Naskapi is a language that is spoken in Canada in the Quebec and Labrador regions. It is a Central Algonquian spoken by about 1000 people. The Naskapi call themselves the Innu. Some linguists consider the Naskapi and Montagnais as one language, while other linguists consider them to be two different dialects. Other linguists classify Naskapi as a dialect of the Montagnais language. Naskapi and Montagnais are part of the same Indian community that refer to themselves as the Innu, even though their languages have evolved and divulged to the extent that they are considered to be separate languages. So as to distinguish between the two languages, linguists refer to the languages as Montagnais Innu and Naskapi Innu.
Alternate names for Naskapi include Iyuw Iyimuuun and Innu Aimun. Naskapi has similar linguistic features to the northern East Cree dialect. It also has some lexical similarities to Mushuau Innu. Naskapi is a unique language as it is distinct from the other languages that are spoken in the Quebec-Labrador peninsula. Members of the Naskapi community can speak the language fluently. This includes adults and small children. Most speakers are slowly shifting to English, while some western dialect speakers are shifting to the use of French.
The term Naskapi means ‘people beyond the horizons’. In Montagnais, the term Naskapi means ‘lousy dressers’. This term was used to refer to groups of people who were beyond the reach of missionaries at that time. These included people who lived along the northern Labrador Coast and northern Quebec. One of the biggest challenges that the Naskapi people face is illiteracy. Education is often not adequate and it is mostly done using the French language. Naskapi is used as a language of instruction in primary schools. Naskapi is written using the French alphabet or the Cree syllables in Quebec. In Labrador, the Latin alphabet is used. Similar to other Algonquian languages, Naskapi has a free word order and a complex verb morphology. The Naskapi are nomadic people, while the Montagnais are territorial. The cultures of the Naskapi and the Montagnais are different.