The Eskimo-Aleut family

The languages of the Eskimo-Aleut family are spoken by the Eskimo and Aleut peoples in Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and eastern Siberia. Over 1000 years ago, a group of Alaskan Eskimos crossed Bering Strait to settle on the Chukchi peninsula at the extreme northeast of Siberia, making the reverse journey to the path taken by their ancestors who came from Asia. It is believed that all native languages of the Americas are descended from languages brought by migrants from Asia who came in many waves across the Bering Strait. The proposed genetic relationships of Eskimo-Aleut with other language families like Chukotko-Kamchatkan and Indo-European remain controversial. The Eskimo-Aleut family is the only native language family which speaking threshold covers both Asia and America. It is divided into two branches: Aleut and Eskimo.



Distribution of Artic People (adapted from Encyclopædia Britannica)



Aleut refers primarily to the people of the Aleutian Islands. This branch of the family is spoken by very small groups of inhabitants on various islands in the Aleutian chain and on the Commander Islands. The current total number of speakers is less than 500. Aleut is a single language with two surviving dialects.

1.    Eastern Aleut, spoken mostly by middle-aged and older people living in eight villages from the Alaska Peninsula westward through Umnak Island, Aleutian Islands, and in the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, which were settled beginning in 1800

2.    Atkan Aleut, which is spoken also by young people (but no children) on Atka Island, Aleutian Islands, and by some old people on Bering Island, Komandor Islands, Russia, settled in 1826.

3.    Attu, once the westernmost Aleut dialect in Alaska, is now extinct in Alaska, but Attuan Aleut survives on Bering Island in a creolized form (Russian Aleut), with Russian verbal inflections.



Eskimo is a blanket term for Inuit and Yupik, the two mutually unintelligible main divisions of the Eskimo languages. Yupik is spoken in Siberia and southwestern Alaska; Inuit is spoken in northern Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. Each division includes several dialects.


1.    Inuit, which means ¡§people¡¨ (plural of inuk, ¡§person¡¨), is used as a name for the language spoken in Greenland, Arctic Canada, and northern Alaska, U.S., west to the Bering Strait and south to Norton Sound. It is a dialect continuum, in which neighbouring dialects are mutually intelligible but the cumulative differences impede or prevent understanding between groups that are some distance apart. This distinctiveness can be seen in the variety of language names; the Inuit language of Greenland is called Kalaallisut (literally ¡§in the Greenlandic way¡¨), that of eastern Canada Inuktitut, that of western Canada Inuktitun (literally ¡§in the Inuit way¡¨), and that of North Alaska Inupiaq (literally ¡§real person¡¨).

2.    Yupik, a dialectal form meaning ¡§real person,¡¨ includes five languages: Central Alaskan Yupik, spoken southward from Norton Sound; Pacific Yupik, commonly called Alutiiq, spoken from the Alaska Peninsula eastward to Prince William Sound; Naukanski Siberian Yupik, whose speakers were resettled southward from Cape Dezhnyov, the easternmost point of the Eurasian landmass; Central Siberian Yupik (mainly Chaplinski), which is spoken in the Chukchi Peninsula and on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska; and the very divergent Sirenikski, now virtually extinct.



The Inuit language is subdivided into four groups, while each group has dialects. Among dialects in a group, differences are detected in phonology and lexicology rather than morphology and syntax.

I.       Alaskan Inupiaq

a.     Bering Strait dialect

b.     Qawiaraq dialect (southern Seward Peninsula)

c.     Malimiutun dialect (east coast of the Chukchi Sea)

d.     North Slope of Alaska dialect

II.     Western Canadian Inuktan

a.     Siglitun dialect (Beaufort Sea coast)

b.     Inuinnaqtun dialect (Canadian Central Arctic)

c.     Natsilingmiutut dialect (Canadian Central Arctic)

III.   Eastern Canadian Inuktitut

a.     Kivalliq dialect (west coast, Hudson Bay)

b.     Aivilik dialect (west coast, Hudson Bay)

c.     North Baffin dialect (northern Baffin Island)

d.     South Baffin dialect (southern Baffin Island)

e.     Nunavik dialect (Arctic Quebec)

f.      Labrador dialect (northern Labrador Coast)

IV.  Greenlandic Kalaallisut

a.       Thule dialect (northwest Greenland)

b.      West Greenlandic dialect (west coast of Greenland)

c.       East Greenlandic dialect (southeast coast of Greenland)