Iñupiatun Eskimo dictionary

Iñupiatun Eskimo dictionary. By Wolf A. Seiler. Kotzebue, Alaska: NANA Regional Corporation, 2005. Pp. 494.

Reviewed by Linda A. Lanz, Rice University

Wolf A. Seiler and a team of native speakers created this dictionary of Iñupiaq (also known as Iñupiatun), an Eskimo-Aleut language of northern Alaska. The product of more than four years of work, this dictionary of the Malimiut dialect—one of two major Iñupiaq dialects—is the most comprehensive Iñupiaq dictionary to date.

The dictionary contains five sections: a lengthy introduction (which includes sections on the orthography and phonological processes critical for word formation); an Iñupiaq-English word list, an index of derivational suffixes (i.e. postbases), an English-Iñupiaq word list, and eight appendices devoted to grammar. S uses the standard Iñupiaq orthography and alphabetical order throughout, which makes the volume useful for speakers and learners as well as linguists. S clearly marks the parts of speech and synonyms and follows the Eskimo-Aleut convention of using verb roots and absolutive nouns as citation forms. Usage examples follow many headwords, particularly in the Iñupiaq-English section. Although some readers may dislike the heavy concentration of examples from religious texts rather than everyday Iñupiaq speech, these examples demonstrate the grammar more than adequately.

The range of lexical entries is both broad and detailed. Although place names are notably absent, S has included standard vocabulary, traditional cultural terms, subsistence terms, and modern coinages. Plant and animal species are included with their scientific names in the Iñupiaq-English section.

In addition to its rich inventory of lexical items, this dictionary contains a wealth of grammatical information on the sparsely described language. In the English-Iñupiaq section, nouns and verbs are marked with numbers that correspond to appendices of noun and verb class paradigms. Other appendices provide detailed paradigms and examples of moods, cases, possessives, pronouns, positional base words (i.e. spatial nouns), and the notoriously complex demonstratives (the volume includes twenty-eight pages of paradigm charts for demonstrative adverbs and pronouns alone).

However, this publication is not without problems: its weak binding and paperback cover are problematic features for a large book likely to receive heavy use. A minor weakness for speakers and local learners is the use of Standard American English instead of Alaskan English (specifically, Village English)—for example, aputikuaġun is translated as ‘snowmobile’ rather than ‘snowmachine’. Furthermore, although unlikely to be critical for most users, the entries do not indicate the source of loan words. Michael Fortescue, Steven Jacobson, and Lawrence Kaplan’s Comparative Eskimo dictionary: With Aleut cognates (Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center, 1994) remains the best source for etymological information. More serious are the typographical errors that occur throughout the text. For example, the entry for quyanaq ‘to thank’ crossreferences taikku, which should be spelled taikuu. These issues are minor in comparison to the scope of the work, however, and by far the most serious issue with this dictionary is the difficulty in procuring a copy.

This dictionary is a valuable contribution to Iñupiaq revitalization and documentation as well as an impressive community effort.