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Some Ethnolinguistic Notes on Polar Eskimo


Stephen Leonard

This book serves as an insightful ethnographic introduction to the language and oral traditions of the Inugguit, a sub-group of the Inuit who live in north-west Greenland. A unique work, it encompasses an overview of the grammar of Polar Eskimo – a language spoken by about 770 people – as well as a description of their oral traditions (drum-dancing and story-telling) and the most extensive glossary of the language compiled to date. The book presents the Polar Eskimo language in the orthography established by the author in conjunction with the local community in Greenland, an extremely difficult task for a language made up of such an aberrant phonology and with no written tradition. By exploring their ways of speaking and ways of belonging, Leonard provides an original ethnographic interpretation of the nature of Inugguit social organization and their world-view. Some Ethnolinguistic Notes on Polar Eskimo will serve as an invaluable resource for linguists who specialise in the Eskimo-Aleut group and will be of much interest to anthropologists working in the Arctic region.


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This fieldwork would not have been possible without the generous fund- ing of the British Academy and the World Oral Literature Project in Cambridge. I would like to extend my thanks to both of these bodies, and in particular to Mark Turin of the World Oral Literature Project for his support throughout. All of the recordings that I collected in the field, which include a variety of stories and drum-songs, are housed at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. A number of the key per- formers such as Aijakko Miteq and Qulutanguaq Jeremiassen have sadly since passed away, leaving these oral traditions looking rather vulnerable. I should also like to thank the Master and Fellows of Trinity Hall, Cambridge for allowing me to intermit my Fellowship to carry out this research. Much of the data that I collected was analysed and compiled during my tenure at the College. The project has been completed during my Fellowship at my current home, Exeter College, Oxford. I am grateful for the support my Oxford college has given me during my time as a Fellow, and previously as a student. This project would have of course been nothing without the Inugguit of north-west Greenland, with whom I lived for a year. Fieldwork is a strange thing. One goes into the field as a complete stranger. It is perhaps only when one is thinking about returning that one is finally accepted. But one returns home only to find one has become a stranger...

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