Differences between the dialects

The Inuktut dialects spoken in Nunavut share the vast majority of their vocabulary. Nonetheless, among them there are some striking differences in very common terminology:

dialect no
Inuinnaqtun imannaq  
Nattilingmiutut iiqi
Paallirmiutut nauk
North Qikiqtaaluk  aakka
South Qikiqtaaluk  aagga
dialect thank you
Inuinnaqtun quana
Nattilingmiutut  qujanaqqutit
Paallirmiutut ma’na
North Qikiqtaaluk  qujannamiik
South Qikiqtaaluk  nakurmiik

In addition to differences in basic vocabulary, dialects can also vary considerably in terms of the affixes they use and what they mean.

PRONUNCIATION

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 :

dialect "sun"
Inuinnaqtun hiqiniq
Nattilingmiutut hiqiniq
Paallirmiutut hiqiniq
North Qikiqtaaluk  siqiniq
South Qikiqtaaluk  siqiniq
dialect "she thinks"
Inuinnaqtun ihumayuq
Nattilingmiutut ihumařuq
Paallirmiutut ihumajuq
North Qikiqtaaluk  isumajuq
South Qikiqtaaluk  isumajuq

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.

ᐱᖓ pingasut
ᐱᖓ pingahut

Double consonants

Inuktut learners will notice that some dialects use double consonants much more than others. Nunavut’s western dialects very seldom use double consonants. Instead, you will see a wide range of consonants put together. To demonstrate just a few :

ilvit you
uplaaq morning
ugjuk bearded seal
apqut road

Speakers of Nunavut’s eastern dialects, meanwhile, tend to merge many of these pairs of consonants together when they speak. In doing so, the first consonant twins itself with the second, resulting in a double consonant.

In the east, the words we looked at above would be:

ivvit
ullaaq
ujjuk
aqqut

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.

SPECIAL SOUNDS

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:

Inuinnaqtun akhunaaq
Nattilingmiutut akłunaaq 
Paallirmiutut akłunaaq 
North Qikiqtaaluk akłunaaq 
South Qikiqtaaluk atsunaaq 

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:

iři   eye
ugřuk bearded seal
kiuřuq She replies. 

B

B is a sound that is heard throughout the Kivalliq and Qitirmiut (Kitikmeot) regions. It is almost always heard before an L sound. The Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin) dialects do not make this sound and use double L instead.

Inuinnaqtun qablu ublaaq
Nattilingmiutut qablu ublaaq
Paallirmiutut qablu ublaaq
North Qikqtaaluk qallu ullaaq
South Qikqtaaluk qallu ullaaq

Glottal Stop

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. Many Inuinnaqtun speakers will end words with a written n. In syllabics, although one may see words ending in or it is generally discouraged among educators and language professionals.

EXPRESSING TIME

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. Some dialects (especially those spoken on Qikiqtaaluk and in parts of Kivalliq) are very explicit and precise about gradations of time:

nirirataaqtunga I ate just now.
niriqqaujunga I ate recently.
niriniaqtunga I will eat soon.
nirilaaqtunga I will eat (tomorrow or farther into the future).

Other dialects (Nattilingmiutut in particular) are a little more vague and it will often be the context of the conversation that tells you when something happened:

nirihaaqtunga I just ate.
niriřunga I am eating / I have eaten.
niriniaqtunga I will eat now / I will eat soon.
nirijumaaqtunga I will eat eventually.