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PAGE 5
Snow Owl – October, 2003

LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

 

     The languages of the Inuit peoples constitute a subfamily of the Eskimo-Aleut language family. A major linguistic division occurs in Alaska , according to whether the speakers call themselves Inuit (singular, Inuk) or Yuit (singular, Yuk).

    The eastern branch of the subfamily-generally called Inupiaq in Alaska but also Inuktitut in Canada and Kalaallisut (Kalâdtlisut) in Greenland-stretches from eastern Alaska across Canada and through northern into southern Greenland . It forms a dialect chain-that is, it consists of many dialects, each understandable to speakers of neighboring dialects, although not to speakers of geographically distant dialects.

    The western branch, called Yupik, includes three distinct languages: Central Alaskan Yupik and Pacific Gulf Yupik in Alaska and Siberian Yupik in Alaska and Canada , each with several dialects (see Native American Languages).

    The Inupiaq dialects have more than 40,000 speakers in Greenland and more than 20,000 in Alaska and Canada . Yupik languages are spoken by about 17,000 people, including some 1000 in the former Soviet Union .

    These various languages are used for the first year of school in some parts of Siberia , for religious instruction and education in schools under Inuit control in Alaska , and in schools and communications media in Canada and Greenland .

    The Inupiaq and Yupik languages have an immense number of suffixes that are added to a smaller number of root words; these suffixes function similarly to verb endings, case endings, prepositional phrases, and even whole clauses in the English language. A root word can thus give rise to many derivative words, often many syllables long and highly specialized in meaning, and sometimes complex enough to serve as an entire sentence.

 


Inuit font Inuktitut-Sri

 

     Because these languages are among the most complex and difficult in the world, few explorers or traders learned them; instead, they relied on a jargon composed of Danish, Spanish, Hawaiian, and Inupiaq and Yupik words. The Inupiaq and Yupik languages themselves have a rich oral literature, and a number of Greenland authors have written in Greenland Inupiaq. The first book in Inupiaq was published in 1742.

http://www.angelfire.com/realm/shades/nativeamericans/inuit4.htm
"Inuit," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000 http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

 
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION
 

     The manners and customs of the Inuit, like their language, are remarkably uniform despite the widespread diffusion of the people.

     The family-including the nuclear family, nearby relatives, and relations by marriage-is the most significant social unit. In traditional culture, marriages, although sometimes arranged, are generally open to individual choice.

     Monogamy is the usual pattern, but both polygyny and polyandry also occur. Marriage, a virtual necessity for physical survival, is based on strict division of labor.

     Husband and wife retain their own tools, household goods, and other personal possessions; men build houses, hunt, and fish, and women cook, dress animal skins, and make clothing. Food sources such as game and fish are considered community property. The underlying social law is the obligation to help one's kin.

     Community ridicule is the most common means of social control; in extreme cases, after lengthy deliberation, an offender may be socially ostracized or put to death. With the absence of any communal legal structure, harming someone from another group jeopardizes one's own kinship group (which is held responsible for the offense) and raises the possibility of a blood feud. Provocative displays of emotion are strongly disapproved.

     Some groups control conflict by means of wrestling matches or song duels, in which the angry parties extemporize insulting songs; the loser might be driven from the community.

     Alliances between non-relatives are formed and maintained through gift giving and the showing of respect. The highest such form of gift giving occurs when a head of household offers the opportunity of a temporary sexual liaison with the most valued adult woman of his household. The woman maintains the power to refuse the liaison, in which case respect will be symbolized through the presentation of a different gift.

http://www.angelfire.com/realm/shades/nativeamericans/inuit5.htm
Inuit," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000 http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

 
PROVISION OF FOOD
 

     The Inuit ethnic group, who live in the coastal areas of Greenland , Arctic North America, and Siberia , have a diet that consists mainly of fish and seals. They also use seals, whales, and related sea mammals as a source of clothing, building materials, and fuel for light and heat. Shown here is an Inuit man ice fishing.

    The traditional Inuit diet consists mainly of fish, seals, whales, and related sea mammals, the flesh of which is eaten cooked, dried, or frozen.

     The traditional economy of many Inuit and Eskimo groups of the North American Arctic was based on the hunting of sea mammals, including whales, seals, and walruses. These paintings from the 1830s depict Inuit as they hunt whales in open water and seals through holes in the ice.

    The seal is their staple winter food and most valuable resource. It provides them with dog food, clothing, and materials for making boats, tents, and harpoon lines, as well as fuel for both light and heat. In the interior of Alaska and Canada , caribou are hunted in the summer.

    To a lesser extent the polar bear, fox, hare, and Arctic birds, chiefly sea birds, also furnish important supplies.

     Large game such as whale, walrus, and caribou require bigger hunting expeditions than are possible for one kinship group.

     Many families follow a seasonal hunting and fishing cycle that takes them from one end to the other of their customary territory; trade with other groups often occurs along the way.

     In the late 20th century many Inuit work for wages and buy commercially prepared food.

http://www.angelfire.com/realm/shades/nativeamericans/inuit6.htm
"Inuit," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000 http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

 

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