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Review of  Inuktitut

Reviewer: Wolfgang Schulze
Book Title: Inuktitut
Book Author: Elke Nowak
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Inuktitut, Eastern Canadian
Issue Number: 19.3452

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AUTHOR: Nowak, Elka
TITLE: Inuktitut
SUBTITLE: Eine Grammatische Skizze
SERIES: Languages of the World/Materials 470
PUBLISHER: Lincom Europa
YEAR: 2008

Wolfgang Schulze, Institut fuer Allgemeine und Typologische Sprachwissenschaft,
Universitaet Muenchen

The booklet (81 pages) is a grammatical sketch of the Eastern Eskimo variety
Inuktitut spoken in the eastern Arctic regions of Canada. According to Nowak
(p.6), other Eskimo varieties include Inupiaq (North Alaska), Inuktun (western
Arctic regions of Canada), Inuttut (Labrador), and Kalaallisut (Greenland). This
classification is not without problems. First of all, the term Inuktitut is also
used to denote the whole world of Inuit languages, as opposed to Yupik and
(extinct) Sirenik. All three language families represent a subbranch of what is
conventionally called Eskimo-Aleut. If we take Inuktitut as a cover term to
denote all non-Yupik and non-Sirenik languages of the Eskimo branch, the
individual languages / dialects of Inuktitut show up as follows (from West to
East): Qawiaraq (northwestern part of Alaska), Inupiatun (northern Alaska),
Siglitun (northern Northwest Territories), Inuinnaqtun (Western Nunavut),
Natsilingmiutut (central Nunavut), Kivallirmiutut (central Nunavut, south of
Natsilingmiutut), Qikiqtaaluk Uannangani (northern part of Baffin Island),
Qikiqtaaluk Ningiani (southern part of Baffin Island), Nunavimmiutut (northern
part of Quebec), Nunatsiavummitut (northernmost part of Newfoundland),
Avanersuaq (northwestern regions of Greenland), Kalaallisut (southwestern part
of Greenland), and Tunumiit Oraasiat (eastern part of Greenland). In this sense,
Novak's description concentrates on varieties of Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island),
data being collected during field work in Iqaluit, Baffin Island (Nunavut).
Qikiqtaaluk (Nigiani) is rather close to Kalaallisut (Western Greenlandic). The
writing system of Qikiqtaaluk-Inuktitut (in the following, I simply use the term
Inuktitut) is based on the syllabary invented (or adopted) by James Evens (1840)
first for Objibwa, later on accommodated by him to Cree. The Inuktitut variant
of this syllabary (titirausiq nutaaq or qaniujaaqpait) had been introduced by
John Horden and Edwin A. Watkins towards the end of the 19th century. In
addition, a Latin alphabet is in use (qaliujaaqpait, standardized by the Inuit
Cultural Institute - Inuit Silattuqsarvingat ) that serves as a tool for the
documentation of Inuktitut data in Nowak's description, too.

Nowak's presentation of Inuktitut comprises 81 pages, including a list of 41
references, a list of abbreviations used in the interlienar glosses, and brief
excerpts from texts illustrating the discourse structure of Inuktitut
(pp.76-77). In a short introductory section, the author furnishes the reader
with some basic sociolinguistic data as well as with information about the
history of research concerning the Inuit languages (pp. 5-12). The bulk of the
book is devoted to Inuktitut morphosyntax and hence cannot replace a
full-fledged grammar of the language. As Nowak points out in her preface (p.3),
the description is strongly influenced by her theoretical thinking concerning
polysynthesis in Inuktitut. The Eskimo languages are famous for operating on a
very complex system of 'free' polysynthetic processes. By this is meant that the
Inuktitut 'word' is not a stable lexical complex that would be linked to others
to form sentences. Instead, the shape of most words constantly changes pending
on their actual use and functional role in a discourse (p.13). Being a
suffix-agglutinating language, synthesis starts at the right of a nominal or
verbal nucleus, followed by derivational affixes and ending in what Nowak calls
'grammatical markers' (or 'inflectional endings'). Nowak maintains that
derivation is strictly binary: Accordingly, the semantic scopus of a
derivational suffix depends from its positional distance with respect to the
nucleus: {X + a}; {[X+a]+b}, {[[X+a]+b]+c}, {[[[X+a]+b]+c]+d} etc. In addition,
Inuktitut verb phrases (or: verbs) can be marked for incorporation, placing the
incorporated element before the verbal nucleus (see below). Just as it is true
for all Eskimo languages (and in contrast to Aleut), Inuktitut is both head and
depending marking: It shows both (maximally bipersonal) agreement and case
marking, compare (p. 31, gloss modified):

(1) Jaani-up Miali ikajuq-panga
John-ERG Miali:ABS help-3:A>3:O:IND
'John helps Mary.'

As has been said above, Nowak's description of Inuktitut cannot be regarded as a
comprehensive grammar of the language. In fact, the author only partially
discusses the morphological paradigms, especially with respect to the personal
agreement paradigm. Still, section 5 (pp. 18-35) presents the basics of
Inuktitut morphology that help the reader to follow in detail the author's
careful analyses of morphosyntactic and morphosemantic patterns given in the
next sections. A brief section on ''morphology and synthesis'' (I translate the
titles of the sections into English) precedes this presentation (pp. 13-17). The
fact that the overwhelming part of Inuktitut morphology is related to the verbal
complex means that verbal issues dominate the layout of the book. Accordingly,
section 5 starts with the presentation of verbal complexes, addressing issues of
(in)transitivity and mode, before turning to the noun phrase complex. Case
marking in Inuktitut is basically ergative (S=O;A), encoding the Subjective (S)
and the Objective (O) role by the Absolutive, whereas the Agentive (A) is marked
by the ergative/genitive. The section ends with a brief consideration of
personal pronouns. The extremely short section 6 (pp. 36-37) gives a
classification of Inuktitut verbal nuclei., based on the corresponding argument
structure. Nowak holds that the nuclei can be classified according to four
types. (Admittedly, the resulting distribution is not fully transparent, at
least for this reviewer.) The first class is set up by classical intransitive
structures, such as

(2) aaniaq-tunga
'I am ill'. (p. 36)

The remaining classes are all transitive. Class III seems to differ from class
II by allowing a resultative passive, whereas class II can be marked for some
kind of semantic reflexivity, compare:

(3) kapi-junga
'I stitch myself.' (p.36)

Class IV differs from class II, because it lacks the morpheme -si- in
antipassivization, compare:

(4) aktu(q)-si-junga titirauti-mik
touch-AP-1sg:S:NPART pencil-INSTR
'I touch the/a pencil.' (p. 36)

(5) illu-nik taku-vunga
house-PL:INSTR see-1sg:S:IND
'I see (the) houses.' (p. 37)

Section 7 (pp. 38-60) represents the core chapter of the book. Nowak
comprehensively illustrates the synthesis processes in Inuktitut. She shows that
derivational suffixes can both support the referential or verbal value of their
host and initiate word class motion. The author lists and illustrates in detail
the individual derivational morpheme, before turning to highly interesting
instances of reanalysis. Here, the combination of two categorially different
suffixes leads to the creation of a new derivational segment. For instance, the
terminal / allative case marker -mut can fuse with the derivational suffix -aq-
~ -uq- (indicating motion) to render the notion 'moving to, reaching', e.g.

(6) Ottawa-muaq-tunga
'I go to Ottawa.' (p.51)

The section ends with a discussion of diathesis in Inuktitut (argument
manipulation according to Nowak). Inuktitut knows both passives and
antipassives. Passives are marked for the masking of the Agentive role
(sometimes overtly present in the periphery and marked by the terminal or
ablative). Accordingly, the passive shows up morphologically only in the verb
that is marked for an intransitive agreement pattern + passive morpheme. The
antipassive (AP) does not allow the full masking of the Objective role, as is
possible e.g. in some East Caucasian languages: The NP in Objective function is
canonically placed in the periphery and marked by the instrumental (called
'object case' by Nowak). The Agentive role is then encoded by the Absolutive.
Class IV verbs are labile with respect to transitive/AP marking: In this case,
no derivational process applies, compare again examples (4) and (5). Reflexivity
is marked for labile verb morphology: No derivational suffix occurs. But whereas
class I verbs simply change their agreement pattern (transitive > intransitive,
based on an accusative pattern, hence A > S), class IV verbs call for an open
reflexive pronoun (immi- 'self'). The constructional pattern again is
antipassive (see Bok- Bennema 1991):

(7) imminik taku-vunga
self:INSTR see-1sg:S:IND
'I see myself.' (p. 37)

Causatives are, finally, restricted to intransitive nuclei. Transitive
causatives call for incorporation.

The final section (section 8) first summarizes some basic issues of grammatical
relations in Inuktitut: Nowak argues in favor of a semantic interpretation of
the Ergative case [+AGENT], whereas the Absolutive case is marked for [-AGENT].
The antipassive, on the other hand, is said to have discourse related properties
rather than a semantic value. Finally, the author briefly turns to the highly
problematic case of incorporation in Inuktitut (see Baker 1988, 1996, Saddock
1991, Evans & Sasse 2002). Nowak does not go into all the details, but it is
important to note that the author assumes that incorporated referential units
allow external modification (generally marked by the Instrumental ('object case'):

(8) pingasut-nik qimmiq-qaq-tunga
three-INSTR:PL dog-have-1sg:S:IND
'I have three dogs.' (p.74)

Here, the incorporated element qiimiq- cannot be internally modified or
quantified. However, an alternative reading seems possible, too. Accordingly,
the external element is referential by itself, and the incorporated element
qimmiq- behaves as an adverbial modifiers. The sentence in (8) can then be
rendered as 'I dog=have with respect to (the) three (ones).'

It goes without saying that Nowak's presentation of Inuktitut is a highly
learned and rich contribution to our knowledge of this rarely described variety
of Inuit. It is basically designed for use by students who have not yet come
across a polysynthetic language operating on bipersonality and ergative case
alignment. Still, obvious constraints with respect to the size of the book
condition that Nowak's treatment of the language is fragmentary only.
Unfortunately, some key issues are missing, for instance a full presentation and
discussion of the personal agreement morphology that is crucial for the
understanding of Eskimo morphosyntax. For instance, it is still a matter of
debate whether the transitive patterns (both indicative and modal) result in all
cases from the merger of two historically distinct morphemes (A and O), and
whether the configuration of these morphemes reflects syntactic or honorific
patterns (the sequence A-O seems not to be given for all persons, especially if
a second person is present). In addition, the author neglects a more detailed
discussion of the -vu- vs. -tu- formation of intransitive verbs, again a central
point in the architecture of Inuit verbal morphosyntax. The same holds for the
domain of antipassives: Nowak nicely shows that antipassivization is present in
quite a number of constructional patterns. However, she does not make
sufficiently clear (to me), what the prototypical properties of the antipassive
are that would account for the broad distribution of this pattern. The data (and
those stemming from other Eskimo languages) suggest that the antipassive is
located at the very edge of a referentiality scale: It places the referent (or,
with incorporation) its modifying/quantifying part into the periphery of
referential accessibility, whereas incorporation does just the opposite: It
bleaches the referential properties of the nominal unit and turns it into a
verbal, adverb-like modifier.

The nature of the book is somewhat heterogeneous: On the one hand, it is a
didactically oriented presentation that is full of contrastive references
towards German (and sometimes English). This type of presentation may help a
student to relate issues of Inuktitut to the understanding of their native
grammar. However, it neglects a major issue in what is conventionally called
Basic Linguistic Theory (Dixon 1997), namely the categorization and functional
description of a language 'out of itself' (to the extent this is possible). On
the other hand, the book frequently alludes to Nowak's view on theoretical
issues that can undoubtedly be a matter of debate. In addition, the author does
not make clear to the audience which general framework she wants to apply.
Hence, both functional and formal (syntax) parameters show up in a way that do
not always seem to be fully systematic.

In sum, Nowak has provided the linguistic community with a very interesting
presentation of Inuktitut that is full of illuminating examples (followed by
admittedly not always consistent interlinear glosses). Once readers have worked
through the book and once they have adopted Nowak's terminology and analyses,
they will surely profit from both the data and the many stimulating suggestions
to interpret them. However, they will probably have to refer to more
comprehensive presentations of Inuit languages in order to fully appreciate (and
sometimes to verify) these suggestions. A reference to Nowak's major book (Nowak
1996) would be a first step. Others would have to follow.

Baker, Mark C. (1988) _Incorporation: a theory of grammatical function
changing_. Chicago:. University of Chicago Press.

Baker, Mark C. (1996). _The Polysynthesis Parameter_. New York: Oxford
University Press.

Bok-Bennema, Reineke 1991. _Case and agreement in Inuit_. Dordrecht: Foris.

Dixon, Robert M.W. (1997). _The rise and fall of languages_. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Evans, Nicholas & Hans-J├╝rgen Sasse (eds.). (2002). _Problems of Polysynthesis_.
Berlin : Akademie Verlag.

Nowak, Elke (1996). _Transforming the Images: Ergativity and Transitivity in
Inuktitut (Eskimo)_. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Saddock, Jerrold M. (1991). _Autolexical Syntax_. Chicago & London: Chicago
University Press.

Wolfgang Schulze is the head of the Institute for General Linguistics and
Language Typology of the Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich (Germany). He
has specialized in (among other topics) cognitive linguistics, language
typology, and historical linguistics (especially languages of the Caucasus,
Oriental languages, languages of Siberia and Northern America). He has done
extensive fieldwork on East Caucasian languages and ion Malagasy and has
published three descriptive grammars (Udi, Tsakhur, Tolyshi).