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  • Iñupiatun Uqaluit Taniktun Sivuniŋit / Iñupiaq to English Dictionary by Edna Ahgeak Maclean
  • Richard Compton
Iñupiatun Uqaluit Taniktun Sivuniŋit / Iñupiaq to English Dictionary. Compiled by Edna Ahgeak Maclean. University of Alaska Press, 2014. Pp. xxviii + 988. $65.00 (cloth, e-book).

The Inuit language is a dialect continuum spoken from northwestern Alaska across the Canadian Arctic to Greenland in the east. The dialect group spoken in Alaska is called Iñupiaq, and this dictionary is based on the North Slope dialect, which is spoken in the north of the state. At more than a thousand pages (including front matter), it is arguably the most comprehensive lexicographic description of an Inuit dialect ever published.

Besides the front matter, the dictionary includes Iñupiaq word entries organized around word stems, entries for derivational morphemes, a detailed presentation of [End Page 416] inflectional paradigms, entries for enclitics, thirty-one appendices focusing on particular domains of terminology, a bibliography, and an English-to-Iñupiaq index.

In addition to a preface outlining the evolution of the project, the front matter provides an introduction to the language that presents its geographical distribution, an overview of its grammar, with particular detail paid to the structure and types of words found in the language, its inventory of consonants and vowels, the corresponding orthography, and a short summary of dialect differences between North Slope communities. This is followed by an explanation of the structure and organization of the entries in the dictionary, including abbreviations and typographic conventions.

The heart of the dictionary is a 391-page section of entries organized around word stems. Main entries consist of roots or stems (which may or may not exist alone as words), to which derived words are added as subentries. At a minimum, entries include meanings, expressed as English translations, but they often include an array of additional information such as pronunciation, dialect source, etymological origin, syntactic properties such as transitivity, examples and explanations of usage, morphophonological information relevant for derivation, and even illustrations for terms without a suitable English equivalent, such as articles of traditional clothing and Inuit hunting technology. In addition, relevant sources are often cited within entries.

Equally important, given the highly polysynthetic nature of Inuit, is the next section, which lists what are traditionally viewed as derivational morphemes (called “postbases” in the Eskimoan literature). These elements fulfill the roles of auxiliaries, reconstruction verbs, noun-incorporating verbs, adverbs, modals, negation, tense, and other functional words and morphemes in other languages. At almost the same length as the section on stems, this part of the dictionary not only provides translations of the derivational morphemes, but details their morphophonological alternations, the lexical categories targeted and created, and their relative productivity, along with generous and highly detailed examples.

The final two sections before the appendices provide a detailed description of the language’s inflectional endings and its inventory of enclitics. In addition to subject agreement, verbal inflection in the language also includes object agreement, a three-way number contrast, and many different moods, but this complexity is made approachable by the extensive use of tables. Similarly, well-organized tables summarize the paradigms of nominal inflection for case, number, and possessor agreement. Examples, alternative forms, and explanatory notes are provided throughout. The inventory of enclitics is equally rich and follows the organizational pattern used for the derivational morphology.

Among the most impressive aspects of the dictionary are its appendices. Although these include the expected inventories of pronouns, demonstratives, and the number system, they also provide a meticulous account of such things as kinship terms–organizing these into three different family trees from the perspective of ego (the possessor), based on ego’s gender and whether the relationship is by blood or marriage. Other appendices present terms for ice, snow, stars, or traditional names. Likely anticipating certain misconceptions about the vocabulary pertaining to snow in Inuit, MacLean notes that many of these terms are derived from stems referring to the snow’s “shape, quality, and condition” (p. 820). Besides these, beautifully illustrated appendices detail the names of the various parts of boats, sleds, sod houses, and the human body.

While the book is...


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