Inupiat language

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Native to United States, formerly Russia; Northwest Territories of Canada
Region Alaska; formerly Big Diomede Island
Ethnicity Inupiat
Native speakers
9,300 (2006–2010)[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.

Inupiat /ɪˈnjpiæt/, or Alaskan Inuit, is a group of dialects of the Inuit language, spoken by the Inupiat people in northern and northwestern Alaska. The Inupiat language is a member of the Eskimo languages. There are roughly 7,000–9,000 speakers.[1]

The name is also rendered Inupiatun, Inupiaq, Iñupiaq, Inyupiaq,[3] Inyupiat,[3] Inyupeat,[4] Inyupik,[5] and Inupik.

The Iñupiaq category of number distinguishes singular, plural, and dual. Iñupiaq does not have a category of gender and articles. An Iñupiaq word consists of a base or stem, which is followed by postbases, endings, and enclitics.


There are four main dialect divisions and these can be organized within two larger dialect collections:[6]


The Inupiaq dialects, like other Eskimo–Aleut languages, represent a particular type of agglutinative language called a polysynthetic language: it "synthesizes" a root and various grammatical affixes to create long words with sentence-like meanings.

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 /ǝ/; 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:

  • Stops: /p t k q/
  • Sibilant fricatives/affricates: /s ʂ ʐ tʃ/
  • Other voiced fricatives: /v ɣ ʁ/
  • Laterals: /l ʎ ʎ̥ ɬ/
  • Nasals: /m n ɲ ŋ/
  • Approximants: /h j/

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.[9]

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 'dotted-k' to 'q'—the essential system was accurate and is still in use.

Inupiaq alphabet[10]
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/ /ʐ/ /s/ /ʂ/ /t/ /u/ /v/ /j/

Extra letters for Alaskan dialectic usage:

  • Diomede: e
  • Bering: w, z, zr
  • Kobuk:
  • Seward: b
Canadian Iñupiaq alphabet
A a Ch ch F f G g H h Dj dj I i K k L l Ł ł M m
N n Ñ ñ Ng ng P p Q q R r Ȓ ȓ T t U u V v Y y

Text sample[edit]

This is a sample of the Inupiaq language of the Kobuk river Eskimos (re-transcribed with q for ).

Kayuqtuq ukiaġmi. Sikulġmiu-rami pisruktuaq tamaani. Qaluŋmik niġiruak tikiññiġaa iyyaġrim apiq-srukługu-aasriiñ, "Nakiñ taamna qa-lik piviuŋ?"

"Kanakŋa sikuiḷḷiġumun pamium-nik niksiksuqługu niksiksikkaġa," itnaġniġaa.[11]

This is the English translation, from the same source:

Fox and Blackbear were around at fall time as the first ice was forming. Bear came upon Fox eating a fish and asked him, "Where did you get that fish?"

"I hooked the fish with my tail down there where the river has open spots," said Fox.

Vocabulary comparison[edit]

The comparison of number names in the three dialects:

North Slope Iñupiaq[12] Northwest Alaska Iñupiaq[12]
(Kobuk Malimiut)
King Island Iñupiaq[13] meaning
atausiq atausriq atausiq 1
malġuk malġuk maġluuk 2
piŋasut piñasrut piŋasut 3
sisamat sisamat sitamat 4
tallimat tallimat tallimat 5
itchaksrat itchaksrat aġvinikłit 6
tallimat malġuk tallimat malġuk tallimat maġluuk 7
tallimat piŋasut tallimat piñasrut tallimat piŋasut 8
quliŋuġutaiḷaq quliŋŋuutaiḷaq qulinŋutailat 9
qulit qulit qulit 10
qulit atausiq qulit atausriq qulit atausiq 11
qulit malġuk qulit malġuk qulit maġluuk 12
qulit piŋasut qulit piñasrut qulit piŋasut 13
akimiaġutaiḷaq akimiaŋŋutaiḷaq agimiaġutailaq 14
akimiaq akimiaq agimiaq 15
akimiaq atausiq akimiaq atausriq agimiaq atausiq 16
akimiaq malġuk akimiaq malġuk agimiaq maġluuk 17
akimiaq piŋasut akimiaq piñasrut agimiaq piŋasut 18
iñuiññaŋŋutaiḷaq iñuiñaġutaiḷaq inuinaġutailat 19
iñuiññaq iñuiñaq inuinnaq 20
iñuiññaq qulit iñuiñaq qulit inuinaq qulit 30
malġukipiaq malġukipiaq maġluutiviaq 40
malġukipiaq qulit malġukipiaq qulit maġluutiviaq qulit 50
piŋasukipiaq piñasrukipiaq piŋasuutiviaq 60
piŋasukipiaq qulit piñasrukipiaq qulit piŋasuutiviaq qulit 70
sisamakipiaq sisamakipiaq . 80
sisamakipiaq qulit sisamakipiaq qulit . 90
tallimakipiaq tallimakipiaq tallimativiaq 100
kavluutit . kabluutit 1000


  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.


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Inupiatun". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b "SILEWP 1997-002". Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  4. ^ "Inyupeat Language of the Arctic, 1970, Point Hope dialect". 2009-10-20. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  5. ^ Frederick A. Milan (1959), The acculturation of the contemporary Eskimo of Wainwright Alaska
  6. ^ "Iñupiaq/Inupiaq". Retrieved 2007-09-28. 
  7. ^ a b Burch 1980 Ernest S. Burch, Jr., Traditional Eskimo Societies in Northwest Alaska. Senri Ethnological Studies 4:253-304
  8. ^ Spencer 1959 Robert F. Spencer, The North Alaskan Eskimo: A study in ecology and society, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin, 171 : 1-490
  9. ^ Project Naming, the identification of Inuit portrayed in photographic collections at Library and Archives Canada
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Unipchaat 2: Animal stories of the Kobuk River Eskimos 1969. Fairbanks: Summer Institute of Linguistics. Booklet, 26 p.
  12. ^ a b "Interactive IñupiaQ Dictionary". Retrieved 2012-08-23. 
  13. ^ "Ugiuvaŋmiuraaqtuaksrat / Future King Island Speakers". 2009-04-17. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 

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.
  • 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.