Iñupiaq, or Inupiatun is a group
of dialects of the Inuit language,
spoken in northern and northwestern Alaska.
Iñupiaq language is a member of the Eskimo languages
group. There are roughly
2100 speakers of Iñupiaq (Krauss, 2007). The speakers are known as
There are four main dialect divisions and these can be organized
within two larger dialect collections:
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', and 'u'. 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'. When adjacent to the uvular
consonants 'q' and 'ġ', they are lowered, to
'au' in 'caught', 'a' in 'Kate' and 'oa' in 'coat', respectively.
There are long forms of the basic values, written 'aa', 'ii', and
'uu'. In Inupiaq, long and short vowels must be distinguished
because they make a difference in word meanings. Short vowels may
be joined to produce the diphthongs 'ai', 'ia', 'au', 'iu', and
The vowel written 'i' is derived historically from two earlier
vowels, one of which causes palatalization
of the following consonant,
and the other, which does not. Only in pedagogical texts are the
two kinds of 'i' written differently.
Inupiaq has 14 consonants. All stops are voiceless, which means
that Inupiaq has the sounds of English 'p', 't' and 'k' but not the
sounds of English 'b', 'd', 'g'. The consonant written in Alaska as
'q' is like the English 'k' but pronounced further back in the
throat. The Inupiaq sound written in Alaska as 'ġ' is pronounced as
a buzz in the back of the throat, while 'g' is pronounced like the
in Spanish 'agosto'. 'ḷ' is like
'lli' in English 'million', 'ñ' is like 'ni' in 'onion', 'ŋ' is
like 'ng' in 'singer', and 'ł' is the voiceless
'll' in Welsh
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.
the Alaskan and Siberian Yupik, the Inupiat
eventually adopted the written system based on Roman orthography (Qaliujaaqpait)
that Moravian missionaries first
developed in Greenland and Labrador.
Independently of missionaries from the south, the Alaskans also
developed a system of hieroglyphics
which, however, died with its creators.
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 writing system based on the Roman
Although some changes have been made since its
origin—most notably the change from 'k' to 'q'—the essential system
was accurate and is still in use.
Inupiaq alphabet (Atchagat)
This is a sample of the Inupiaq language of the Kobuk river Eskimos
(re-transcribed with q
Kayuqtuq ukiaġmi. Sikulġmiu-rami pisruktuaq tamaani.
Qaluŋmik niġiruak tikiññiġaa iyyaġrim apiq-srukługu-aasriiñ, "Nakiñ
taamna qa-lik piviuŋ?"
"Kanakŋa sikuiḷḷiġumun pamium-nik niksiksuqługu
And 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.
- Project Naming, the identification of Inuit
portrayed in photographic collections at Library and Archives
- 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.
- Unipchaat 2: Animal stories of the Kobuk River Eskimos
1969. Fairbanks: Summer Institute of Linguistics. Booklet, 26
- 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
- Bodfish, Emma, and David Baumgartner. Iñupiat Grammar.
Utqiaġvigmi: Utqiaġvium minuaqtuġviata Iñupiatun savagvianni,
- 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 1555000738
- 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 3880980195
- Webster, Donald Humphry, and Wilfried Zibell. Iñupiat
Eskimo Dictionary. 1970.