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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 5: Inflectional Morphology of Polar Eskimo



Inflectional Morphology of Polar Eskimo

A more complete description of the morphology of Greenlandic (and thus PE) can be found elsewhere (Fortescue, 1984; Berge, 2011). The morphology does not differ considerably from related dialects in Greenland (albeit the inflectional endings themselves can be quite different), and therefore my comments are, in the interest of avoiding repetition, brief. Suffice to say, this is a highly polysynthetic, ergative-absolutive language which means that the case-marking for the subject of an intransitive verb is the same as for an object of a transitive clause. Polar Eskimo is an agglutinative, quasi-noun incorporating dialect with typically a SOV word order. It has heavy verbalizing affixes rather than noun-incoporating lexical verbs. Single lexical constructions are preferred over multi-lexical ones, even if addressing the question of what is a word in such a polysynthetic language might potentially require a whole chapter in itself.

As with the other Inuit dialects, there is no grammatical gender and verbal inflectional endings indicate mood, transitivity, person (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th ps. – the fourth person denotes a third person subject of a subordinate verb or the possessor of a noun that is coreferent with the third person subject of the matrix clause) and number (sg., pl. dual as in Inuktitut). There are three different conjugations of transitive and intransitive verbs (Vowel stem, R-stem, Consonantal stem), e.g.:

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