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Eastern Canadian Inuktitut
Native to Canada
Region Nunavut, Nunavik (Quebec), Nunatsiavut (Newfoundland and Labrador)
Native speakers
34,000 (2011 census)[1]
36,000 together with Inuvialuk (2006)[2]
Qikiqtaaluk nigiani (South Baffin)
Nunavimmiutitut (Quebec)
Inuttitut (Labrador)
Inuktun (Thule)
Inuktitut syllabics, Inuktitut Braille, Latin
Official status
Official language in
Northwest Territories
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and various other local institutions.
Language codes
ISO 639-1 iu
ISO 639-2 iku
ISO 639-3 ike
Glottolog east2534[3]

Inuktitut (English pronunciation: ; Inuktitut , syllabics ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ; from inuk person + -titut like, in the manner of), also Eastern Canadian Inuktitut or Eastern Canadian Inuit, is one of the principal Inuit languages of Canada. It is spoken in all areas north of the tree line, including parts of the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, to some extent in northeastern Manitoba as well as the territory of Nunavut. It is one of the aboriginal languages written with Canadian Aboriginal syllabics.[4]

It is recognised as an official language in Nunavut alongside Inuinnaqtun, and both languages are known collectively as Inuktut. It also has legal recognition in Nunavik—a part of Quebec—thanks in part to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, and is recognised in the Charter of the French Language as the official language of instruction for Inuit school districts there. It also has some recognition in Nunatsiavut—the Inuit area in Labrador—following the ratification of its agreement with the government of Canada and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Canadian census reports that there are roughly 35,000 Inuktitut speakers in Canada, including roughly 200 who live regularly outside of traditionally Inuit lands.[2]

The term Inuktitut is often used more broadly to include Inuvialuktun and thus nearly all the Inuit dialects of Canada. For more information on the relationship between Inuktitut and the Inuit languages spoken in Greenland and Alaska, see Inuit languages.


  • Dialects 1
    • Nunavut 1.1
    • Nunavik 1.2
    • Labrador 1.3
    • Greenland 1.4
  • Phonology 2
  • Grammar 3
  • Writing 4
    • The Canadian syllabary 4.1
    • Braille 4.2
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9
    • Dictionaries and lexica 9.1
    • Webpages 9.2
    • Utilities 9.3


Distribution of Inuit language variants across the Arctic. East Inuktitut dialects are those east of Hudson Bay, here coloured dark blue, red and pink, and the brown in NW Greenland.


Nunavut's basic law lists four official languages: English, French, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun, but to what degree Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun can be thought of as separate languages is ambiguous in state policy. The word Inuktitut is often used to describe both. A more proper term has been adopted using "Inuit Languages" when speaking of Inuinnaqtun and Inuktitut.

The demographic situation of Inuktitut is quite strong in Nunavut. Nunavut is the home of some 24,000 Inuit, most of whom – over 80% according to the 2001 census – speak Inuktitut, including some 3,500 people reported as monolinguals. 2001 census data shows that the use of Inuktitut, while lower among the young than the elderly, has stopped declining in Canada as a whole and may even be increasing in Nunavut.

The South Baffin dialect (Qikiqtaaluk nigiani) is spoken across the southern part of Baffin Island, including the territorial capital Iqaluit. This has in recent years made it a much more widely heard dialect, since a great deal of Inuktitut media originates in Iqaluit. Some linguists also distinguish an East Baffin dialect from either South Baffin or North Baffin, which is an Inuvialuk dialect.

As of the early 2000s, Nunavut has gradually implemented early childhood, elementary, and secondary school-level immersion programmes within its education system to further preserve and promote the Inuktitut language. As of 2012, "Pirurvik, Iqaluit's Inuktitut language training centre, has a new goal: to train instructors from Nunavut communities to teach Inuktitut in different ways and in their own dialects when they return home."[5]


Quebec is home to roughly 12,000 Inuit, nearly all of whom live in Nunavik. According to the 2001 census, 90% of Quebec Inuit speak Inuktitut.

The Nunavik dialect (Nunavimmiutitut) is relatively close to the South Baffin dialect, but not identical. Because of the political and physical boundary between Nunavik and Nunavut, Nunavik has separate government and educational institutions from those in the rest of the Inuktitut-speaking world, resulting in a growing standardization of the local dialect as something separate from other forms of Inuktitut. In the Nunavik dialect, Inuktitut is called Inuttitut. This dialect is also sometimes called Tarramiutut or Taqramiutut.

Subdialects of Inuktitut in this region include Tarrarmiut and Itivimuit.[6] Itivimuit is associated with Inukjuak, Quebec, and there is a Itivimuit River near the town.


The Nunatsiavut dialect (Nunatsiavummiutut, or often in government documents Labradorimiutut) was once spoken across northern Labrador. It has a distinct writing system, created by German missionaries from the Moravian Church in Greenland in the 1760s. This separate writing tradition, and the remoteness of Nunatsiavut from other Inuit communities, has made it into a distinct dialect with a separate literary tradition. The Nunatsiavummiut call their language Inuttut.

Although Nunatsiavut claims over 4,000 inhabitants of Inuit descent, only 550 reported Inuktitut to be their native language in the 2001 census, mostly in the town of Nain. Inuktitut is seriously endangered in Labrador.

Nunatsiavut also had a separate dialect reputedly much closer to western Inuktitut dialects, spoken in the area around Rigolet. According to news reports, in 1999 it had only three very elderly speakers.[7]


Though often thought to be a dialect of Greenlandic, Inuktun or Polar Eskimo is a recent arrival in Greenland from the Eastern Canadian Arctic, arriving perhaps as late as the 18th century.


Eastern Canadian dialects of Inuktitut have fifteen consonants and three vowels (which can be long or short). Consonants are arranged with five places of articulation: bilabial, alveolar, palatal, velar and uvular; and three manners of articulation: voiceless Stops, voiced continuants and nasals, as well as two additional sounds—voiceless fricatives. Natsalingmiutut has an additional consonant /ɟ/, a vestige of the retroflex consonants of Proto-Inuit. Inuinnaqtun has one fewer consonant, as /s/ and /ɬ/ have merged into /h/. All dialects of Inuktitut have only three basic vowels and make a phonological distinction between short and long forms of all vowels. In Inuujingajut – Nunavut standard Roman orthography – long vowels are written as a double vowel.

Inuktitut vowels
IPA Inuujingajut Notes
open front unrounded Short /a/ a
Long /aː/ aa
closed front unrounded Short /i/ i Short i is sometimes realised as [e] or [ɛ]
Long /iː/ ii
closed back rounded Short /u/ u Short u is sometimes realised as [o] or [ɔ]
Long /uː/ uu
Inuktitut consonants in Inuujingajut and notation
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Notes
Voiceless stop p /p/ t /t/ k /k/ q /q/
  • All plosives are unaspirated
  • /q/ is sometimes represented with an r
Voiceless fricative s /s/
ł /ɬ/
(h /h/)
  • h replaces s in Kivallirmiutut and Natsilingmiutut and replaces both s and ɬ in Inuinnaqtun
  • ɬ is often written as &, or simply as l
Voiced v /v/ l /l/ j /j/
(j /ɟ/)
g /ɡ/ r /ʁ/
  • /ɟ/ is absent from most dialects and is therefore not written with a separate letter
  • /ɡ/ is always a fricative [ɣ] in Siglitun. In other dialects, the fricative realization is possible between vowels or vowels and approximants.
  • /ʁ/ is assimilated to [ɴ] before nasals
Nasal m /m/ n /n/ ng /ŋ/


Inuktitut, like other Eskimo–Aleut languages, has a very rich morphological system, in which a succession of different morphemes are added to root words to indicate things that, in languages like English, would require several words to express. (See also: Agglutinative language and Polysynthetic language). All words begin with a root morpheme to which other morphemes are suffixed. Inuktitut has hundreds of distinct suffixes, in some dialects as many as 700. However, it is highly regular, with rules that do not have exceptions like in English and other Indo-European languages, though they are sometimes very complicated.

One famous example is the word qangatasuukkuvimmuuriaqalaaqtunga (ᖃᖓᑕᓲᒃᑯᕕᒻᒨᕆᐊᖃᓛᖅᑐᖓ)[8] meaning I'll have to go to the airport:

Morpheme Meaning Euphonic changes due to following sound
qangata verbal root to raise/to be raised in the air
suuq verb-to-noun suffix one who habitually performs an action;
thus qangatasuuq: airplane
-q is deleted
kkut noun-to-noun suffix group -t is deleted
vik noun-to-noun suffix enormous;
thus qangatasuukkuvik: airport
-k changes to -m
mut noun ending dative singular, to -t+a changes to -u
aq noun-to-verb suffix arrival at a place; to go -q+ja is deleted
jariaq verb-to-noun suffix the obligation to perform an action -q is deleted
qaq noun-to-verb suffix to have -q is deleted
laaq verb-to-verb suffix future tense, will -q+l changes to -q+t
lunga verb ending participle, first person singular, I


Inuktitut is written in several different ways, depending on the dialect and region, but also on historical and political factors.

Moravian missionaries, with the purpose of introducing the Inuit peoples to Christianity and the Bible, contributed to the development of an Inuktitut alphabet in Greenland during the 1760s that was based on the Latin script. (This alphabet is distinguished by its inclusion of the letter kra, ĸ.) They later travelled to Labrador in the 1800s, bringing the Inuktitut alphabet with them.

The Alaskan Yupik and Inupiat (who, in addition, developed their own system of hieroglyphs) and the Siberian Yupik also adopted Latin alphabets.

Eastern Canadian Inuit were the last to adopt the written word when, in the 1860s, missionaries imported the written system Qaniujaaqpait they had developed in their efforts to convert the Cree to Christianity. The very last Inuit peoples introduced to missionaries and writing were the Netsilik Inuit in Kugaaruk and north Baffin Island. The Netsilik adopted Qaniujaaqpait by the 1920s.

The "Greenlandic" system has been substantially reformed in recent years, making Labrador writing unique to Nunatsiavummiutut at this time. Most Inuktitut in Nunavut and Nunavik is written using a scheme called Qaniujaaqpait or Inuktitut syllabics, based on Canadian Aboriginal syllabics. The western part of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories use a Latin alphabet usually called Inuinnaqtun or Qaliujaaqpait, reflecting the predispositions of the missionaries who reached this area in the late 19th century and early 20th.

In Siberia a Cyrillic script is used.

In April 2012, with the completion of the Old Testament, the first complete Bible in Inuktitut, translated by native speakers, was published.[9]

The Canadian syllabary

The syllabary used to write Inuktitut (titirausiq nutaaq). The extra characters with the dots represent long vowels; in the Latin transcription, the vowel would be doubled.

The Inuktitut syllabary used in Canada is based on the Cree syllabary devised by the missionary James Evans. The present form of the syllabary for Canadian Inuktitut was adopted by the Inuit Cultural Institute in Canada in the 1970s. The Inuit in Alaska, the Inuvialuit, Inuinnaqtun speakers, and Inuit in Greenland and Labrador use Latin alphabets.

Though conventionally called a syllabary, the writing system has been classified by some observers as an abugida, since syllables starting with the same consonant have related glyphs rather than unrelated ones.

All of the characters needed for the Inuktitut syllabary are available in the Unicode character repertoire. (See Unified Canadian Aboriginal syllabics (Unicode block).) The territorial government of Nunavut, Canada has developed a TrueType font called Pigiarniq[10][11] (ᐱᓄᐊᕐᓂᖅ ) for computer displays. It was designed by Vancouver-based Tiro Typeworks. Apple Macintosh computers include an Inuktitut IME (Input Method Editor) as part of keyboard language options.[11]


In 2012 Tamara Kearney, Manager of Braille Research and Development at the Commonwealth Braille and Talking Book Cooperative developed a Braille code for the Inuktitut language syllabics. This code is based on representing the syllabics orientation. Machine translation from Unicode UTF-8 and UTF-16 can be performed using the liblouis Braille translation system which included an Inuktitut Braille translation table. The book ᐃᓕᐊᕐᔪᒃ ᓇᓄᕐᓗ (The Orphan and the Polar Bear) became the first work ever translated into Inuktitut Braille and a copy is held by the Nunavut Territorial Library at Baker Lake, Nunavut.

See also


  1. ^ Inuktitut at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ a b Various Languages Spoken (147), Age Groups (17A) and Sex (3) for the Population of Canada, Provinces, Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2006 Census – 20% Sample Data and Selected Language Characteristics (165), Aboriginal Identity (8), Age Groups (7), Sex (3) and Area of Residence (6) for the Population of Canada, Provinces and Territories, 2006 Census – 20% Sample Data (Total – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal identity population
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Eastern Canadian Inuktitut".  
  4. ^ "field to show translation -> 10 facts about Canadian Aboriginal Languages". 2014-02-12. Retrieved 2015-07-15. 
  5. ^ Dawson, Samantha (2013-01-17). "A new way to nurture the Inuit language: train the instructors". NunatsiaqOnline. Retrieved 2013-01-24. 
  6. ^ "Review". Retrieved 2015-07-15. 
  7. ^ "A precious Inuktitut dialect slowly dies in Rigolet". 1999-05-07. Retrieved 2012-06-13. 
  8. ^ CJSLPA 35 (2011), 2, p. 170
  9. ^ Hebrew Bible published in Eskimo language, News/North Nunavut, 23 April 2012
  10. ^ Computer Tools
  11. ^ a b Inuktitut Syllabic Fonts - Download


  • Mallon, Mick. "Inuktitut Linguistics for Technocrats". 
  • Mallon, Mick (1991). Introductory Inuktitut.  
  • Mallon, Mick. Introductory Inuktitut Reference Grammar.  
  • Spalding, Alex (1998). Inuktitut: A multi-dialectal outline dictionary (with an Aivilingmiutaq base).  
  • Spalding, Alex (1992). Inuktitut: a Grammar of North Baffin Dialects.  
  • "The Inuktitut Language". Project Naming | the identification of Inuit portrayed in photographic collections at Library and Archives Canada. 
  • Arctic Languages: An Awakening PDF (2.68 MB), ed: Dirmid R. F. Collis. ISBN 92-3-102661-5.

Although as many of the examples as possible are novel or extracted from Inuktitut texts, some of the examples in this article are drawn from Introductory Inuktitut and Inuktitut Linguistics for Technocrats.

Further reading

  • Allen, Shanley. Aspects of Argument Structure Acquisition in Inuktitut. Language acquisition & language disorders, v. 13. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub, 1996. ISBN 1-55619-776-4
  • Balt, Peter. Inuktitut Affixes. Rankin Inlet? N.W.T.: s.n, 1978.
  • Fortescue, Michael, Steven Jacobson, and Lawrence Kaplan. Comparative Eskimo Dictionary with Aleut Cognates - second edition. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2011. ISBN 1555001092.
  • Kalmar, Ivan. Case and Context in Inuktitut (Eskimo). Mercury series. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada, 1979.
  • Nowak, Elke. Transforming the Images Ergativity and Transitivity in Inuktitut (Eskimo). Empirical approaches to language typology, 15. New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1996. ISBN 3-11-014980-X
  • Schneider, Lucien. Ulirnaisigutiit An Inuktitut-English Dictionary of Northern Québec, Labrador, and Eastern Arctic Dialects (with an English-Inuktitut Index). Québec: Les Presses de l'Université Laval, 1985.
  • Spalding, Alex, and Thomas Kusugaq. Inuktitut A Multi-Dialectal Outline Dictionary (with an Aivilingmiutaq Base). Iqaluit, NT: Nunavut Arctic College, 1998. ISBN 1-896204-29-5
  • Swift, Mary D. Time in Child Inuktitut A Developmental Study of an Eskimo–Aleut Language. Studies on language acquisition, 24. Berlin: M. de Gruyter, 2004. ISBN 3-11-018120-7
  • Thibert, Arthur. Eskimo–English, English–Eskimo Dictionary = Inuktitut–English, English–Inuktitut Dictionary. Ottawa: Laurier Books, 1997. ISBN 1-895959-12-8

External links

Dictionaries and lexica

  • Nunavut Living Dictionary
  • Inuktitut Morphology List PDF (133 KB)


  • A Brief History of Inuktitut Writing Culture
  • Inuktitut Syllabarium (Languagegeek)
  • Our Language, Our Selves
  • Government of Nunavut font download
  • Inuktitut-friendly website hosting and development
  • Tusaalanga ("Let me hear it"), a website with Inuktitut online lessons with sound files
  • Inuktiut Computer Games, Kativik School Board


  • Microsoft Transliteration Utility – Powerful, free tool for transliterating text between different scripts. Includes a module for transliterating back and forth between Inuktitut syllabary and Inuktitut romanization.
  • NANIVARA – Inuktitut Search Engine. – NANIVARA means "I've found it!" in Inuktitut.
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