The Inupiaq Language 伊努皮亞克語

The Inupiaq language is spoken across Alaska’s Arctic costal area (see the language map below).

source of the language map: Alaska Native Language Center

Language map of Alaska 阿拉斯加的原住民語言分佈

It is closely related to the Canadian Inuit dialects and the Greenlandic dialects. The population of Inupiaq people in Alaska is 15,700 persons, whereas the population in Canada and Greenland is approximately 30,500 and 47,000 persons (Alaska Native Language Center). Inupiaq language is more than 8,000 years old (Browers, 2010: 5). 

The contemporary written Inupiaq uses the Latin alphabet. However, if we trace back to the beginning of 20th century, Inupiaq writing started with a pictographic system adapted from the Yupik system of Helper Neck (Kaplan 2005: 235). It was not until the late 1940s that the Inupiaq language was developed for religious purposes. “Hymnals and later the Inupiat New Testament (in 1966) were published, followed by the Inupiat Eskimo Dictionary in 1970.” (ibid). 

The Inupiaq people in Alaska are mostly from the Northwest Arctic and North Slope boroughs and the Bering Strais region (IC Magazine). On the one hand, North Slope Borough in Alaska is home to many Inupiaq people. Most of the Borough’s 9000 permanent residents live in eight communities and the Inupiaq people are the majority of every community. The Inupiaq people made up 61 percent in Barrow, 83.3 percent in Anaktuvuk Pass, 88 percent in Kaktovik, 88 percent in Point Lay, 89 percent in Point Hope, 90 percent in Wainwright, 92 percent in Nuiqsut and 92.3 percent in Atqasuk (North Slope Borough). On the other hand, the population of the Northwest Arctic Borough is about 7300, of which approximately 83 percent are Inupiaq people (Browers 2010:4). 

The singular noun Inupiaq refers to a person or the language, while the plural Inupiat is often refer to the group, although some prefer Inpiaqs, with the English plural (Kaplan 2001: 250). ’Inuk’ means ‘person’ and -piaq means ‘genuine’. Inupiaq is often spelled as Iñupiaq in northern dialects (Alaska Native Language Center).

In terms of official recognition, Inupiaq language, along with other Alaska’s Indigenous languages, became official language of the state in 2014 (Quinn 2014, Oct 23). It was a powerful move and sent a message that indigenous languages are important (ibid). However, it was also noted that this law “deliberately remains symbolic, featuring a provision that does not requires the state or a municipal government to conduct business or government activities in languages other than English”. Indigenous elders feared that the symbolic action may contribute to real consequences. Eyak, one of Alaska’s indigenous languages, became extinct with the death of its last fluent speaker, Marie Smith, in 2008 (ibid). Ronald Browers, an Inupiaq elder, activist and language teacher, reflected warily on the extinct of Eyak “While it is preserved in books and dictionaries the spoken Eyak language died in January of 2008. No more….gone forever.  Perhaps we need to use words like revitalize and grow, and take control of the destiny of our Iñupiaq language so we and it does not face the same destiny of the Eyak language and we fade into oblivion only to be remembered in books and dictionaries. ” (Brower 2010: 4-5). 

The Inupiaq language is in danger. According to the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS), Inupiaq language in Alaska is categorized as ‘6b threatened’ (Alaska Native Language Center). Accroding to Joshua Fishman’s threatened language assessment grid, Inupiaq is threatened by the dominant English language. There is no media nor services offered in Inupiaq language. The language proficiency is not a requirement in making the educational curriculum. Even in the families Inupiaq is not spoken necessarily (Brower 2010). Despite of the official status of Inupiaq language, the government approach showed that “Inupiaq language is in some way not as legitimate as the dominating English language” (ibid: 9). Of the 13,500 Inupiat in Alaska, about 3000 persons speak the language. This number is alarmingly lower compared to its Canadian and Greenlandic counterparts. The Canadian Inuit population has 24,000 speakers in the population of 31,000 and there are 46,000 speakers in the population of 46,400 in Greenland (Alaska Native Language Center). In the Northwest Arctic Borough, it is pointed out that of the 83 percent, 6060 Inupiaq people in the Northwest Arctic Borough, “there are now about 1090 fluent Inupiaq first language speakers, making language speakers at 11 percent of the population” (Browers 2010).

Knowing the Inupiaq language is seen as essential for Inupiaq identity (Kaplan 2005). The North Slope Elders has compiled the Northwest Arctic list of values, where language has its first place on the list. This echoes with the three-level theory of culture, where “language is inextricably tired to the first level of culture—how people knows, believes, thinks, and feels. It is a key part of what gies a people their identity.” (Fagan n.d.:10) The revitalization of the Inupiaq language is urgent, but the progress is impeded because Inupiaq people do not seem to have control over the social systems (Ronald Brower, personal communication, February 19, 2016). 

“Kisima Inŋitchuŋa” (“Never Alone”) is a video game based on an Inupiaq legend. It is made with the determination to revitalize the Inupiaq language. The game’s trailer is narrated by Ronald Brower, an Inupiaq language teacher at the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Here is the trailer


Alaska Native Language Center 

Brower Ronald H. (2010). From a Heritage Language to a First Language: Revitalizing the Inupiat Language. In North Slope Inupiat Youth and Elders Conference. Barrow, Alaska November 17-19, 2010.

Fagan K. (n.d.) Identity and Language. Module 2 of Circumpolar Studies 322. 

Kaplan L (2005). Inupiq writing and International Inuit Relations. Études/Inuit/Studies, vol. 29, no.1-2. Retrieved from 

Quinn S (2014, Oct. 23). Alaska’s indigenous languages now official along with English. Reuters. Retrieved from


The Dolgan 多爾干人

The name Dolgan means ‘people living on the middle reaches of the river’. Other names were used, including “toa / toalar / toakihi / toakihilär (‘people of the wood’), toatagolar (‘nomadic people’), and tagal / tägäl (‘a tribe, a people’)” (Dolgan(Дулҕан / Һака), n.d.). According to Ziker, the Dolgan is one of the 26 indigenous ethnic groups in the Siberian North, “the total population of all 26 groups is about 160,000; Dolgans number about 6,000” (2002: 183). A more precise estimation according to the 2002 census data was 7,330 persons (Siegl and Rießler 2015: 186).

dolgan geographic distribution

Language map of “Indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East of the Russian Federation”

The Dolgan people live sparely from each other. Most of them live in the northernmost federal subject of Russia, or the Taymyr Dolgan-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (Russia: Таймы́рский Долга́но-Не́нецкий автоно́мный о́круг). More specially, they live in the south and east of the autonomous Okrug (a governmentally designated district). As Dudinka is its administrative center, it is home for many Dolgan people. At the same time, a small Dolgan diaspora live in the neighboring Sakha (Yakutia) Republic at the Anabar District (Nuttall 2004: 505). The Dolgan people is the most numerous ethnic group in Taymyr Peninsula, consisting 10 per cent of the total population (Nuttall 2004: 505). In particular, there are around 5,500 Dolgan living on the Peninsula, but no reliable numbers available on the percentage of native speakers among them (Siegl and Rießler 2015: 192).

Concerning Dolgan’s genealogical affiliation, it belongs to Turkic language family. The closest relative of Dolgan language is Yakut (Sakha). Whether Dolgan is a dialect of Yakut is not settled; in Turcology from Western Europe, Dolgan is commonly classified as a dialect of Yakut. However in Russia, Dolgan and Yakut are classified as two separate languages due to political reasons (Siegl and Rießler 2015: 192). Like Finnish, Hungarian, and Turkish, Dolgan has vowel harmony and is agglutinative, and has no grammatical gender.

In terms of the religion for the Dolgan people in Russia, 60 per cent is Christianity and 35 per cent is ethnic religion. The primary religion subdivision is Orthodox (Dolgans in Russia, n.d.). Dolgan was first written with Latin alphabet in the 1920s. Since the 1940s the Cyrillic alphabet similar to the one used for Yakut had been adopted (Dolgan(Дулҕан / Һака), n.d.). The first book in the Dolgan language was published in 1973 with the Yakut alphabet. In 1984, the first Dolgan language primer was published (Dolgan, n.d.).

In regards of the vitality of Dolgan language, it is relatively less endangered as the Enets language, at the same time it can be categorized as threatened with the tools from Fishman’s Assessment Grid (Dolgan language, n.d.). It is less endangered because Dolgan language is taught to children and it enjoys special status as a regional lingua franca in the Taimyr region. However scholars point out that it is unclear whether this situation can continue, given the percentage of ethnic Dolgan people who consider their mother tongues as Russian increased to 35 percent (Grenoble and Whaley 2006: 72).

Two examples are given as follows as an attempt to utilize Fishman’s Assessment Grid for Threatened Languages to access Dolgan. First, the situation of how Dolgan transmitted through education system various from place to place. Researchers noted that in the district capital Dudinka (where a large Dolgan diaspora currently lives) the language is still not taught regularly despite several isolated attempts during the last two decades. At the higher secondary level, Dolgan is taught at the Dudinka college, but only optional (Siegl and Rießler 2015: 198). Second, the position of Dolgan in the media is weak in both local and central levels. The empirical study shows that Dolgan language was used in radio broadcasts on weekdays “about three times a week and lasts about 30 minutes. In fall 2006, an attempt to broadcast weekly news in Dolgan on the local TV station was started, but this was stopped only a few weeks later when the announcer quit his job. In 2008, the same announcer was re-hired and the service is currently running again.” (ibid).


Dolgan(Дулҕан / Һака). (n.d.). In Omniglot: the online Encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. Retrieved from

Dolgan. (n.d.). In World Culture Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Dolgan language. (n.d.). In Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Retrieved from

Dolgans in Russia. In Joshua Project. Retrieved from

Grenoble A. L. & Whaley J. L. (2006). Saving Languages: An Introduction to Language Revitalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Siegl, Florian & Rießler, Michael (2015). Uneven Steps to Literacy. In H.F. Marten Heiko, M. Rießler, J. Saarikivi and R. Toivanen (Eds.), Cultural and Linguistic Minorities in the Russian Federation and the European Union: Comparative Studies on Equality and Diversity. (pp. 189-232). London: Springer.

Ziker, P. John (2002). Peoples of the Tundra: Northern Siberians in the Post-Communist Transition. Love Grove, IL: Waveband Press. 

Does academic English sound like ‘newspeak’?

I accidentally encountered this sentence yesterday in my daily reading concerning the notion of collective rights in contemporary multicultural societies.

“These rights belong to the relevant collectivities qua collectivities and cannot be drived from their individual members for the simple reason that the latter qua individuals have no such right.”

I cannot help but wonder the meaning of “qua” in this context. Is it something that shared among researchers who grew up in the Western societies? Or is it just the author likes to use fancy words ? I am not even sure if “qua” is French or Latin.

I still remember how much I hated to read Anthony Smith’ work when I was doing my nationalism essay. He just cannot articulate his ideas properly without using a lot of unknown French/Latin words. It was really annoying.

Inserting this French/Latin academic smart word is not self-evident. It is confusing and it does not help readers who are not familiar with Western backgrounds to understand. Imagine if I switch this “qua” into a random Mandarin Chinese character, such as 龍, 鱉, 鰲, 魍 . Wouldn’t that be utterly annoying to anybody who has no capacity to read Mandarin Chinese?

At the end of the day, learning to speak this random significant-looking academic French/Latin seems to be essential for anybody who want to be a proper academic. It’s almost like learning what George Orwell called “newspeak”, isn’t it?