Inuktitut has many dialect
s; in fact it is considered a dialect continuum
, where groups nearer each other can understand each other, but further away they effectively speak different languages. Yupik
, the form used in Siberia
and part of Alaska
, may be considered a distinct language. It is (or they are) not recognizably related to any other language
in the world except Aleut
, that of a very few people in the Aleutian Islands
. Together these are classified as the Eskimo-Aleut
In the Inuktitut form of the language, inuk means person, and has plural inuit, and their language is Inuktitut. These names are also used more broadly as synonyms for 'Eskimo'. (schist's write-up below gives more details.)
Inuktitut words are rather long; it is an example of what were once called holophrastic languages, where an entire sentence can be made in a single word.
Here are some names of different Inuit groups, with the people suffix -miut: Akkuliakattangmiut, Qeqertarsuarmiut, Netsilingmiut, Ungavamiut, Kanghiryuatjagmiut, Utkuhikhalingmiut, Ekaluktomiut. That's enough for a sample. The Inuktitut name for Greenland is Kalaallit Nunaat. (I believe the second element to be "land", same as in Nunavut.) The language in Greenland is called Kalaallisut, and in Alaska Inupiaq.
The syllabary has three vowels A I U, which also occur long AA II UU (these are indicated by a dot above the symbol). The syllable signs for e.g. PA PI PU are essentially the same sign variously rotated. When written smaller it indicates the consonant without a following vowel. Yupik also has a short neutral vowel E.
The consonants represented are P T K G M N S L J V R Q NG X in that order, where S can also be H (presumably a dialectal difference) and X is what I'm using here for a letter that has no English equivalent and that I've seen written in various ways: I don't know what it actually is; one source calls it a lateral fricative. I believe that G is a velar fricative (more GH), and R is a voiceless uvular fricative, and S is SH-like in some varieties (Kalaallisut). However, I have never seen (in bookshops or on the Web) any good-quality linguist-grade material on Inuktitut, so I'm partly bluffing here. (Oh wait, the Britannica has a good article: apparently the consonants vary a great deal by dialect.)
See the syllabary at http://omniglot.com/writing/inuktitut.htm
Okay, it's make fun of amateur dictionaries time. On the Web we find one that doesn't contain entries for kayak or canoe, nor parka, nor snow*, nor igloo or house or hut, but we do learn the following:
kangelrarpok = 'walks (ahead of the dogs)'
(no word for 'walk')
aimerpok = 'visiting and expecting food' (a darned useful word actually)
pilitak and attukattak both = 'useful but not necessary' (a self-descriptive word if ever there was)
pameiyut = 'tails up! (dogs)'
arnaserinerk, anguserinerk both = 'lust'
aglerolarpok = 'gnashing of teeth (has)'
unwangamiutak = 'egtoistical (is)' (sic)
five words for 'disobedient'
four words for 'avaricious'
three words for 'apt', two each for...
Inuktitut has a dual as well as a plural; and is inflected almost entirely with suffixes. These often cause stem changes: inuk 'person', innuk 'two people',inuit 'people'.
The first Inuktitut book was printed in 1742. The native name of the Pitman-based syllabary is titirausiq nutaaq.
* Don't get me started.