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Some Ethnolinguistic Notes on Polar Eskimo

Series:

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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Chapter 1. Background to Polar Eskimo Language and Society

Extract

Chapter 1 Background to Polar Eskimo Language and Society The people of north-west Greenland call themselves the Inugguit and are a sub-group of the Inuit. The word Inugguit (inugguaq in the singular) is a self-imposed demonym and it means the ‘big or great people’. There is no reason to believe that this name is an historical one, and it appears to have come into use in the twentieth century perhaps in response to an increas- ingly strained relationship with the political elite in Nuuk. It is more prob- ably an indication of the exceptional level of pride to be found amongst this group that live in this remote corner of Greenland, or just a wish to set them apart from other Inuit groups in the circumpolar region. For the reasons that the Inugguit are the last Inuit in the world to hunt (and largely travel) exclusively by dog sledge (when there is sea ice), some of them feel that in a sense they have a legitimate claim to think of themselves as the last, ‘real’ Inuit. Travelling by dog-sledge across the sea-ice has defined who they are for centuries, and for many a break with this tradition would be more or less unthinkable. But, their language is also a significant part of this pride and sense of identity. They are well aware of the demise of related Inuit dialects across the Arctic region and perceive the gradual switch to English amongst certain Inuit groups as a symptom of identity loss....

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