Once upon a time, a family from the south moved to the far north. Being qallunaat, they had certain built-in assumptions about how human beings are supposed to live. Wood house with windows in all directions; machine-made clothing; a diet heavy on dairy products and plants—grains, fruits, vegetables. And so on.
The local people snickered among themselves, but knew better than to say anything out loud.
The transplanted lifestyle turned out to be difficult and expensive. The house, having no insulation to speak of, cost a fortune to heat—using oil that had to be shipped up from the south during the summer months. The sharp angles on the outside of the house had to be repaired every winter. Northwest-facing windows threatened to blow in, and needed to be boarded up—but with what? The nearest wood was several hundred miles away. Food and clothing couldn’t be bought locally, so they too had to be shipped up. The family soon learned to plan ahead very carefully. The children were under strict orders not to have a midwinter growth spurt, because the nearest store was also several hundred miles away. Food that they were accustomed to eating fresh had to be dried, canned or frozen, losing in nutritional value as it gained in cost.
The immigrants persevered. Heating oil was brought in by pipeline; sealifts were expanded; satellite dishes bloomed. As long as you kept a tight enough focus, you’d never know you weren’t looking at the outskirts of Montreal.
By and by a family from the north moved south. Being Inuit, they had certain built-in assumptions about how human beings are supposed to live. Snow house in the winter, tent in the summer; meat-based diet; animal skins as the material of choice. And so on.
The local people snickered among themselves, but knew better than to say anything out loud.
The transplanted lifestyle turned out to be difficult and expensive. The snow house melted and re-froze so often, it became uninhabitable within weeks. To make a house last, it had to be constructed inside a refrigerated trailer, rented at enormous cost. Big game was impossible to find except in protected reserves—and then people made an unconscionable fuss if they caught you trying to feed your family. Store-bought meat came in small overpriced pieces, leaving out the nutritionally essential organs and the useful inedible parts. Clothing was . . .
Oh, never mind. You can finish the paragraph for yourselves.
Watch This Space
I feel a translation bug coming on. Currently I am torn between “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” and “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The ᐅᒥᐊᕐᔪᐊᖅ umiarjuaq (“big boat”) package has always been used for ships of any kind, whether sail or steam. Today it covers everything from cruise ships—when Alaskan cruises came into fashion, could the eastern Arctic be far behind?—to freighters.
Now, here’s a just-to-confuse-us detail. The ordinary term for “cruise ship” starts with ᐅᒥᐊᕐᔪᐊᖅ ᐳᓚᕋᖅ umiarjuaq pularaq-. One ell. No relation to pull- or publ- anything. The literal, or original, meaning of the verb root ᐳᓚ pula- is to enter head-first; here presumably it means to come into dock. Repeatedly, as indicated by the -raq- piece. What happens next in the word depends on what else is going on in the sentence and what the cruise ship is doing about it.
Man the Pumps: publilimaapaga, publimaaqpaga or publimmaqpaga
You can do all sorts of things with the ᐳᑉᓚᖅ publaq or “air bubble” root. With the appropriate affix, it can mean gas—both the state of matter and the kind you heat your house with—air brakes, air pumps, or anything else that uses air. Look closely at a neighboring page and you’ll find ᐳᑉᓚᙳᕈᔾᔨᓂᖅ (publanngurujjiniq), radon gas. In the area of transportation, the root can mean a jet plane—as in English, the motive power is key—or an inflatable boat (ᐅᒥᐊᖅ ᐳᑉᓚᓕᒃ umiaq publalik, ᐅᒥᐊᕐᓛᖅ ᐳᓪᓕᓕᒃ umiarlaaq pullilik, and assorted other variant forms to taste). It can even mean . . . uhm . . . sulphur. Haven’t quite figured that one out yet.
The proper and official spelling is ᐳᑉᓚᖅ publaq or ᐳᓪᓚᖅ pullaq with an a. But the i form crops up so often that you have to call it a legitimate dialectal variation. Or a ubiquitous misspelling, which amounts to the same thing.
I have yet to find any form of the complete word anywhere. Where did Omniglot’s contributors get hold of it? Are all three of them in the hovercraft business? But further poring over the word’s possible breakdown raises the possibility that, sans possessive, it ends in pak, making the g perfectly legitimate. Oops. The jury remains out on the publili- versus publi- question.
The word “sealift” sounds ominous. But it becomes a part of daily—or rather yearly—life once you’ve decided that living in a tent or snow house, with marine mammals as your staple diet, just won’t cut it. Ration that chocolate; there won’t be any more until next year.
Put away that suurlu. The Similis case can go back to sleep. That ᕼ doesn’t simply bear a striking resemblance to the letter H: it isthe letter H.
Meanwhile, I found one quasi-official document that sidesteps the ships-and-bubbles issue altogether. Here we are in the Sealift Summ— No, let’s give it its full name. Make that ”Considerations Regarding an Open Market System for Annual Sealift:* Summary Report” dated December 2009. Ignoring all permutations of publaq and umiaq, they go with ᐃᒪᐅᑉ ᖄᖓᒍᑦ ᐃᖏᕐᕋᓲᖅ imaup qaangagut ingirrasuuq, “something that habitually travels in the space above the water”. But the writers themselves don’t seem too sure of it. Later in the same report they try ᓄᓇᐅᑉ ᐃᒪᐅᑉᓘᓐᓃ ᖁᓛᒍᑦ nunaup imaupluunnii qulaagut, “along the top of the ground or water”—at which point they give up and throw in a parenthetic ᕼᐊᕗᑯᕌᕝ (“havukuraav”).†
I never did find the noun that this second description belongs to. Either it’s hiding in another part of the paragraph, or the writers gave up in mid-phrase. We are also left in doubt about the havukuraav’s exact vertical position. Maybe it’s above the water, in the water’s ᖄ qaa; maybe it’s scudding along the top, on the water’s ᖁᓛ qulaa. It’s the difference between a bird flying over your house and a bird walking along the roof ridge.
You don’t usually think of hovercraft as traveling over, or possibly above, dry land. But on the tundra in the snowmelt season—which neatly spans the gap between the previous winter’s last snowfall and the coming winter’s first—the distinction between ᓄᓇ nuna and ᐃᒪᖅ imaq is probably fairly academic.
Slither: ammajaq or nimiraq
Oh, you know. The one where everyone got together near what is now the Bering Strait and divvied up the hemisphere: You get the southwestern desert; you’re down for the eastern woodlands; you . . . sorry, guys, long walk ahead, you’ve drawn Tierra del Fuego.
Everyone except the Inuit, that is. The ancestral Inuit overslept and missed the meeting, so all that was left by the time they got here was the parts nobody else wanted. If they’d hit the Snooze bar one more time, they’d have found Norsemen already in residence.
It’s remarkable what a lot of words Inuktitut has for things that don’t even exist in the Arctic. I don’t mean new constructions like all those publalik variants. The most recent findings of modern archaeology strongly suggest that the proto-Indo-Europeans didn’t have hovercraft either. No, I’m talking about inherited words, like the seven different words for “frog”. The people who were allotted Greenland in the Ur-powwow* traveled light, but they still found room for the Athabaskan word naaraajiiq.
There are neither reptiles nor amphibians in the Arctic. This is a bit of a problem, because the only references I’ve found for ᓂᒥᕋᖅ nimiraq—or ᓂᒥᕆᐊᖅ nimiriaq or ᓂᒥᕌᖅ nimiraaq—say it means “snake”. And, if you really want to split hairs, an ᐊᒻᒪᔭᖅ ammajaq is not a true eel but a “sand eel”. But if it’s a choice between sand eels and snakes, I’m sticking with the ᐊᒻᒪᔭᐃᑦ ammajait.
In any case, I still don’t see why there’s only one of it. That kind of thing should be left to the affixes, which come equipped with their own multipliers when needed. Nor have I figured out why the eels are Nominative. Or Absolutive, if you want to be snarky about it. It’s simply not that kind of verb. Eels could conceivably fill your hovercraft—but only if you fitted them with custom-designed pitchforks, allowing them (as agents) to fill the hovercraft (as patient) with some third party. A rival faction of eels, possibly. If you absolutely insist on Nominative, Intransitive or Absolutive eels coupled with a Genitive, Transitive or Ergative hovercraft, you’ll have to go with some other verb entirely. My hovercraft contains eels, that kind of thing. Good luck finding one, though. The language prefers to keep the emphasis on the act of putting something into a container.
No Vacancy: tattarniq or tattaurniq
I am still (-nga- or possibly -uma- for ongoing action) clueless about this word. The ending, that is; there is nothing in the opening syllables to cause concern. If the translators choose to spell the perfectly straightforward verb tatat- with an extra t, that is their business. But the -(u)rniq remains an impenetrable mystery. So let’s stick with that belatedly discovered Dative case.
* Pay no attention to the excited noises coming from the respective graves of Messrs. Sapir and Whorf. If necessary, put your fingers in your ears and hum loudly.
† When even the hackers get bored, you know you’re in trouble.
Can we all agree that Inuktitut has a word for everything? Assuming, that is, that your definition of “word” doesn’t include “discrete lexical item”. So imagine my dismay when I discovered that they don’t have a word for nothing. Or nobody.*
Really. I looked. The dictionaries—Spalding and Schneider, as well as the online Moribund Dictionary†—are silent. My assembled pronoun lists had nothing to say. For appearances’ sake I even consulted Tusaalanga. Didn’t expect to find anything, and didn’t. After all, this is the course that calls tunga an affix and miit a verb, and explains away all phonetic rules with “to make pronunciation easier”.
The elements tunga and miit are, respectively, an inflectional ending—the first person singular non-specific indicative, if you want to be show-offy about it—and the locative case ending -mi fused with the affix -it- “exist in”. And sound shifts involving the letter q do not, ahem, fit into most people’s idea of ease of pronunciation.
I am confident the authors know this. If only they had more confidence in their students.
By the way, I didn’t have to go look up any of that. Give me another twenty years and I may master the Dubitative.
Now, where were we? Right. Nowhere. At least, that’s where the question is discussed in Spalding’s 1975 textbook—not to be confused with his 1992 grammar, which I have yet to lay hands on. Possibly the treatment of “nothing” and “nobody” eloped with the dual number. But that’s a matter for another day.
By and by I had a brainwave and consulted Erdmann. Unlike most dictionaries this one goes in both directions, Labradorian to German and back again. But no joy there either. Sure, there are respectably long paragraphs under both nichts and niemand. But on closer inspection they all turn out to be verbs involving -nngittuq (-ngitok, says Erdmann). Even the Hansard, ordinarily so helpful, let me down with a thud, offering nothing but an assortment of negative affixes.
“break, malfunction, have something wrong”
Unless, of course, it was the original “Do you mind?” that was ill-considered. The questions “Mind if I smoke?” and “Will you marry me?” have one thing in common: it’s best if you have a strong idea what the answer will be before you ask.
There is obviously an element of “Hope for the best, plan for the worst” in Inuktitut, because one place this verb crops up is in greetings. ᖃᓄᐃᑉᐱᑦ? (qanuippit?) taken literally is not How are you? or How do you do? but more like Is something wrong with you? The conventional answer is No, in the same way that the ordinary positive answer to questions beginning “Do you mind . . . ?” is No, I don’t mind. Saying Yes, I do mind is unexpected at best, rude at worst.* Similarly when you ask someone in Inuktitut if they’re feeling unwell, you don’t want them to say Yes.
But sometimes you have to expect things to break, malfunction or simply go wrong. It’s in the nature of inanimate objects. To say nothing of the nature of, well, nature.
ᖃᓄᐃᑦ + ᑐᓐᓇᖅ- qanuit + tunnaq-
It may not have gone wrong yet, but it has the capacity for doing so. And it doesn’t even need any fresh consonants; the q, n and t will happily return for a second shift. And a third:
ᖃᓄᐃᑦᑐᓐᓇᖅ + ᑐᖅ qanuittunnaq + tuq
If you call the -tuq a verb ending, you can stop right there. It, whatever it may be, is able to go wrong. But if, instead, you call the -tuq a verb-to-noun converter—here meaning simply a thing that does whatever the verb is—you can continue building on to it. Still keeping to our original three consonants:
ᖃᓄᐃᑦᑐᓐᓇᖅᑐ(ᖅ) + ᑐᐃᓐᓇᖅ qanuittunnaqtu(q) + tuinnaq
The -ᑐᐃᓐᓇᖅ (-tuinnaq) eats the preceding q, but that is OK. No matter how many scarcities or shortages there are in the far North, one thing is certain. The language is not going to run out of q’s.
This final piece doesn’t mean anything in particular—and that’s just the point. We’re not pointing fingers or talking about some specific thing; we’re talking about anything that can go wrong. Except that we can’t really talk about it unless there’s a verb. So it’s on to Word Two. The sentence is looking so pretty with that trio of recurring consonants, why change? Heck, let’s just reuse the self-same verb again.
I wish I could say that this is how you spell “Canada” in Inuktitut, but no such luck. It’s written with a ᑲ (ka). This is not one of those languages—naming no names—where what you think you’re saying, and what they think you’re saying, come out eṇṭirely ḍiffereṇṭ.
We’ve already taken care of ability, so this time let’s go with tense. To stay with the ᖃᓇᑕ*q-n-t motif we’ll pick up a ᓂᐊᖅ (niaq) for the generic future: maybe not tomorrow, next week or as soon as I blink, but it’s bound to happen sooner or later.
This is not an assessment of my relationship with the Inuktitut language, although it could have been. I simply happened to have need of the statement. So let’s see what we can do.
The sound sequence -elv- does not occur in Inuktitut. Fortunately our friend the Hansard comes through with an MLA named Kelvin Ng, giving us the phonetic analogy. If “Kelvin” is ᑭᐅᓪᕕᓐ (kiulvin), then “Elvis” can only be ᐃᐅᓪᕕᔅ (iulvis).
We can now get going on the verb. The root is
ᐊᓂ- ani- leave, go out (of), go away, exit
The dictionary tells me that ᐳᔭ (puja) as a lexical item means something along the lines of “rancid fat”. How clever of her parents to know in advance that she would grow up to be the villain of a story!
It probably goes without saying that I have chronic linguistic-contamination problems with this name. Puja runs around a lot—generally in impressively loud tears—but you never see her on anything that could remotely be called a religious pilgrimage.
Hey, I know that one. It’s one of the, at rough count, three words in Atanarjuat that I understand when I watch it without subtitles. (Another is ᐋᒡᒐ. Or however they say it in Iglulik.) Well, aside from the initial confusion of thinking grandma was telling Puja* something about her brother and co-villain.
Inuktitut is not one of those languages that is up-the-wazoo insane when it comes to kinship terminology. When you recoil in horror from the six-hundred-odd verb endings, you will not slam instead into a seething mass of patrilateral and matrilateral, ortho-cousins and cross-cousins, or any of the other distinctions that make linguistic anthropology so interesting. No point in splitting consanguineal hairs when you don’t have a strongly patri- or matrilineal inheritance system—on the rock-solid grounds that non-pastoral nomads simply don’t leave a lot of property. Or, on equally solid grounds, matri- or patrilocal rules of residence. Or strict subdivision into hereditary gentes with accompanying taboos. Or . . .
Well, I’ll leave that to the anthropologists. In Inuktitut, siblings generally make do with a four-way split:
ᐊᓂ (ani), noun; ᐊᓂ- (ani-), verb. You didn’t think English was the only language to have utterly unrelated homophones, did you?
A final digression: Alongside the simple ᐊᓂ- there is the longer verb ᐊᓂᒍᖅ- (aniguq-). I do not perfectly understand how this form arose. There are a couple of -ᒍᖅ- affixes, but none of them seems to be involved here. The nuances of meaning also elude me. But the longer form seems to lean in the direction of “move through” rather than “move out of”.
It is not every day that, given a choice between a shorter form and a longer form, you are allowed to stick with the short form. I do not propose to pass up the opportunity.
Add the tense marker -ᓯᒪ- (-sima-, completed action) and the inflectional ending -ᔪᖅ (-juq, third person singular, intransitive or non-specific) and we’ve got
But we’re not done yet. Elvis didn’t walk off into the sunset. In fact he may not have gone anywhere at all; he may be standing right outside. All we know for sure is that he left the building. That’s ᐃᒡᓗ (iglu) meaning a house—of any kind, not necessarily a snow house—with affix -ᔪᐊᖅ (-juaq), large.
There is absolutely no phonetic reason why ᐃᒡᓗ + ᔪᐊᖅ can’t yield a simple ᐃᒡᓗᔪᐊᖅ (iglujuaq). But as noted elsewhere, this particular affix insists on an extra r to protect it from preceding vowels—even when there’s only one. Most affixes don’t call in the r’s unless they’re facing down two preceding vowels. In fairness, ᔪᐊᖅ does have two vowels of its own to look after, with nothing but a feeble semivowel to bar the way. Some dialects allow three consecutive vowels; a collision of four might bring the language crashing to the ground. Call it belt-and-suspenders.
Finally we need a case ending. ᐊᓂ- (ani-) is an intransitive or nonspecific verb, so the “nominative” stays with the agent. Any other nouns in the vicinity get shoved into one of the remaining seven cases.
But which of those seven? On one hand is the accusative -ᒥᒃ (-mik) for what we Indo-Europeans call a direct object. If Elvis had simply turned and looked at the building—or if, conversely, he had picked it up and flung it bodily across Qikiqtaaluk—there would be no doubt: only ᐃᒡᓗᕐᔪᐊᕐᒥᒃ (iglurjuarmik) will do.
On the other hand, consider that every adverb of place comes in a matched set of four:
locative: ᓯᓚᑖᓂ silataani outside
dative: ᓯᓚᑖᓄᑦ silataanut toward the outside
ablative: ᓯᓚᑖᓂᑦ silataanit from the outside
vialis: ᓯᓚᑖᒍᑦ silataagut along the outside
If you can’t use the ablative to leave a building, what can you use it for? I’m going with ᐃᒡᓗᕐᔪᐊᕐᒥᑦ (iglurjuarmit). Besides, it lets me indulge in a rousing chorus of
Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the ablative,
I’m sticking to the ablative, I’m sticking to the ablative.
Oh you can’t scare me . . .