Grammar » 1 » The Basic Structure of Inuktut

In English, the basic unit of meaning is the word. Each word (generally) expresses a separate idea:

The dog sleeps under the tree.

In Inuktut, the basic units of meaning are roots, affixes and grammatical endings.

Roots involve basic vocabulary and always appear at the beginning of words in Inuktut. Here are some examples:
niri- to eat
aullaq- to depart; leave town
tupiq tent

Roots that describe nouns (people, places, animals or objects) sometimes appear on their own:

nuna land
inuk an Inuk; a person
natsiq ringed seal

Generally, though, words are built in Inuktut by attaching affixes and endings to a root.  

Here are three simple noun endings:

-mi in / at a place
-mut to a place
-mit from a place

We can add these endings to a noun root to create a word:

sijjami at the shoreline 
sijjamut to the shoreline
sijjamit from the shoreline

 

Verb endings are attached to verb roots that describe actions.  Here are three simple verb endings:
 

-tunga I
-tutit you
-tuq she / he / it

 

If we add different endings to the same root, we get different meanings:

aullaqtunga I depart.
aullaqtutit You depart.
aullaqtuq He / she departs.

 

Affixes are pieces of words that appear between the root and the ending.  They can never begin a word.  Affixes add more information about the noun or verb that is described by the root.

For example -lauq- is a verb affix that indicates that an action happened in the past:

aullalauqtunga I departed.
aullalauqtutit You departed.
aullalauqtuq He / she departed.

 

In Inuktut, it is possible to build up very long words by adding a series of affixes between the root and the ending.  We can end up with single words that would take an entire sentence to say in English:

qangatasuukkuvimmuuriaqalaaqtunga I’ll have to go to the airport.