The Inupiat languages (Alaskan Inuit)


The Inupiat languages are also  known as Inupiatun, Inupiaq, Iñupiaq, Inyupiaq, Inyupiat, Inyupeat, Inyupik,  Inupik, Inupiaq, or Alaskan Inuit. They are a group of dialects of the Inuit languages, spoken by the Inupiat people in northern and northwestern Alaska.

The Inupiat language is a member of the Yupik-Inuit languages. There are roughly 2,000 speakers.

The Inupiaq language is an Inuit-Yupik-Unangan language, also known as Eskimo-Aleut, has been spoken in the Northern regions of Alaska for at 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 1800s, Russian, British, and American colonizers would make contact with Inupiat people.

Inupiaq was first written when outside 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, however, died with its creators.

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.

In 1885, the American territorial government appointed Reverend Sheldon Jackson as General Agent of Education.

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.”

Today, the University of Alaska Fairbanks offers bachelor’s degrees in Inupiaq language and culture, while a preschool/kindergarten-level Inupiaq immersion school named Nikaichuat Ilisaġviat is in existence in Kotzebue.

There are four main dialect divisions and these can be organized within two larger dialect collections.

Northern Alaskan Inupiaq is spoken in the Northwest Arctic and North Slope regions, from Deering, Alaska to the Mackenzie Delta in the Northwest Territories, Canada.

  • Seward Peninsula Iñupiaq
    • Bering Strait: spoken on King Island and the Diomede Islands and in the villages north of Nome, Alaska.
      • Diomede (tribe: Iŋalikmiut)
      • Wales (tribes: Kiŋikmiut, Tapqaġmiut)
      • King Island (tribe: Ukiuvaŋmiut)
    • Qawiaraq: spoken in Teller, near the original village of Qawiaraq, and in the villages south of Nome as far as Unalakleet.
      • Teller (tribes: Siñiġaġmiut, Qawiaraġmiut)
      • Fish River (tribe: Iġałuiŋmiut)
  • Northern Alaskan Iñupiaq:
    • Malimiutun
      • Kobuk (tribes: Kuuŋmiut, Kiitaaŋmiut [Kiitaaġmiut], Siiḷviim Kaŋianiġmiut, Nuurviŋmiut, Kuuvaum Kaŋiaġmiut, Akuniġmiut, Nuataaġmiut, Napaaqtuġmiut, Kivalliñiġmiut)
      • Kotzebue (tribes: Pittaġmiut, Kaŋiġmiut, Qikiqtaġruŋmiut)
    • North Slope: spoken along the Arctic coast as far south as Kivalina.
      • Common North Slope (tribes: Utuqqaġmiut, Siḷaliñaġmiut [Kukparuŋmiut and Kuuŋmiut], Kakligmiut [Sitarumiut, Utqiaġvigmuit and Nuvugmiut], Kuulugruaġmiut, Ikpikpagmiut, Kuukpigmiut [Kañianermiut, Killinermiut and Kagmalirmiut])
      • Point Hope (tribe: Tikiġaġmiut)
      • Anaktuvuk Pass (tribe: Nunamiut)
      • Uummarmiutun (tribe: Uummarmiut): spoken in the Mackenzie Delta (Aklavik and Inuvik) in the Northwest Territories, Canada

The Iñupiaq name for the bumble bee flower has been lost
The Twelve Months of the Year in Inupiaq