An introduction to Inuktitut! *very long post, sorry!*
Hi everyone! I’ve seen some people posting little lessons for languages (like Latin), so I thought I’d share with you what I’m finding out about the fascinating Inuktitut language! I’ve only recently begun to study Inuktitut and Greenlandic, but I’ll focus on the former today.
First, a little about the language. Inuktitut is an Inuit language and is linguistically categorised as being the Eskimo-Aleut family - this means it is related to such languages as Greenlandic, Aleut, Inupiaq, and Inuktun. Inuktitut is written with a set of syllabics, which are natively called qaniujaaqpait. The system of romanisation which I will be using here is called qaliujaaqpait. There are a lot of different Inuktitut dialects, spoken all across Canada. The one I am mostly learning is the South Qikiqtaaluk dialect.
Inuktitut is also very different to most European languages - I just assume that most people here have knowledge in one or more languages from Europe. So in order to learn Inuktitut, you really do have to change how you think about things!
What I’ll show you today:
verb subjects as affixes
forming and answering simple questions
Disclaimer! I’m only a learner, too, so although I’ve tried I can’t guarantee there won’t be little mistakes. But you’ll still get the gist!
Note: I had no idea this was going to be long, but once I started typing... sorry!
Words in Inuktitut are generally made up of roots and affixes. A root is a basic word form - such as isiq, to enter, and an affix is a word or grammatical marker which joins to the root to add a new layer of meaning. A good way to introduce this system is through some simple verbs! Here are some singular Inuktitut subject affixes, which are attached to verbs:
junga - first person (I)
jutit - second person (you)
juq - third person (he, she)
Personal pronouns as they are seen in many European languages - standalone words such as I, io, jeg, and so on, are not often used in Inuktitut. This is because the above affixes, which get attached to verbs, serve the same purpose - the verbs themselves agree with the subject, making separate pronouns pretty much redundant.
To form a verb in the present tense, all that’s needed is to find the root of the verb you are going to use, and use the appropriate form of a subject affix. Here are some basic verbs:
niri - to eat
uqalimaaq - to read
titiraq - to write
sinik - to sleep
When a stem ends in a vowel, the subject affix used begins with j, like the ones I’ve already shown you. Therefore, it’s not very difficult to create a “full” verb from niri -
nirijunga - I eat
nirijutit - you eat
nirijuq - he eats, she eats
However, if a stem ends in a consonant, then the j becomes a t. So uqalimaaqjunga, titiraqjutit, and sinikjuq are all incorrect:
uqalimaaqtunga - I read
titiraqtutit - you write
siniktuq - he sleeps, she sleeps
When affixes are added, many change their initial letters or even alter the stem they attach to. This is important to remember, as these spelling changes may make it difficult to pick out affixes and roots from words.
Keeping to the topic of verbs, one equivalent of the verb to be is the affix -u-. It is often used with personal names to say who somebody is, along with the appropriate subject marker. In foreign names, the -u- affix can actually be left out, as some speakers find it improves pronunciation. :)
Naiviti + u + junga = Naivitiujunga
Piita + u + juq = Piitaujuq
David + u + juq = Davidujuq, Davidtuq
Helen + u + jutit = Helenujutit, Helentutit
Take note of the second versions of the last two names - subject persons start with j before vowels and t before consonants!
There are a few rules to remember for -u-, however.
If -u- is attached to a stem ending in a k or q, that final k/q is deleted.
As a rule of thumb, no more than two vowels can be consecutive. Therefore, when a stem-final k/q is removed but is immediately preceded by two vowels, the -u- affix would mean there would be three vowels in a row: therefore, it is changed to -ngu-.
Inuk + u + jutit = Inukujutit - may also mean "you are alive", "you are a person"
pinnguaq + u + juq = pinnguangujuq
Let’s learn some more “pronouns”. In Inuktitut, there are three person numbers: singular, dual, and plural.
juguk - first person dual
jugut - first person plural
This means that uqalimaaqtuguk means 'we (two) read’, while uqalimaaqtugut means ‘we (three or more) read’. The second and third person dual and plurals are as follows:
jusik - second person dual
jusi - second person plural
juuk - third person dual
jut - third person plural
Given these new subject affixes, and the verbs I showed you at the start, can you figure out what these words mean?:
A similar set of affixes are also used to create simple questions. Here they are below, with their corresponding subjects:
vunga - junga
vit - jutit
va - juq
vinuk - juguk
vita - jugut
visik - jusik
visi - jusi
vaak - juuk
vat - jut
As with the subjects’ j to t rule, there are just a few spelling rules to remember here, too.
Affixes beginning with v are used after vowels. Affixes beginning with q are used after stems ending in q, thus doubling the letter. Affixes beginning with p are used after stems ending in any other consonant, which is itself replaced by a p, thus doubling the letter.
nirivunga? - am I eating?
nirivisik? - are you (2) eating?
nirivat? - are they (3+) eating?
uqalimaaqqita? - are we (2) reading?
uqalimaaqqit? - are you (1) reading?
uqalimaaqqa? - is he/she reading?
titiraqqunga? - am I writing?
titiraqqisi? - are you (3+) writing?
titiraqqat? - are they (3+) writing?
sinippinuk? - are we (2) sleeping?
sinippit? - are you (1) sleeping?
sinippaak? - are they (2) sleeping?
To answer in the affirmative, say ii, or the verb plus the first person singular affix. Expressing the negative can be done by saying aagga, but if you want to be fancy, you can use a negative affix. The affix -nngit- is added before the verb subject. If -nngit- directly follows a q, k or t, that letter is deleted.
nirijunga - nirinngittunga
uqalimaaqtunga - uqalimaanngittunga
titiraqtunga - titiranngittunga
siniktunga - sininngittunga
And that’s the end of that! Now you know:
the subject affixes, which correspond to personal pronouns
how to turn a present-tense verb into a simple question
how to say someone’s same
To finish, here’s a little conversation. Try and read it through! Can you see how to ask someone’s name?
Taiviti: Taivitiujunga. Kinauvit?
Maagi: Maagiujunga. Nirivit?
Taiviti: Aagga, nirinngittunga. Nirijuq. Uqalimaaqqit?
Maagi: ii, uqalimaaqtunga. Sinippaak?
I have found Inuktitut to be a fascinating language for a long time now. Thanks for this nice post! I hope to be able to learn at least some of the Inuktitut language and other Aboriginal languages in the future.
Here's a good TED talk if anyone is interested, called "What if Aboriginal languages mattered?" by Dr. John Steckley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q50ZJWc1uyE
Here is a summary of some of the topics he discussed:
Education of First Nations in Canada, including residential schooling, and the awareness of the abuse of residential schooling by everyday Canadians.
Court being held on the reserves, so that the community could witness justice from within.
He talked about something called the Union Act, which was enacted in 1876 and is still enforced to this day. He said there is nothing like this anywhere else in the world.
1949 - The first time an indigenous language was spoken in legislature.
Problems with residential schools and poverty, highest suicide rates in the country are by First Nations people.
Lack of access to clean drinking water.
Improper and illegal transfer of First Nations land.
Canada is always near the top for countries rated by HDI index, while the HDI for First Nations people is rated in the 60s, like a third world country.
52/55 indigenous languages are going extinct.
He says First Nations are now better educated and more politically aware. Resource industries, like mining, pipelines, oil, gas, logging, can't conduct business the way they used to, where they ignored First Nations.
A large part of the future of the First Nations people is how they do business, he says. You have never heard an indigenous leader say, "Development at all costs."
Comparison to other countries: In New Zealand, at least 4 seats in the government are guaranteed to be natives (this is easier because they have 20% of the population). In Noway, Sweden, the government made a promise to never have poor indigenous people.
At the talk, somebody asked what can one do as responsible solidarity work. Some of the suggestions were visit a First Nations community, take part in a ceremony, learn a language, the true history of Canada.
That came out a bit longer than I though it would. Maybe I can expand this a bit and make a post in the future.
Thank you for your post!
I'd like to, but the resources I'm using currently only occasionally use the syllabary, so in my notes I've had to do my best at figuring it out on my own. I'm mostly confident I've got the script down, but I still need to practice some letter combinations (such as consonant clusters, doubled consonants or syllable-final consonants) a little more.
Totally cool! The concept of root+affix is very much like Hungarian. The changing of the -j in subject affixes to -t in consonant-ending stems is also familiar. Affixes in Hungarian also change, but it's the vowels that change to match the vowels in the stems, and is called "vowel harmony". The thing that is really new and surprising for me is the idea of a "dual pronoun"! I've never encountered this before. It's so interesting!
One comment: You said, "As a rule of thumb, no more than two vowels can be consecutive. Therefore, when a stem-final k/q is removed but is immediately preceded by two vowels, the -u- affix would mean there would be three consonants in a row: therefore, it is changed to -ngu-." I think you meant, "there would be three vowels in a row"?
One question: How is -q pronounced? Is it just a -k sound? Or is it some sort of glottal stop sound? It seems to be used a lot.
Ok, and now I'll take a stab at the first "exercise": nirijuuk = The two of them eat. nirijusi = You (pl.) eat. Siniktuguk = The two of us sleep. titiraqtut = They write. titiraqtugut = We write. uqalimaaqtutit = You (sing.) read. siniktunga = I sleep.
And that's as far as I got before my brain got saturated with new language overload!
Thanks for the post!
Whoops, you're completely right - I didn't even notice I had written "consonants" instead of "vowels", thanks! (I'll correct it now - but that's what I get for making posts at midnight!)
Q is a 'voiceless uvular plosive', which is represented by the symbol /q/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet. If you want, this page: http://web.uvic.ca/ling/resources/ipa/charts/IPAlab/IPAlab.htm has some of the most common IPA symbols, plus audio! I've found it really helpful when learning how to pronounce things.
Also, R is pronounced as /ʁ/, which is a 'voiced uvular fricative', and J is /j/, a 'voiced palatal approximant'.
And you definitely seem to have a flair for Inuktitut... let's hope I can convert someone to being a fan of this beautiful language :D
Hmm... well I've always had a fascination with aboriginal people, not just in Canada but globally, but I've never delved into this interest in any substantial way. Maybe I've found my calling with Inuktitut ;) You've definitely piqued my interest in the language with this little crash course, thank you for introducing us to it!
Also, another question: what does "inuk" mean, and what does the "titut" affix do?
Inuk means "person". I don't know the exact etymology of Inuktitut but apparently it translates to "like the Inuit". Inuit is the plural form of "person" - replacing the final consonant with -it is one way of forming the plural.
I'd assume that in this context, titut would therefore convey some meaning such as "similar to". This affix is also present in words such as inuttituuqpuq (he/she speaks or behaves like an Inuit person), which is a possible derivation of inuttitut, an alternative spelling conveying the meaning of "Inuit-like". However, the only words I've come across using this affix have been dialectical names for Inuktitut.
There are some words with a similar sort of meaning which may contain a form of the titut affix,, such as tiatut (what is like it, what is like that, that is like it), ippasamitut (like yesterday), uqautijarnituq (someone it's nice to talk to). But unfortunately I can't say whether this is a coincidence or not.
Sorry I can't help much - I'm still learning!