Inuit – The language of the Eskimos

Are there really 50 words for snow in the Inuit language? This is a debate that went on for centuries. This debate was sparked off by Franz Boaz, an anthropologist who toured northern Canada in the 1880s. Boaz was interested in studying the life of the Inuit people and he fully absorbed himself into their culture. He noted that the Inuit people used different words to describe the frozen landscape. In his book, Handbook of American Indian Languages, written in 1911, he claimed that Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow. Most linguists denied these claims, seeing them as pure exaggerations. They referred to these allegations as the Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax. However, recent evidence has shown that Boaz was right all along. Linguists discovered that the Eskimo languages have a feature known as polysynthesis, which allows speakers to convey a lot of information by adding suffixes to a base word so as to give it different meanings.

There are about 65,000 people who speak the language, 35,000 of whom are located in Canada. Inuit is primarily spoken in Canada, where it is recognized as the official language in some territories such as Nunavik, which is situated in Quebec, Nunavut and in the Northwest territories. 7 out of 10 people who live in Nunavik speak the language, with more than 2,000 people not speaking any other language. The language is recognized as the primary language of instruction in schools which are located in Inuit districts. It is also spoken in Greenland, Siberia and Alaska. The language is also used in the local government to some extent, the radio and TV. The writing system used is syllabary, which is mainly used in Canada and the Latin alphabet, which is used in Greenland and Alaska. The Cyrillic alphabet is used mainly in Siberia.

The Inuit language Bible was finished after 34 years of work. The project was commenced in 1978. The whole project cost $ 1.7 million. This was a joint project that was undertaken by the Canadian Bible Society and the Anglican church. The launch of the bible will be done on 3rd June 2013 at St. Jude’s Anglican Cathedral, Iqaluit. The bible was written in Syllabics.

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