Eskimo-Aleut Language

Eskimo-Aleut Language Family

Alternate Names: Eskaleut, Eskaleutian, Eskimish, Eskaleutic, Eskimoan, and Macro-Eskimo

Eskimo-Aleut is a language family native to Alaska, the Canadian Arctic, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, Greenland, and the Chukchi Peninsula on the eastern tip of Siberia.

Eskimo-Aleut languages are spoken by small communities of hunters and fishermen which have adapted to the extreme conditions of the harsh Arctic environment.

Their speakers are supposed to have been part of the last large-scale migration from Asia across the Bering strait, around 5,000 years ago.

After reaching Alaska they migrated southwesterly into the Aleutian islands, and northeasterly to the Arctic coasts of Canada and Greenland. Others migrated back to Siberia.

Eskimo-Aleut languages have a rich morphology and are strongly polysynthetic which is their most distinctive characteristic.

Polysynthesis is the capacity of building long and complex words by the successive addition to a root of several morphemes.

As a result, a single word may function, sometimes, as a whole sentence.
The Eskimo-Aleut language family is divided into two branches, the Eskimo languages and the Aleut language.

The Aleut language family consists of a single language, Aleut, spoken in the Aleutian Islands and the Pribilof Islands. Aleut is divided into several dialects.

The Eskimo languages are divided into two branches, the Yupik languages, spoken in western and southwestern Alaska and in easternmost Siberia, and the Inuit language, spoken in northern Alaska, in Canada, and in Greenland.

The Inuit language, which covers a huge range of territory, is divided into several dialects.

The proper place of one language, Sirenik, within the Eskimo family has not been settled. Some linguists list it as a branch of Yupik, others as a separate branch of the Eskimo family, alongside Yupik and Inuit.

It is thought that the common ancestral language of the Eskimo languages and of Aleut divided into the Eskimo and Aleut branches around 2000 BCE.

The Eskimo language family divided into the Yupik and Inuit branches around 1000 CE.

The Eskimo-Aleut languages are one of the native languages of the Americas. However, this is a geographical category, not a linguistic one.

The Eskimo-Aleut languages are not demonstrably related to the other language families of North America. The more credible proposals on the external relations of Eskimo-Aleut all concern one or more of the language families of northern Eurasia.

One of the first such proposals was made by the pioneering Danish linguist Rasmus Rask in 1818, upon noticing similarities between Greenlandic Eskimo and Finnish.

Perhaps the most fully developed such proposal to date is Michael Fortescue’s Uralo-Siberian hypothesis, published in 1998.

More recently Joseph Greenberg (2000-2002) has suggested grouping Eskimo-Aleut with all of the language families of northern Eurasia, with the exception of Yeniseian, in a proposed language family called Eurasiatic. Such proposals remain controversial.

Eskimo-Aleut languages


Western-Central dialects: Atkan, Attuan, Unangan, Bering (60-80 speakers)
Eastern dialects: Unalaskan, Pribilof (400 speakers)

Eskimo languages(or Yupik-Inuit languages)

Yupik languages (or Yup’ik languages)

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, 1400 speakers)

Naukan (70 speakers)
Qawiaraq language (Seward Peninsula)

Sirenik (extinct) (viewed as an independent branch by some)

Inuit language (98,000 speakers)

Inupiaq or Inupiat (northern Alaska, 3,500 speakers)
Inuvialuktun (western Canada, 765 speakers)

Kangiryuarmiutun (Ulukhaktok sometimes listed as Inuinnaqtun)
Siglitun (Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Tuktoyaktuk)
Uummarmiutun (Aklavik, Inuvik from Inupiaq)

Inuktitut (eastern Canada; together with Inuktun and Inuinnaqtun, 40,000 speakers)

Nunatsiavummiutut (Nunatsiavut, 550 speakers)
Inuttitut (Nunavik)

Kalaallisut (Greenland, 54,000 speakers)

Inuktun (Avanersuarmiutut)
East Greenlandic (Tunumiit oraasiat)