The Inuktut dialects spoken in Nunavut, the Inuvialuit region of the Northwest Territories and in Nunatsiavut share much of the same vocabulary with variations in terms of pronunciation. Nonetheless, among the dialects there are some striking differences in very common terminology:
In addition to differences in basic vocabulary, dialects can also vary considerably in terms of the affixes they use and what they mean.
Where Inuktut dialects vary most is in the area of pronunciation.
S vs. H
As a general rule, the same words that in eastern Nunavut are pronunouced with an S sound are pronounced with an H sound in the west :
Speakers of Inuinnaqtun use the h sound although you may see s in some words that are borrowed from English, like suka ( sugar).
All Qikiqtaaluk dialects use the s sound, with the h sound appearing in some borrowed words, like haakiqtuq (he plays hockey).
Speakers of Paallilrmiutut and Nattilingmiutut may use s or h in different situations./p>
The syllabic writing system tries to minimize this difference by using the same chacter ( ᓯ ᓱ ᓴ ) for both pronunciations.
Inuktut learners will notice that some dialects use double consonants much more than others. Dialects spoken in the western Arctic very seldom use double consonants. Instead, you will hear a wide range of consonants put together. To demonstrate just a few:
|when I saw...
Speakers of some eastern Arctic dialects, meanwhile, tend to merge many of these pairs of consonants together when they speak. In doing so, the first consonant twins iteslf with the second, resulting in a double consonant. The examples above would be written in South Qikiqtaaluk, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut like this:
|western-central Canadian dialects
|S. Qikiqtaaluk, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut
|ullaaq / ullâk
Generally, you will encounter more double consonants in the Inuktut language, as you move from west to east across the Canadian Arctic. Within Nunavut, Inuktitut speakers in Panniqtuuq probably use the most double consonants, while speakers of Inuinnaqtun the fewest.
There are several sounds that are unique to specific dialects.
łi, łu ,ła (ᖠ, ᖢ ,ᖤ)
This is a sound made by putting the tip of your tongue on the roof of the mouth and blowing air over the sides of the tongue. Speakers of North Qikiqtaaluk dialect, Nattilingmiutut, Aivilingmiutut and Pallirmiutut make this sound. As for speakers of Nunavut’s other dialects, not only is this sound absent from their speech, they often have great difficulty pronouncing it. Instead, they substitute other consonants in place of the łi, łu ,ła sound.
The word for "rope" for example:
Retroflex R ( ř )
All Inuktut dialects have an r sound that is made at the back of the throat, much like it is in French. But one dialect, Nattilingmiutut, also uses a retroflex r, which is essentially the r sound used in English. On Tusaalanga, we use the character ř to represent this sound:
B is a sound that is heard from the central Canadian Arctic west to the Mackenzie Delta. It is almost always heard before an L sound. Eastern Canadian dialects in Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island), Nunavik and Nunatsiavut do not make this sound and use double L instead.
|Kitikmeot Region (Inuinnaqtun and Nattilingmiutut)
|Kivalliq Region (Paallirmiutut and Aivilingmiutut)
|Qikiqtaaluk (North and South Baffin Island)
The glottal stop is a little catch in the back of the throat that temporarily stops the flow of air coming from the lungs. An example where English speakers make this sound is between the syllables in the expression « uh-oh».
Speakers of Paallirmiutut use this sound in a small number of words such as ma'na (thank you) and Qamani‘tuaq. This sound is much more common in Nattilingmiutut. The other dialects do not make this sound.
Final N or NG
When the syllabic and roman writing systems for Inuktut were standardized in the 1970s, it was agreed that words could only end with a vowel or with one of three consonants: q, k or t. In practice, though, many Inuktut speakers have a tendency to pronounce these final consonants as an n or an ng sound.
This can be a dialectal difference – Inuinnaqtun speakers do this quite frequently - or it can be a generational difference. Inuit elders are more likely to do this than younger speakers.This tendency spills over into the written language. It is common to see words in Sallirmiutut (Northwest Territories), Inuinnaqtun (Nunavut) and Nunatsiavut (Labrador) with a final n and, less so, ng. In Nunavut and Nunavik, the use of final n and ng is discouraged.
An important difference between dialects is how they describe events in the past, present or future. The affixes that are used to indicate that events have happened in the immediate, recent or distant past, or those in the future are not the same across dialects.
The differences go deeper than this, though. Eastern dialects (Nunatsiavut, Nunavik and Qikiqtaaluk in Nunavut) are very explicit and precise about gradations of time. Here are some examples of affixes used to describe time in Qikiqtaaluk communities:
|I ate just now.
|I ate earlier.
|I ate (yesterday or earlier)
|I will eat soon.
|I will eat (tomorrow or farther into the future).
Dialects in the central and western Arctic mark verb tenses less frequently. Indeed one may have to rely on the context of the conversation (and not the grammatical structure of a verb) to determine when an action took place.