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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 3: Polar Eskimo as a Written Language



Polar Eskimo as a Written Language

There is no really established written tradition for Inuktun or Polar Eskimo, but that is not to say that there have not been attempts at writing the language down. It is not a standardised language, and thus there is wide disagreement on spelling. A word such as hior’ddo, for example, may for instance be spelt hior’ddu, hiorllo or hiordu or several other ways.

As we have seen, the North Baffin Island dialect was written down using a syllabary, but this was established shortly after the last migration to north-west Greenland, and thus the syllabary was not taken with them. Some of the Inugguit who have Canadian ancestry are able to read the syllabary, but there does not appear to have been any attempt to ever write Polar Eskimo using this script (as far as I am aware). There have of course been numerous attempts to write the language down using the Latin script, but it has been difficult to gain consensus on how to write a small number of the more problematic sounds. Some will try to write their language as an accurate representation of its spoken form. Others might insist that ‘their’ language cannot be written down because they believe the sounds do not lend themselves to writing or because they believe their culture is an oral one and should remain so. For others, there is not always an immediate awareness that their written language...

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