For other uses, see Eskimo (disambiguation).
Map of the Inuit Circumpolar Council of Eskimo peoples, showing the Yupik peoples (Yupik, Siberian Yupik) and Inuit (Iñupiat, Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, Kalaallit)
External video
Eskimo Hunters in Alaska - The Traditional Inuit Way of Life 1949 Documentary on Native Americans

The Eskimo are the indigenous peoples who have traditionally inhabited the northern circumpolar region from eastern Siberia (Russia), across Alaska (United States), Canada, and Greenland.[1][2][3]

The two main peoples known as "Eskimo" are: the Inuit of Canada, Northern Alaska (sub-group "Inupiat"), and Greenland; and the Yupik of eastern Siberia and Alaska. The Yupik comprise speakers of four distinct Yupik languages: one used in the Russian Far East and the others among people of Western Alaska, Southcentral Alaska and along the Gulf of Alaska coast. A third northern group, the Aleut, is closely related to the Eskimo. They share a relatively recent common ancestor, and a language group (Eskimo-Aleut).

Since the late 20th century, numerous indigenous people have viewed the use of the term "Eskimo" as offensive, because it is extrinsic and has been used by people who discriminated against them or their forebears.[4][5] In its linguistic origins,[1] the word Eskimo comes from Innu-aimun (Montagnais) 'ayas̆kimew' meaning "a person who laces a snowshoe" and is related to "husky", so does not have a direct pejorative meaning.[6] In Canada and Greenland, the term "Eskimo" is seen as pejorative and has been widely replaced by the term "Inuit" or terms specific to a particular nation or community. The Canadian Constitution Act of 1982, sections 25[7] and 35[8] recognized the Inuit as a distinctive group of aboriginal peoples in Canada.

Under U.S. and Alaskan law (as well as the linguistic and cultural traditions of Alaska), "Alaska Native" refers to all indigenous peoples of Alaska. This includes not only the Inupiat and the Yupik, but also groups such as the Aleut, who share a recent ancestor, as well as the largely unrelated[9] indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast and the Dene. As a result, the term Eskimo is still in use in Alaska. Alternative terms, such as Inuit-Yupik, have been proposed,[10] but none has gained widespread acceptance.


Several earlier indigenous peoples existed in the region. The earliest positively identified North American Eskimo cultures (pre-Dorset) date to 5,000 years ago. They appear to have developed in Alaska from people related to the Arctic small tool tradition in eastern Asia, whose ancestors had probably migrated to Alaska at least 3,000 to 5,000 years earlier. Similar artifacts have been found in Siberia that date to perhaps 18,000 years ago.

The Yupik languages and cultures in Alaska evolved in place (and migrated back to Siberia), beginning with the original pre-Dorset indigenous culture developed in Alaska. Approximately 4000 years ago, the Unangan culture of the Aleut became distinct. It is not generally considered an Eskimo culture.

Approximately 1500–2000 years ago, apparently in Northwestern Alaska, two other distinct variations appeared. Inuit language became distinct and, over a period of several centuries, its speakers migrated across Northern Alaska, through Canada and into Greenland. The distinct culture of the Thule people developed in northwestern Alaska and very quickly spread over the entire area occupied by Eskimo people, though it was not necessarily adopted by all of them.



Look up eskimo or Eskimo in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Two principal competing etymologies have been proposed for the name "Eskimo", both derived from the Innu-aimun (Montagnais) language, an Algonquian language of the Atlantic Ocean coast. The most commonly accepted today appears to be the proposal of Ives Goddard at the Smithsonian Institution, who derives the term from the Montagnais word meaning "snowshoe-netter"[11] or "to net snowshoes."[1] The word assime·w means "she laces a snowshoe" in Montagnais. Montagnais speakers refer to the neighbouring Mi'kmaq people using words that sound very much like eskimo.[12][13]

In 1978, Jose Mailhot, a Quebec anthropologist who speaks Montagnais, published a paper suggesting that Eskimo meant "people who speak a different language".[14][15] French traders who encountered the Montagnais in the eastern areas, adopted their word for the more western peoples and spelled it as Esquimau in a transliteration.

Some people consider Eskimo derogatory because it is widely perceived to mean[11][15][16][17] "eaters of raw meat" in Algonkian languages common to people along the Atlantic coast.[1][18][19] One Cree speaker suggested the original word that became corrupted to Eskimo might have been askamiciw (which means "he eats it raw"); the Inuit are referred to in some Cree texts as askipiw (which means "eats something raw").[18][19][20][21]


Laminar armour from hardened leather reinforced by wood and bones worn by native Siberians and Eskimos
Lamellar armour worn by native Siberians and Eskimos

In Canada and Greenland, the term Eskimo has largely been supplanted by the term Inuit.[1][20][21][22] While Inuit can be accurately applied to all of the Eskimo peoples in Canada and Greenland, that is not true in Alaska and Siberia. In Alaska the term Eskimo is commonly used, because it includes both Yupik and Iñupiat. Inuit is not accepted as a collective term and it is not used specifically for Iñupiat (although they are Inuit).[1]

In 1977, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference meeting in Barrow, Alaska, officially adopted Inuit as a designation for all circumpolar native peoples, regardless of their local view on an appropriate term. As a result, the Canadian government usage has replaced the (locally) defunct term Eskimo with Inuit (Inuk in singular). The preferred term in Canada's Central Arctic is Inuinnaq,[23] and in the eastern Canadian Arctic Inuit. The language is often called Inuktitut, though other local designations are also used.

The Inuit of Greenland refer to themselves as "Greenlanders" and speak the Greenlandic language.[24]

Because of the linguistic, ethnic, and cultural differences between Yupik and Inuit peoples, it seems unlikely that any umbrella term will be acceptable. There has been some movement to use Inuit, and the Inuit Circumpolar Council, representing a circumpolar population of 150,000 Inuit and Yupik people of Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, in its charter defines Inuit for use within that ICC document as including "the Inupiat, Yupik (Alaska), Inuit, Inuvialuit (Canada), Kalaallit (Greenland) and Yupik (Russia)."[25]

But, in Alaska, the Inuit people refer to themselves as Iñupiat, plural, and Iñupiaq, singular (their North Alaskan Inupiatun language is also called Iñupiaq). They do not commonly use the term Inuit. In Alaska, Eskimo is in common usage.[1]

Alaskans also use the term Alaska Native, which is inclusive of all Eskimo, Aleut and Native American people of Alaska. It does not apply to Inuit or Yupik people originating outside the state. The term Alaska Native has important legal usage in Alaska and the rest of the United States as a result of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.

The term "Eskimo" is also used in linguistic or ethnographic works to denote the larger branch of Eskimo–Aleut languages, the smaller branch being Aleut.


English ("Welcome to Barrow") and Iñupiaq (Paġlagivsigiñ Utqiaġvigmun), Barrow, Alaska, framed by whale jawbones

The Eskimo–Aleut family of languages includes two cognate branches: the Aleut (Unangan) branch and the Eskimo branch. The Eskimo sub-family consists of the Inuit language and Yupik language sub-groups.[26] The Sirenikski language, which is virtually extinct, is sometimes regarded as a third branch of the Eskimo language family. Other sources regard it as a group belonging to the Yupik branch.[26][27]

Inuit languages comprise a dialect continuum, or dialect chain, that stretches from Unalakleet and Norton Sound in Alaska, across northern Alaska and Canada, and east to Greenland. Changes from western (Iñupiaq) to eastern dialects are marked by the dropping of vestigial Yupik-related features, increasing consonant assimilation (e.g., kumlu, meaning "thumb", changes to kuvlu, changes to kublu,[28] changes to kulluk,[28] changes to kulluq[28]), and increased consonant lengthening, and lexical change. Thus, speakers of two adjacent Inuit dialects would usually be able to understand one another, but speakers from dialects distant from each other on the dialect continuum would have difficulty understanding one another.[27] Seward Peninsula dialects in Western Alaska, where much of the Iñupiat culture has been in place for perhaps less than 500 years, are greatly affected by phonological influence from the Yupik languages. Eastern Greenlandic, at the opposite end of the Inuit range, has had significant word replacement due to a unique form of ritual name avoidance.[26][27]

The four Yupik languages, by contrast, including Alutiiq (Sugpiaq), Central Alaskan Yup'ik, Naukan (Naukanski), and Siberian Yupik, are distinct languages with phonological, morphological, and lexical differences. They demonstrate limited mutual intelligibility.[26] Additionally, both Alutiiq and Central Yup'ik have considerable dialect diversity. The northernmost Yupik languages – Siberian Yupik and Naukanski Yupik – are linguistically only slightly closer to Inuit than is Alutiiq, which is the southernmost of the Yupik languages. Although the grammatical structures of Yupik and Inuit languages are similar, they have pronounced differences phonologically. Differences of vocabulary between Inuit and any one of the Yupik languages are greater than between any two Yupik languages.[27] Even the dialectal differences within Alutiiq and Central Alaskan Yup'ik sometimes are relatively great for locations that are relatively close geographically.[27]

The Sirenikski language is sometimes regarded as a third branch of the Eskimo language family, but other sources regard it as a group belonging to the Yupik branch.[27]

An overview of the Eskimo–Aleut languages family is given below:

Aleut language
Western-Central dialects: Atkan, Attuan, Unangan, Bering (60–80 speakers)
Eastern dialect: Unalaskan, Pribilof (400 speakers)
Eskimo (Yup'ik, Yuit, and Inuit)
Central Alaskan Yup'ik (10,000 speakers)
Alutiiq or Pacific Gulf Yup'ik (400 speakers)
Central Siberian Yupik or Yuit (Chaplinon and St Lawrence Island, 1,400 speakers)
Naukan (700 speakers)
Inuit or Inupik (75,000 speakers)
Iñupiaq (northern Alaska, 3,500 speakers)
Inuvialuktun (western Canada; together with Siglitun, Natsilingmiutut, Inuinnaqtun and Uummarmiutun 765 speakers)
Inuktitut (eastern Canada; together with Inuktun and Inuinnaqtun, 30,000 speakers)
Kalaallisut (Greenland, 47,000 speakers)
Inuktun (Avanersuarmiutut, Thule dialect or Polar Eskimo, approximately 1,000 speakers)
Tunumiit oraasiat (East Greenlandic known as Tunumiisut, 3,500 speakers)
Sirenik Eskimo language (Sirenikskiy) (extinct)


Further information: Inuit and Lists of Inuit
Not to be confused with the Innu people, a First Nations people in eastern Quebec and Labrador..
Iñupiat woman, Alaska, circa 1907
An Inuit family, c.1917

The Inuit inhabit the Arctic and northern Bering Sea coasts of Alaska in the United States, and Arctic coasts of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec, and Labrador in Canada, and Greenland (associated with Denmark). Until fairly recent times, there has been a remarkable homogeneity in the culture throughout this area, which traditionally relied on fish, sea mammals, and land animals for food, heat, light, clothing, and tools. They maintain a unique Inuit culture.

Greenland's Inuit

Greenlandic Inuit people make up 89% of Greenland's population.[29] They belong to three major groups:

Inuit of Canada's Eastern Arctic

Main article: Inuit

Canadian Inuit live primarily in Nunavut (a territory of Canada), Nunavik (the northern part of Quebec) and in Nunatsiavut (the Inuit settlement region in Labrador).

Inuvialuit of Canada's Western Arctic

Main article: Inuvialuit

The Inuvialuit live in the western Canadian Arctic region. Their homeland – the Inuvialuit Settlement Region – covers the Arctic Ocean coastline area from the Alaskan border east to Amundsen Gulf and includes the western Canadian Arctic Islands. The land was demarked in 1984 by the Inuvialuit Final Agreement.

Alaska's Iñupiat

Main article: Iñupiat
An Iñupiat family from Noatak, Alaska, 1929

The Iñupiat are the Inuit of Alaska's Northwest Arctic and North Slope boroughs and the Bering Straits region, including the Seward Peninsula. Barrow, the northernmost city in the United States, is above the Arctic Circle and in the Iñupiat region. Their language is known as Iñupiaq.


Main article: Yupik peoples

The Yupik are indigenous or aboriginal peoples who live along the coast of western Alaska, especially on the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta and along the Kuskokwim River (Central Alaskan Yup'ik); in southern Alaska (the Alutiiq); and along the eastern coast of Chukotka in the Russian Far East and St. Lawrence Island in western Alaska (the Siberian Yupik). The Yupik economy has traditionally been strongly dominated by the harvest of marine mammals, especially seals, walrus, and whales.[30]


Main article: Alutiiq
Alutiiq dancer during the biennial "Celebration" cultural event

The Alutiiq, also called Pacific Yupik or Sugpiaq, are a southern, coastal branch of Yupik. They are not to be confused with the Aleut, who live further to the southwest, including along the Aleutian Islands. They traditionally lived a coastal lifestyle, subsisting primarily on ocean resources such as salmon, halibut, and whales, as well as rich land resources such as berries and land mammals. Alutiiq people today live in coastal fishing communities, where they work in all aspects of the modern economy. They also maintain the cultural value of subsistence.

The Alutiiq language is relatively close to that spoken by the Yupik in the Bethel, Alaska area. But, it is considered a distinct language with two major dialects: the Koniag dialect, spoken on the Alaska Peninsula and on Kodiak Island, and the Chugach dialect, spoken on the southern Kenai Peninsula and in Prince William Sound. Residents of Nanwalek, located on southern part of the Kenai Peninsula near Seldovia, speak what they call Sugpiaq. They are able to understand those who speak Yupik in Bethel. With a population of approximately 3,000, and the number of speakers in the hundreds, Alutiiq communities are working to revitalize their language.

Central Alaskan Yup'ik

Yup'ik, with an apostrophe, denotes the speakers of the Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, who live in western Alaska and southwestern Alaska from southern Norton Sound to the north side of Bristol Bay, on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and on Nelson Island. The use of the apostrophe in the name Yup'ik is a written convention to denote the long pronunciation of the p sound; but it is spoken the same in other Yupik languages. Of all the Alaska Native languages, Central Alaskan Yup'ik has the most speakers, with about 10,000 of a total Yup'ik population of 21,000 still speaking the language. The five dialects of Central Alaskan Yup'ik include General Central Yup'ik, and the Egegik, Norton Sound, Hooper Bay-Chevak, and Nunivak dialects. In the latter two dialects, both the language and the people are called Cup'ik.[31]

Siberian Yupik

Main article: Siberian Yupik

Siberian Yupik reside along the Bering Sea coast of the Chukchi Peninsula in Siberia in the Russian Far East[27] and in the villages of Gambell and Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island in Alaska.[32] The Central Siberian Yupik spoken on the Chukchi Peninsula and on St. Lawrence Island is nearly identical. About 1,050 of a total Alaska population of 1,100 Siberian Yupik people in Alaska speak the language. It is the first language of the home for most St. Lawrence Island children. In Siberia, about 300 of a total of 900 Siberian Yupik people still learn and study the language, though it is no longer learned as a first language by children.[32]


Main articles: Naukan people and Naukan language

About 70 of 400 Naukan people still speak Naukanski. The Naukan originate on the Chukot Peninsula in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in Siberia.[27]

Sirenik Eskimos

Model of an Ice Scoop, Eskimo, 1900–1930, Brooklyn Museum
Main article: Sirenik Eskimos

Some speakers of Siberian Yupik languages used to speak an Eskimo variant in the past, before they underwent a language shift. These former speakers of Sirenik Eskimo language inhabited the settlements of Sireniki, Imtuk, and some small villages stretching to the west from Sireniki along south-eastern coasts of Chukchi Peninsula.[33] They lived in neighborhoods with Siberian Yupik and Chukchi peoples.

As early as in 1895, Imtuk was a settlement with a mixed population of Sirenik Eskimos and Ungazigmit[34] (the latter belonging to Siberian Yupik). Sirenik Eskimo culture has been influenced by that of Chukchi, and the language shows Chukchi language influences.[35] Folktale motifs also show the influence of Chuckchi culture.[36]

The above peculiarities of this (already extinct) Eskimo language amounted to mutual unintelligibility even with its nearest language relatives:[37] in the past, Sirenik Eskimos had to use the unrelated Chukchi language as a lingua franca for communicating with Siberian Yupik.[35]

Many words are formed from entirely different roots than in Siberian Yupik,[38] but even the grammar has several peculiarities distinct not only among Eskimo languages, but even compared to Aleut. For example, dual number is not known in Sirenik Eskimo, while most Eskimo–Aleut languages have dual,[39] including its neighboring Siberian Yupikax relatives.[40]

Little is known about the origin of this diversity. The peculiarities of this language may be the result of a supposed long isolation from other Eskimo groups,[41][42] and being in contact only with speakers of unrelated languages for many centuries. The influence of the Chukchi language is clear.[35]

Because of all these factors, the classification of Sireniki Eskimo language is not settled yet:[43] Sireniki language is sometimes regarded as a third branch of Eskimo (at least, its possibility is mentioned).[43][44][45] Sometimes it is regarded rather as a group belonging to the Yupik branch.[46][47]

Eskimo (Yup'ik of Nelson Island) fisherman's summer house

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Kaplan, Lawrence. "Inuit or Eskimo: Which name to use?" Alaskan Native Language Center, UFA. Retrieved 14 Feb 2015.
  2. "Eskimo: Usage." Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 27 Jan 2014.
  3. "Eskimo." The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 27 Jan 2014.
  4. "Inupiatun, Northwest Alaska." Ethnologue. Retrieved 8 Dec 2013.
  5. Nuttall 580
  6. Israel, Mark. "Eskimo".
  7. "CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS". Department of Justice Canada. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  8. "RIGHTS OF THE ABORIGINAL PEOPLES OF CANADA". Department of Justice Canada. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  10. Holton, Gary. "Place-naming strategies in Inuit-Yupik and Dene languages in Alaska.",, Retrieved 27 Jan 2014.
  11. 1 2 Israel, Mark. "Eskimo". Retrieved 2012-06-13.
  12. Goddard, Ives (1984). "Synonymy," In Arctic, ed. David Damas. Vol. 5 of Handbook of North American Indians, ed. William C. Sturtevant, pp. 5–7. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. Cited in Campbell 1997
  13. Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America, pg. 394. New York: Oxford University Press
  14. Mailhot, J. (1978). "L'étymologie de «Esquimau» revue et corrigée," Etudes Inuit/Inuit Studies 2-2:59–70.
  15. 1 2 "Cree Mailing List Digest November 1997". Retrieved 2012-06-13.
  16. Mailhot, Jose (1978). "L'etymologie de "esquimau" revue et corrigée". Etudes/Inuit/Studies. 2 (. 2).
  17. Goddard, Ives (1984). Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 5 (Arctic). Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 978-0-16-004580-6.
  18. 1 2 "Setting the Record Straight About Native Languages: What Does "Eskimo" Mean In Cree?". Retrieved 2012-06-13.
  19. 1 2 Eskimo, American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000
  20. 1 2 Pamela R. Stern. Historical Dictionary of the Inuit. Retrieved 2012-06-13.
  21. 1 2 Robert Peroni and Birgit Veith. "Ostgroenland-Hilfe Project". Retrieved 2012-06-13.
  22. usage note, Inuit, American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000
  23. Ohokak, G.; M. Kadlun; B. Harnum. Inuinnaqtun-English Dictionary. Kitikmeot Heritage Society.
  24. 1 2 "Inuktitut, Greenlandic." Ethnologue. Retrieved 6 Aug 2012.
  25. Inuit Circumpolar Council. (2006). "Charter." Retrieved on 2007-04-06.
  26. 1 2 3 4 Michael Fortescue; Steven Jacobson; Lawance Kaplan. "Comparative Eskimo Dictionary with Aleut Cognates". Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks.
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Kaplan, Lawrence. (2001-12-10). "Comparative Yupik and Inuit". Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved on August 30, 2012.
  28. 1 2 3 "thumb". Asuilaak Living Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-11-25.
  29. "Greenland." CIA World Factbook. Accessed 14 May 2014.
  30. "Yupik". (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 13, 2008, from: Encyclopædia Britannica Online Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  31. Alaska Native Language Center. (2001-12-07). "Central Alaskan Yup'ik", Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved on 2007-04-06.
  32. 1 2 Alaska Native Language Center. (2001-12-07).St. Lawrence Island Yupik (Siberian Yupik). Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved on August 30, 2012.
  33. Vakhtin 1998: 162
  34. Меновщиков 1964: 7
  35. 1 2 3 Menovshchikov 1990: 70
  36. Меновщиков 1964: 132
  37. Меновщиков 1964: 6–7
  38. Меновщиков 1964: 42
  39. Меновщиков 1964: 38
  40. Меновщиков 1964: 81
  41. Меновщиков 1962: 11
  42. Меновщиков 1964: 9
  43. 1 2 Vakhtin 1998: 161
  44. Linguist List's description about Nikolai Vakhtin's book: The Old Sirinek Language: Texts, Lexicon, Grammatical Notes. The author's untransliterated (original) name is “Н.Б. Вахтин”.
  45. Языки эскимосов. ICC Chukotka (in Russian). Inuit Circumpolar Council.
  46. "Ethnologue Report for Eskimo–Aleut". Retrieved 2012-06-13.
  47. Kaplan 1990: 136

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