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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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Chapter 10. Ways of Belonging


Chapter 10 Ways of Belonging The Inugguit organise language and experience through story-telling, ‘ways of speaking’ and meaningful situational co-presence, but also through their relationship to the environment. The Inugguit relate to their local cosmos through a discourse (almost an ideology) of ecological monistic thinking, a phenomenological embeddedness in their sense of place. The natural environment is not understood as a separate ontological category, but as an extension of the human psyche, expressed by the Inugguit through the word hila meaning ‘mind, consciousness, weather and the natural order of things’.1 As we saw with the example of Ikua, ‘thought’ is not consid- ered in this part of the Arctic the product of man, but is the product of the forces outside of man and these are forces which he must engage with (Carpenter, 1973: 44). When the weather was bad, hila naammangitsoq, which in their terms typically meant when there was mist, fog (pujoq) or low-dense cloud giving a feeling of oppression or closeness, people would often complain of headaches. The Inugguit still share a ‘social memoryscape’ (Nuttall, 1992: 39–40) of the area where they live. Geographic knowledge is experiential and shared amongst the hunters through story-telling out on the ice and mental images and sounds of remembered places. For the older people, a fjord is more than just a fjord, it is a confluence of historical events tracing their previ- ous peripatetic lifestyle; the high degree of semantic specificity results in the sense that the language for these...

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