Grammatik der Eskimo-Sprache
by Theodor Bourquin

Where Kleinschmidt went, Bourquin followed. I don’t think they ever met face to face, but there was voluminous correspondence. Literally voluminous, that is: Klein­schmidt’s letters to Bourquin, spanning the years 1865-1880, have been published in book form.

With a surname like “Bourquin” you might expect him to be from the Alsace-Lorraine area, or possibly Switzerland. In fact Johann Heinrich Theodor Bourquin was an ethnic German born near what was then Orellen, Livonia, and is now Ungurmuiža, Latvia. Like Egede and Klein­schmidt he was a second-generation Moravian missionary; unlike them, he came to the far north relatively late in life, landing in Labrador when he was almost 30.

He spent the next few decades learning the language, which explains why the book is peppered with phrases like “trauriger Ungewissheit”, “eine unangenehme Unbestimmtheit”, and my personal favorite: “Zum tieferen Verständnis dieser Worte [kissiat, tamât, illũnât] sei noch folgendes bemerkt, da ihre Eigentümlichkeiten fast geeignet sind, die Gedanken zu verwirren.”

The Book

Inhalt und Einleitung (S. iii–xx, 1–11; § 1–30)

Formen (S. 12–162; § 31–345)

Zusammensetzung und Affixa (S. 163–324; § 346–510)

Syntax (S. 325–364; § 511–579)

Register (S. 407–415)

Towards the end of Bourquin’s table of contents you will find a single line pointing to an Alphabetisch Geordnetes Hauptverzeichnis der Anhänge oder Affixa. Hiding behind this innocuous label is a detailed and comprehensive discussion of affixes. At almost 150 pages—well over a third of the whole book—it puts Harper’s Suffixes to shame, and is worth a closer look even if your main interest is in some other part of the dialect continuum.

The Vorrede concludes with a long passage from Klein­schmidt, primarily complaining about Bourquin’s orthographic decisions—more accurately, his decision not to try to change existing orthography. The discussion went on so long that in the end Bourquin may have been relieved at Klein­schmidt’s death, because it meant he didn’t have to be so apologetic about disagreeing with him. (“Yes, yes, I know, and you’re absolutely right, but . . .”)

The “Wörterbuch” cited repeatedly is Erdmann’s Labradorian-German dictionary from 1864, available as page images at The Internet Archive. References to “Deutsches Wbch.” mean the second volume, German-to-Labradorian. References to earlier Drucken don’t mean earlier editions of the present book, but assorted earlier publications or translations by Bourquin.

The list of abbreviations on pages xviii-xix suggests that Bourquin did not have high hopes for his readers’ intelligence. I’m not sure where he planned to find a pool of readers who were capable of learning Inuktitut even while they could not figure out unaided that “d. h.“ means das heisst or “z. B.“ is zum Beispiel.


These are some terms Bourquin used consistently. Most of his vocabulary was taken directly from Klein­schmidt; a few terms were intentionally different. This isn’t meant to be a compre­hensive list.

BourquinKlein­schmidtother texts may also use:
TransitivSubjectivGenitive, Ergative
IntransitivObjectivNominative, Absolutive
-tutSimilis, Aequalis
ThäterSubjectagent of verb
ThatzielObjectpatient of transitive verb
cum suffixotransitivspecific (verb)
sine suffixointransitivintransitive or nonspecific verb (with patient, if any, in Accusative)
suffixpossessive ending and object/patient of transitive verb
reflexive-suffixreflexive; third person (of secondary verbs)
3. Persona-suffixfourth person (of secondary verbs)
InfinitivParticiple, Conjunctive
KonjunktivCausative, Becausative, Subjunctive
OptativImperative (forms other than second person)

Finally, some place names:

Uns im Süden“ refers to the people of Nain, Labrador, where Bourquin spent most of his career. Hoffenthal now goes by its English name, Hopedale. Okak, some 80 mi. (125 km) north of Nain, and Hebron, still further north, survive only as National Historic Sites.



Spelling is a little old-fashioned, but should present no difficulty if you can read modern German. A handful of words—thu(en) and related words (That, Thäter), Thal, Thür, Thräne—were spelled with initial th; all others—Teil, Tier, Ton and so on—use simple t. Other inconsistencies include:

Variable -e- in forms like
-geb(e)ne, steh(e)n, g(e)rade;
Vermitt(e)lung, Verwand(e)lung;
verschied(e)ne, and(e)re

hieher (-bei, -mit) : hierher (-bei, -mit)

scheints : scheint’s

Localis : Lokalis, Accusativ : Akkusativ


Like Kleinschmidt, Bourquin used ĸ (kra) for the sound now written as q; unlike Klein­schmidt, he has the decency to explain its use and pronunciation. Long vowels are generally shown as â or ã, î or ĩ and so on, though sometimes he uses doubling instead. As in Klein­schmidt, dl is a single sound, representing the letter later rendered as ł, or—in typescript and even some printed books—the regrettable &. Like Erdmann, Bourquin uses ch (as in “doch”) where modern texts have rr.

The book has much to say about the Schärfung of vowels, printed with an acute accent as á é etc., or ã ẽ etc. if long. But as far as I can tell, Bourquin never explains what the term means, phonetically. Maybe it was so widely understood in German—like references to “hard” and “soft” consonants in other languages—that he didn’t think he had to explain it. This, in turn, leads to the problem of . . .

Double consonants. A double consonant in writing may or may not represent spoken doubling. If the preceding vowel is “geschärft”, the consonant really is doubled. Otherwise it may just be a spelling convention to indicate a short vowel, much like the Bureau of (American) Ethnology’s “Innuit”. On the other hand, doubled consonants in speech may or may not be doubled in writing. Consonants after “geschärft” vowels are not always written double; often the Schärfung alone was considered sufficient. In particular, Bourquin had not thought of the “nng” form to represent doubled “ng”, so this sound can never be doubled in writing. So forms like -́ngit would now be written as nngit. All this has a great deal to do with older orthographies—the usages that Klein­schmidt so badly wanted him to change.

A leading - (hyphen) in affixes can best be read as a minus sign, since it means that the preceding consonant, if any, is omitted. Note that forms like -́ do not necessarily mean stress on the preceding syllable; they just denote Schärfung of the preceding vowel. But since this in turn means that the following consonant—the initial consonant of the affix—is doubled, making the syllable long, some marked (“accented”) syllables may really carry stress.

About the eBook

This ebook is based on two sets of online page images. The scans (and OCR) at The Internet Archive were made from microfilms of a Canadian original; this is the version most likely to be found in a university library. Scans at the Hathi Trust were made directly from a copy at the UC Berkeley library. I generally used TIA’s version, except where something was too faded to make out.

Bourquin was writing for ordinary humans, not scholars. So the German text is printed in fraktur (“gothic”), while everything else is in Antiqua (“roman”). That doesn’t only mean Labradorian; it also applies to any quoted words in English, French or Latin—including most but not all grammatical terminology—and also to single letters of any kind. I’ve generally shown Antiqua as sans-serif, except italicized text, which didn’t need further marking. A few grammatical terms—Dual, Plural, refl.—were variously printed in both fraktur and antiqua. I didn’t see any reason to preserve the distinction. The English word “Store” was always printed in fraktur.

Emphasis was shown either as boldface or spaced (“gesperrt”) text—sometimes both in combination. Italics were also used, but only to mark some grammatical terms and abbreviations in Antiqua. A few places use a kind of super-bold Fraktur. For the ebook I’ve shown all spaced-out and double-bold text as italic; since different types of content are involved, there shouldn’t be any ambiguity.

In fraktur, the : colon was often indistinguishable from the ; semicolon. What you see is my best guess, based on context and usage elsewhere in the book. In other words, this is not a suitable text for students of late nineteenth-century German punctuation.

Finally: I’ve left out one forty-page section, given in the Table of Contents as “Verzeichnis der haupt­sächlichsten Wörter in Bezug auf die Schreibung mit ĸ (r) oder k”. The word list is only meaningful if you’ve concurrently got Erdmann’s dictionary open on your desk; it isn’t meant as a glossary for the present book.

Changes and Corrections

The publisher seems to have paid by the drop for ink, so there were a great many „ „ ditto marks, especially in inflectional tables. I have generally filled in the omitted words, except when the dittos themselves are useful (“these forms are always the same”).

The original Ae, Oe, Ue have been changed to Ä, Ö, Ü for readability. Conversely, the original ß has been expanded to ss, except in words with the ßs sequence (rare) as in Eßsachen. Parenthetical question marks are in the original.

The author’s Berichtigungen und Ergänzungen are given on pages xix-xx. Predictably, these are not the only errors in the book. Minor corrections—mainly punctuation—are shown with mouse-hover popups. More significant changes such as k-for-ĸ errors are listed at the end of each numbered section. I can’t guarantee that I caught all the typographical errors, but I corrected the ones I found.

Where possible I’ve shown the sources of quotations from Kleinschmidt. The section on pronunciation (Einleitung, § 2-26) generally quotes the bibl. Fragebuch rather than the Grammar; conversely, the whole Syntax oder Satzlehre section (Dritter Hauptteil, § 511-578) draws so heavily on the equivalent section in Kleinschmidt’s Grammar (Zweiter Haupttheil, § 68-103) that it wasn’t worth linking each passage indivi­dually. Note that in spite of the quotation marks, most quoted passages are really paraphrases. In particular, Bourquin consistently makes changes like “transitiv” to “c. s.” or “verbum” to “Redewort” to agree with his own terminology.

My Nameless Collaborator

A special feature of the physical book—that is, the microfilm’s Canadian original, not the copy at Berkeley—is the handwritten extras. Someone obviously studied this book closely; among other things, all editorial corrections were carefully penciled-in, which made things easier for me. The reader even pointed out a few typos that the author missed. He also corrected a few errors that turned out, on closer inspection, not to be wrong. But on balance, he was a careful reader.

There are at least two people’s handwriting in the book, one German:

image of German handwriting

and one English:

image of English handwriting

It would be fun if the latter turned out to belong to Walter Whateley Perrett, who is credited with the published English translation of the book. (He was also involved with the Labradorian version of the Eskimo Book of Knowledge, about which the less said, the better.) But with all those “please translate” instructions—the one shown here is cut off at the margin, and really means page 364 or so—it may really have been Perrett’s boss.