Iñupiat is the tribal name of the Eskimo peoples of Northern Alaska. It means "real" or "genuine" people. The same word used in the singular formIñupiaqrefers to "a real or genuine person." Iñupiaq is also the language spoken by the Iñupiat. The name of the town Atqasuk stems from the Iñupiaq words atqaq (to descend, go down) and atqasalik (to travel downward). "My best grammatical and geographical analysis of the village name would be something like a place that slopes down,' " says Steve Culbertson, an Iñupiaq-language teacher at Eben Hopson Sr. Memorial Middle School in Barrow, Alaska.
Iñupiaq is rich in words describing the same or comparable things under varying conditions. For example, the English words:
nutagaq: new fresh powder snow
qiqsruqaq: glazed snow in thaw time
sitliq: hard crusty snow
auksalaq: melting snow
aniu: packed snow
aniuvak: snow bank
natigvik: snow drift
qimaugruk: snow drift blocking a trail or a building
aqiluqqaq: soft snow
milik: very soft snow
mitailaq: soft snow on ice floe covering an open spot
pagniq: a caribou bull
kulavak: a caribou cow
tuttugaurat: a few caribou
tuttugaagruich: a herd of caribou
tuttuqpauragatat: a huge herd of caribou
kavraq: a wounded caribou that is running away unobserved
tuttutullaturuq: someone who likes to eat caribou
These terms are language-teacher Culbertson's English transliterations from Iñupiaq. They are necessarily approximate, as the language includes some characters not found in the English alphabet.
Jennifer Boeth Donovan
this story in Acrobat PDF format.
Reprinted from the HHMI Bulletin,
June 2003, pages 14-17.
©2003 Howard Hughes Medical Institute