 

Print Resources: Existing Dictionaries, Grammar Books and Other[edit]

  • Barnum, Francis. Grammatical Fundamentals of the Innuit Language As Spoken by the Eskimo of the Western Coast of Alaska. Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1970.
  • Blatchford, DJ. Just Like That!: Legends and Such, English to Inupiaq Alphabet. Kasilof, AK: Just Like That!, 2003. ISBN 0-9723303-1-3
  • Bodfish, Emma, and David Baumgartner. Iñupiat Grammar. Utqiaġvigmi: Utqiaġvium minuaqtuġviata Iñupiatun savagvianni, 1979.
  • Kaplan, Lawrence D. Phonological Issues in North Alaskan Inupiaq. Alaska Native Language Center research papers, no. 6. Fairbanks, Alaska (Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks 99701): Alaska Native Language Center, 1981.
  • Kaplan, Lawrence. Iñupiaq Phrases and Conversations. Fairbanks, AK: Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, 2000. ISBN 1-55500-073-8
  • MacLean, Edna Ahgeak. Iñupiallu Tanņiḷḷu Uqaluņisa Iḷaņich = Abridged Iñupiaq and English Dictionary. Fairbanks, Alaska: Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, 1980.
  • Lanz, Linda A. A Grammar of Iñupiaq Morphosyntax. Houston, Texas: Rice University, 2010.
  • MacLean, Edna Ahgeak. Beginning North Slope Iñupiaq Grammar. Fairbanks, Alaska: Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, 1979.
  • Seiler, Wolf A. Iñupiatun Eskimo Dictionary. Kotzebue, Alaska: NANA Regional Corporation, 2005.
  • Seiler, Wolf. The Modalis Case in Iñupiat: (Eskimo of North West Alaska). Giessener Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft, Bd. 14. Grossen-Linden: Hoffmann, 1978. ISBN 3-88098-019-5
  • Webster, Donald Humphry, and Wilfried Zibell. Iñupiat Eskimo Dictionary. 1970.

External links and language resources[edit]

There are a number of online resources that can provide a sense of the language and information for second language learners.