Inuit Language

The Inuit language is a group of five closely related languages that belong to the Eskimo branch of the Eskimo-Aleut language family.

Three of these languages, spoken in Canada and Greenland, are referred to as Inuktitut. Two languages, spoken in Alaska, are referred to as Inupiatun.

The Inuit people themselves use different names to refer to their own languages. The term Eskimo is a word in Algonquian that means ‘eater of raw flesh,’ which is sometimes considered derogatory.

The nomadic Inuit people are thought to have originated in northeastern Siberia and to have began to migrate eastward across the Bering Straits to Alaska and then across northern Canada to Greenland in widely separated groups around 2,000 BC.

As a result, rather than being a single language, Inuit is a continuum of varieties that are not readily comprehensible at their geographical extremes.

Inuit Speakers



Inuinnaqtun (Western Canadian Inuit, Western Canadian Inuktitut) 410

Scattered coastal communities of Western and Northern Canada. Statutory provincial working language in Northwest territories.


Inuktitut (Eastern Canadian Inuit) 34,100

Hudson Strait areas, east through Nunavut, southern Baffin Island, and northern coastal settlements of Quebec, continuing along North Atlantic coast, Newfoundland and Labrador.


Inuktitut, Greenlandic (Greenlandic, Kalaallisut) 57,000

Greenland, Denmark. Statutory national language


Inupiatun, North Alaskan  (North Alaskan Inupiat, Inupiat, “Eskimo”) 13,500

Alaska, Norton Sound and Point Hope, USA.


Inupiatun, Northwest Alaskan(Northwest Alaska Inupiat, Inupiatun, “Eskimo”) 5,580

Alaska, Kobuk River, Noatak River, Seward Peninsula, and Bering Strait.


Inuit varieties have a different status, depending on the country where they are spoken:


  • Greenland
    The largest group of Inuit speakers lives in Greenland and Denmark (57,000). In Greenland, the official form of Inuit, is one of the official languages of the state (along with Danish). It is called Kalaallisut.

  • Canada
    In Canada, the word Inuktitut is used to refer to all Canadian varieties of Inuit. Inuktitut is recognized as the official language of the Nunavut Territory (along with English and French) and the Northwest Territories (along with English, French, and several other indigenous languages). It also has legal recognition in Nunavik – a part of Quebec – where it is recognized in the Charter of the French Language as the official language of instruction for Inuit schools. It also has some recognition in Nunatsiavut – the Inuit area of Labrador. Inuit is used in print and electronic media in Canada and Greenland. Inuit Circumpolar Conference has a commission dedicated to the preservation of Inuit and the development of a common writing system for the language.

  • U.S.
    Inuit has no official status in Alaska.

Inuit Dialects

All Inuit varieties have a number of dialects associated with their geographical location.

Like other Eskimo-Aleut languages, Inuit languages are polysynthetic, i.e., grammatical functions are represented by a strings of suffixes attached to roots and stems.

As a result, Inuit languages have many long words that are equivalent to whole sentences in analytical languages such as English.

For example, the Inuktitut word tusaatsiarunnanngittualuujunga ‘I can’t hear very well  is made up of the elements tusaa ‘hear’ + tsiaq ‘well’ + junnaq ‘able to’ + nngit ‘not’ + tualuu ‘very much’ + junga ‘lst person singular, present, indicative, non-specific.’