In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Eskimo-Aleut

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Edited Collections
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Connections
  • Yupik
  • Alutiiq
  • Naukanski
  • Central Siberian Yupik
  • Sirenikski
  • Inuit
  • Alaskan Iñupiaq
  • Western Canadian Inuktun

Linguistics Eskimo-Aleut
Anna Berge
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0065


The Eskimo-Aleut language family is spoken from the Chukotka Peninsula in the Russian Far East, across subarctic and Arctic regions of Alaska and Canada, to Greenland in the east. It includes two major branches, Aleut and Eskimo. Aleut is a single language with three historically attested dialects, and it is also the source of a mixed and now obsolescent language, Copper Island Aleut. Eskimo consists of at least two subgroups, Yupik and Inuit; the recently extinct language Sirenikski may have formed a third branch, or it may have been a strongly divergent Yupik language. The Yupik languages include Central Alaskan Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Central Siberian Yupik, and Naukanski. The Inuit branch is considered a single language with multiple dialects and subdialects; major dialect groups include Alaskan Iñupiaq, Western Canadian Inuit, Eastern Canadian Inuit, and Greenlandic. The languages have been documented in varying degrees since the 17th century, and the language family was identified as early as the early 19th century by Rasmus Rask, although analyses of the actual relationships among the languages and between Eskimo-Aleut and other language families continued throughout the 20th century. Both the level and the concentration of documentation, description, and theoretical analyses differ from language to language. For example, the number of speakers, the number of researchers working on the languages, and the extended period of descriptive work have all contributed to the vast body of work on Greenlandic and Eastern Canadian Inuit as opposed to the scarcity of work on Western Canadian Inuit, Iñupiaq, and the Siberian Yupik languages. The citations in this article are organized by language or language group (in the case of Yupik) and thereunder by major dialect. Citations were chosen for their historical importance when these continue to be useful sources for the study of the language as well as for their representation of a particular field of linguistic study (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, discourse, and so forth). Unless other sources do not exist, pedagogical materials have not been included, since they are well represented in almost all languages. Where enough materials exist to warrant subgrouping the citations, descriptive works, including grammars, dictionaries, and generally atheoretical works, are presented first, followed by a section on the more theoretical aspects of the study of a language.

Reference Works

Encyclopedias of languages generally include information on at least one of the Eskimo-Aleut languages if not on the language family itself. Brown 2006 is one of the more complete sources in this respect; Nuttall 2005 contains entries on other aspects of the study of the languages, including the people and contexts important in the efforts to document the languages. Damas 1984 is a comprehensive work on the history, prehistory, ethnology, and culture of the Eskimo-Aleut peoples and includes an overview of the Eskimo-Aleut languages. Goddard 1986 includes a sketch of Central Alaskan Yupik and places the Eskimo-Aleut languages in the greater context of the languages of North America. Krauss 1995 is a map of the Eskimo-Aleut area and Sontag 2006 of the Canadian Inuit area with statistical information on language use in the communities.

  • Brown, Keith, ed. 2006. Encyclopedia of language and linguistics. 2d ed. Boston: Elsevier.

    A broad reference work with articles on Eskimo-Aleut, Central Siberian Yupik, Iñupiaq, and West Greenlandic.

  • Damas, David, ed. 1984. Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 5, Arctic. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.

    Part of a seventeen-volume series, this volume includes historical, ethnographic, and linguistic information on peoples of the Arctic, including a chapter on Eskimo-Aleut languages by Anthony Woodbury.

  • Goddard, Ives, ed. 1986. Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 17, Languages. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.

    Part of a seventeen-volume series, this volume includes a chapter on the classification of the languages of North America, including Eskimo-Aleut, by Ives Goddard, and a grammatical sketch of Central Alaskan Yupik by Osahito Miyaoka.

  • Krauss, Michael E. 1995. Inuit nunait/Nunangit yuget (map of the Inuit-Yupik-Aleut world). Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center.

    Language map of the Eskimo-Aleut region with tables of community names, population, and estimated speaker population as of 1995.

  • Nuttall, Mark, ed. 2005. Encyclopedia of the Arctic. 3 vols. New York: Routledge.

    A broad reference work with many articles pertaining to the languages, including alphabets and writing, of North America, Greenland, and Russia; Eskimo-Aleut languages; and languages of the Arctic and various entries on people who have made important contributions to the documentation and description of these languages.

  • Sontag, Natascha. 2006. Map of the Inuit language in Inuit communities in Canada. Fairbanks: Univ. of Alaska.

    Map of the major Canadian Inuit dialects and subdialects; includes population and speaker statistics, community and dialect names in English and in Inuktitut in both roman and syllabic writing systems, and migration and settlement information.

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