Iñupiat Eskimo Dictionary

Donald H. Webster and Wilfried Zibell, Illustrated by Thelma A. Webster, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Inc., Fairbanks, Alaska, 1970.


Of the making of books there is no end, said the great King Solomon of old. To the making of a dictionary there is no end, is the feeling one gets when he sets out on such a project. This work by no means exhaustive. It is but a beginning.

The Eskimo is admired the world over for his ability to live comfortably on the very edge of human habitat. His language reflects this genius. This dictionary is sent forth with the hope that something of this genius is displayed, both to the Eskimo (and particularly the young people who are loosing their cultural heritage), and to interested non-Eskimo.

Unlike most dictionaries, this is compiled according to subject matter. By so doing the authors feel that language features (such as how words relate to each other) can be displayed better. Also, new literates will find this system easier to follow and more interesting.

These words have been gathered over a period of ten years and drawn from various Eskimo living in the villages of North and Northwest Alaska. To these many Eskimo friends our debt of thanks is due. They truly deserve the credit, while we assume the responsibility of any errors.


1. When looking for a word (in the Eskimo section), think of what it might be linked with, (e.g. "think"--mental activity; "spoon" --food, eating; "rifle"--hunting etc.), then look at the index to see the subject categories. If the word is not suitable for simple categorizing, it may be in the section entitled "Other Words", such as "gift", "ouch!' etc. [GO TO CATEGORY SEARCH]

2. Since this dictionary is a compilation of the Kobuk River dialect and North Alaska dialect, many entries consist of two or more words. Such sets of words may vary on the basis of pronunciation or meaning. This dialect division is indicated thus:

(N) after a word or meaning indicates use in the North Slope villages
(K) after a word or meaning indicates use in the Kobuk River villages.

A word entry which is not followed by a letter means that the word is used in both dialects. Some words have a more restricted use, being commonly used only in certain villages. Where such restrictions are known, they are noted thus:

(a) after a word indicates it is used in Anaktuvuk Pass
(b) after a word indicates it is used in Barrow
(d) after a word indicates it is used in Deering/Buckland
(no) after a word indicates it is used in Noatak
(ki) after a word indicates it is used in Kivalina
(p) after a word indicates it is used in Point Hope
(q) after a word indicates it is used in Kotzebue
(s) after a word indicates it is used in Selawik
(Sh) after a word indicates it is used in Shishmaref
(W) after a word indicates it is used in Wainwright
(u) after a word indicates it is used in Unalakleet

3. Information is also available from the way words are placed on the page, from their endings, and from their English glosses. Look at the following sample entry.

aatchuiruq (K), aitchuiruq (N)1 gives1

aatchubaa, aitchubaa 2 gives it 2

aatchuun, aitchuun 3 gift 3

First, we know how the word is said in the Kobuk River dialect (K) and how it is pronounced in the North Alaska dialect (N).

Second, we know that all of these words are related because the last two sets are set to the right of the main word. These words are related semantically. Some insets display categorical relationship.

Third, verbs are indicated by the ending "-uq" on the Eskimo word and "-s" on the English gloss. Look at the words marked 1. (Some English glosses need a helping verb as "is happy" ).

Fourth, verbs are also indicated by the ending "-aa" on the Eskimo word and generally "it" in the English lgloss. Look at the words marked 2.

Other words are nouns. Look at the words marked 3. (Some entries are conjunctions and interjections, but these are clearly displayed).

(Eskimo does not distinguish gender in the third person, therefore "aatchuiruk" may mean either "he gives" "she gives", or "it gives". Similarly, "aatchugaa" may mean "he/she/it" gives "it /he/she". This is why no subject pronoun is listed with '-uq' verbs; and "it" has arbitrarily been chosen to signal "-aa" verbs. Infrequently, meaning demands that it be replaced by "him" or "her" as in "kunikkaa--kisses her". Both Intransitive verb forms (-uq) and Transitive verb forms (-aa) have been included because

a student of Eskimo must know both forms and there is no simple rule for deriving the one from the other.)

4. SECTION II is a list of Eskimo Post Bases. Post Bases are added to bases to modify meaning. Their function is similar to that of English adverbs, adjectives, auxiliary verbs, tenses, etc. of Parts I & II.

5. SECTION III is an index of English words that equate to the Eskimo entries of Parts I & II. (Please note this particular section has been excluded from the Web Site edition).


The Web Site edition of Iñupiat Eskimo Dictionary has been revised to reflect the most current changes made to the Iñupiat spelling system since the 1970 edition. Those changes include replacing the k (with a dot underneath) to the letter q representing the sound farther back in the throat than k or g. Although many changes were needed in the postbases section, only those changes that could be fixed easily were done rather than revising the entire section. The postbase section was, for that reason, left in its original form with only a few changes made.

People playing a part in the creation of this online, interactive Iñupiat dictionary include: Suzanne Sharp who typed the words using the Iñupiat font into an excel spreadsheet which was used as an organizational tool, and scanned pictures using the Scansuite software program; Larry Kaplan, a linguist and language consultant to the Native Curriculum and Teacher Development project, who edited the entire dictionary; Katie Eberhart provided Web Site expertise in translating all the information into a html format, and created different interactive features of the online dictionary, integrated the option for users to access the dictionary by major categories as well as building the Iñupiaq spellchecker which contains nearly 6000 Iñupiat words.

How We Created the Online Iñupiaq Dictionary

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