Inupiaq

Inupiaq is spoken throughout much of northern Alaska and is closely related to the Canadian Inuit dialects and the Greenlandic dialects, which may collectively be called "Inuit" or Eastern Eskimo, distinct from Yupik or Western Eskimo.

Alaskan Inupiaq includes two major dialect groups: North Alaskan Inupiaq and Seward Peninsula Inupiaq. North Alaskan Inupiaq comprises the North Slope dialect spoken along the Arctic Coast from Barter Island to Kivalina, as well as the Malimiut dialect, which is found primarily around Kotzebue Sound and the Kobuk River. Seward Peninsula Inupiaq comprises the Qawiaraq dialect, found principally in Teller and in the southern Seward Peninsula and Norton Sound area, as well as the Bering Strait dialect spoken in the villages surrounding Bering Strait and on the Diomede Islands.

Dialect differences involve vocabulary and suffixes (lexicon) as well as sounds (phonology). North Slope and Malimiut are easily mutually intelligible, although there are vocabulary differences (tupiq means 'tent' in North Slope and 'house' in Malimiut; iglu is 'house' in North Slope) and sound differences ('dog' is qimmiq in North Slope and qipmiq in Malimiut). Seward Peninsula and North Alaskan dialects differ significantly from each other, and a fair amount of experience is required for a speaker of one to understand the dialect of the other. For example, each uses a completely different verb stem for 'talk' ('they are talking' is qaniqtut in Seward Peninsula but uqaqtut in North Alaskan). Sound differences are also numerous ('they are cooking' is iarut in Seward Peninsula but igarut in North Alaskan).

The name "Inupiaq," meaning "real or genuine person" (inuk 'person' plus -piaq 'real, genuine'), is often spelled "Iñupiaq," particularly in the northern dialects. It can refer to a person of this group ("He is an Inupiaq") and can also be used as an adjective ("She is an Inupiaq woman"). The plural form of the noun is "Inupiat," referring to the people collectively ("the Inupiat of the North Slope").

Alaska is home to about 13,500 Inupiat, of whom about 3,000, mostly over age 40, speak the language. The Canadian Inuit population of 31,000 includes about 24,000 speakers. In Greenland, a population of 46,400 includes 46,000 speakers.

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(Revised January 1, 2007.)

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