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Tunngasugit - Welcome

The term Inuit (plural of Inuk ’man’) refers to a group of indigenous peoples of the circumpolar regions of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. By extension, the term Inuit is also used for the continuum of the language varieties spoken by the Inuit people. Inuit is a group of five closely related languages that belong to the Eskimo branch of the Eskimo-Aleut language family. Three of these languages, spoken in Canada and Greenland, are referred to as Inuktitut. Two languages, spoken in Alaska, are referred to as Inupiatun (Ethnologue). The Inuit people themselves use different names to refer to their own languages. The term Eskimo is a derogatory word in Algonquian that means ‘eater of raw flesh.’

It is hypothesized that the nomadic Inuit people who originated in northeastern Siberia began to migrate eastward across the Bering Straits to Alaska and then across northern Canada to Greeenland in widely separated groups around 2,000 BC. As a result, rather than being a single language, Inuit is a continuum of varieties that are not readily comprehensible at their geographical extremes.

Inuktitut, Eastern Canadian 
(Eskimo, Inuit)
14,000 Canada, West of Hudson Bay and east through Baffin Island, Quebec, and Labrador.
Inuktitut, Western Canadian
4,000 Canada, Central Canadian Arctic, and west to the Mackenzie Delta and coastal area, including Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic coast north of Inuvik
Inuktitut, Greenlandic
(Greenlandic, Kalaallisut)
54,800 Greenland, Denmark
Inupiatun, North Alaskan 
(North Alaskan Inupiat, Inupiat, “Eskimo”
no data Norton Sound and Point Hope, Alaska. Also spoken in Canada.
Inupiatun, Northwest Alaskan
(Northwest Alaska Inupiat, Inupiatun, “Eskimo”)
4,000 Alaska, Kobuk River, Noatak River, Seward Peninsula, and Bering Strait.

Circumpolar RegionStatus
Inuit varieties have a different status, depending on the country where they are spoken:

  • Greenland
    The largest group of Inuit speakers lives in Greenland and Denmark (54,800). In Greenland, the official form of Inuit, is one of the official languages of the state (along with Danish). It is called Kalaallisut.
  • Canada
    In Canada, the word Inuktitut is used to refer to all Canadian varieties of Inuit. Inuktitut is recognized as the official language of the Nunavut Territory (along with English and French) and the Northwest Territories (along with English, French, and several other indigenous languages). It also has legal recognition in Nunavik - a part of Quebec – where it is recognized in the Charter of the French Language as the official language of instruction for Inuit schools. It also has some recognition in Nunatsiavut - the Inuit area of Labrador. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has Inuit broadcasts. Inuit is used in print and electronic media in Canada and Greenland. The Inuit Circumpolar Conference has a commission dedicated to the preservation of Inuit and the development of a common writing system for the language.
  • U.S.
    Inuit has no official status in Alaska.



All Inuit varieties can be subdivided into dialects based on their geographical distribution.

Inuktitut, Eastern Canadian 3 dialects
Inuktitut, Western Canadian 4 dialects
Inuktitut, Greenlandic 3 dialects that border on being different languages due to lack of mutual intelligibility
Inuktitut, Western Canadian 4 dialects
Inupiatun, Northwest Alaska 8 dialects


Sound system

Almost all dialects of Inuit have only three basic vowels that can be either short or long. Vowel length makes a difference in word meaning. In Nunavut standard Roman orthography long vowels are written as a double vowel. This rule is not always true for Alaskan dialects and some areas of Greenland. Vowel sequences are limited to two adjacent vowels.


Dialects may vary slightly in the number of consonants. The Nunavut dialects of Inuit have fifteen consonants. Other dialects may have more. Consonant clusters are limited to sequences of two consonants.

Labial Alveolar Palatal
Stops voiceless
Fricatives voiceless
Laterals voiceless
  • /p/, /t/, /k/, /q/ are unaspirated, i.e., produced without a puff of air, as in English.
  • /q/, /ɢ/ have no equivalents in English
  • /ɟ / has no equivalent in Engish
  • /ɬ / has no equivalent in English
  • /ŋ/ = ng in sing
  • /j/ = y in yam

Position of stress in a word affects word meaning.

Like other Eskimo-Aleut languages, Inuit languages are polysynthetic, i.e., grammatical functions are represented by a succession of suffixes attached to roots and stems. However, many of its grammatical suffixes combine in much the same way as in synthetic languages, e.g., one suffix can represent person, number, mood, and tense. Inuit languages have many long words that are practically equivalent to whole sentences in less synthetic languages such as English. For example, the Inuktitut word tusaatsiarunnanngittualuujunga ’I can’t hear very well has the following composition: tusaa ’hear’ + tsiaq‘well’ + junnaq ’able to’ + nngit ’not’ + tualuu ’very much’ + junga ’lst person singular, present, indicative, non-specific’ (example from Wikipedia).

Inuit languages are Ergative-Absolutive. This means that subjects of intransitive verbs and objects of transitive verbs are marked with the Absolutivecase, while subjects of transitive verbs are marked with the Ergative case. This contrasts with Indo-European languages which mark the subject of both transitive and intransitive verbs with the Nominative case and the object of transitive verbs with the Accusative case.


The pronominal system of Inuit consists of personal, interrogative, and demonstrative pronouns. Inuit has two forms of the third person pronoun: one that corresponds to the typical third person in European languages, and an obviative form. This helps to disambiguate the antecedent of ‘her’ in a sentence such as ‘May gave Debbie her scarf.’ If ‘her’ refers to Debbie, a third-person pronoun is used, if ‘her’ refers to May, then a fourth-person pronoun is called for.

Verbs have a highly developed system of grammatical marking. Inuit verbs fall into two major categories which are distinguished by different endings:non-specific verbs and specific verbs. There are many verbs that belong to both categories. A single inflected verb can consitute a sentence, e.g.,quviasuktunga ‘I am happy’ (quviasuk ’happy’ + -tunga ’1st person singular.’)

  • Inuit verbs fall into two major categories which are distinguished by different endings: non-specific verbs and specific verbs. Specific verbs have definite objects. They take suffixes that indicate the grammatical person of both the subject and the object, but not their grammatical number.
  • Verbs carry inflections for person and number of both subject and object.. There are many verbs that belong to both categories
  • Inuktitut verbs start with a root morpheme and end with a suffix that indicates the grammatical person of its subject, e.g., pisuk ’walk’ + tunga ’1st person singular’ = pisuktunga ’I am walking’.
  • There are up to 8 different moods, including indicativeimperativeinterrogativeoptative, and several forms of subjunctive.
  • Aspect is expressed lexically through derivation, rather than grammatically.
  • There are three tenses: present, past, and future. While Indo-European languages tend to make tense distinctions in terms of before or after some specific event, Inuktitut makes a number of somewhat fuzzy distinctions depending on how far into the past or the future the event took or will take place. In English, this distinction requires additional words to place the event in time, but in Inuktitut the tense marker itself carries much of that information, e.g., tikip- ‘arrive’ +niaq- ‘later today’ + -tuq ’3rd person singular non-specific’ = tikimniaqtuq ’he is arriving later’ (example fromWikipedia).

Word order
The normal word order is Subject-Object-Verb.


  • There is a tendency not to borrow words from other languages but to build them from native elements, e.g., sukatunik titiraut ’fax’, literally ‘fast letters’. New words are easily formed from native and borrowed roots by the addition of various suffixes.
  • The vocabularies of different varieties show different influences. For instance, Aleut and Yupik spoken in Siberia have borrowed words rom Russian (e.g., sabaakax ’dog’ from Russian sobaka. Inuktitut spoken in Canada uses many English words, while Inuktitut in Greenland shows extensive lexical influence of Danish.
How are you? Qanuipit?
Goodbye Tavvauvutit (to one person), tavvauvusi (to two or more people)
Thank you Qujannamiik
Yes Ii
No Aakka, aagaa
Welcome Tunngasugitsi

You must have heard that Inuit has many words for ‘snow’. Here they are: aniu, apijaq, aput, isiriartaq, katakartanaq, kavisilaq, kinirtaq, mannguq, masak, matsaaq, natiruvaaq, pukak, qannialaaq, qannik, qiasuqaq, qiqumaaq.There are also quite a few words for ‘ice’, namely, aggutitaaq, ivuniit, killiniq, nilak, puttaaq, quasaq, sarliarusiq, siku, sikuqraaq, tuvaq.

Below are Inuit numerals 1-10.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Inuktitut, West Canadian
Inuktitut, Greenlandic
arfineq marluk
arfineq pingasut
Aleut ataqa aalax qaanku sichi chaang atuung uluung qamchiing sichiing hatix


Until relatively recently, Inuit was not written. The first attempt to write Inuit came from Moravian missionaries in Greenland and Labrador in the mid-18th century. In the 1870′s, Edmund Peck, an Anglican missionary, adapted the Cree syllabary for writing Inuit. Other missionaries, and later Canadian and American government linguists, adapted the Latin alphabet to the dialects of the Mackenzie River delta, the western Arctic islands and Alaska.

Today, Inuit is written with the Latin alphabet in Greenland, Alaska, Labrador, the Mackenzie River delta in the Northwest Territories, and in part of Nunavut. In most of Nunavut and in northern Quebec, Inuit is written using the Inuit syllabary. At present, Inuit syllabics enjoy official status in Nunavut alongside the Latin alphabet. They are also used officially in Quebec. In Greenland, the traditional Latin script is official and is widely used in public life. The Latin script is used to write Inupiaq in Alaska. However in some parts of Canada, it is written in the Inuit syllabary.

Greenlandic Inuktitut
Immikkoortoq 1.
Inuit tamarmik inunngorput nammineersinnaassuseqarlutik assigiimmillu ataqqinassuseqarlutillu pisinnaatitaaffeqarlutik. Solaqassusermik tarnillu nalunngissusianik pilersugaapput, imminnullu iliorfigeqatigiittariaqaraluarput qatanngutigiittut peqatigiinnerup anersaavani.
Eastern Canadian Inuktitut
eastern canadian inuit
Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Did You Know?

English has borrowed a number of words from Inuit languages. Among them are the following:

Borrowed word
anorak Kalaallisut anoraq
igloo Kalaallisut igdlo ’house’
kayak Kalaallisut qayaq, literally ‘small boat of skins’
nanuk (nanook) polar bear
parka believed to be of Aleut origin
umiak multi-person kayak



Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Inuit?
There is no data on the difficulty of Inuit for speakers of English.

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