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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

Iñupiaq RavenIñupiat Ilitqusiat

A Special Publication of Alaska Newspapers Inc.

"Those things that make us who we are"

Portrait of a People - By the People
Originally a supplement to The Arctic Sounder

Iḷisimałiq Uqapiałiġmik
Knowledge of Language

Knowledge of language is important to our culture because our language describes the things that are important to us: emotions, the environment and rituals.

Lan Capelle
9th grade

Knowledge of Language
Noorvik 8th grade

Beautiful spoken, written expression
Belongs to culture, tradition, tribe and me.
Language is love.
It helps make friends, communicates and excites.
Language needs words, people, a voice, a history
and a tongue.
Language fears lying, scoldings, negative thoughts
and dying.
Language is learning, books, radios, CB’s,
computers and people.
Language is us!

iḷisimaiq uqapiałiġmik
Hannah Paniyavluk Loon
Chukchi News and Information Service

Village English, a common form of speech in Alaska villages, is a variety of nonstandard English, what educators call a “local English.” Here in northwest Alaska, village English is spoken in most of the communities.

Before Western contact, the people spoke the Inupiaq language in this region. When the early explorers arrived, they not only brought goods to trade, but they came with their language as well. The English language then took hold among the Inupiat.

After contact, the early missionaries and teachers fanned out in this region. The naluagmiu, or white man, established schools and churches with whatever materials were available, and in doing so, created permanent villages. Until then, clans of people had lived spread throughout the region at their winter or summer camps.

Unfortunately, when the Inupiat were taught English in the new schools, they got punished and beaten for speaking their original Native language. As a result the Inupiat learned English with much difficulty.

Today, English is the predominant language in this region, yet Inupiat still is spoken by a majority of older people. It is rare to hear a child speak fluent Inupiaq today A few people in their 20s and 30s speak some Inupiaq, but mainly English or village English.

Today it is common to hear people speaking a blend of English and Inupiaq. If they are not fluent in Iñupiaq, they tend to mix English with incomplete Inupiaq words, or vice versa. In northwest Alaska, people have gotten used to blending the two languages and have adapted to speaking village English.

For instance, in the office environment, I speak standard English to non-Natives every day, yet I run into situations where I have difficulty explaining typical Native processes, such as how to make a half-dried salmon. Also, I can carry on a conversation in Iñupiaq, especially if I’m comfortable talking to a person. Yet, if I were to explain the process of making a half-dried salmon to a tough guy like Charles Bronson, you would see my mouth open without a single word coming out.

In any case, I can explain or describe a situation to any local person in three different languages: English, village English and Inupiaq. I am likely to speak Inupiaq to an Elder because it is necessary, but I will use village English if someone asks me, for instance, “When you come?” I can quickly switch between village English and standard English. I do not use proper English with those who speak to me in village English because it may intimidate them or make them feel uncomfortable. For those of us who speak village English, it is best to speak this language only to those who understand it.

Village English exists in me and in many people who live in the communities in northwest Alaska. Because of my Iñupiaq background, I must admit English is hard to master in speeches and on paper.

Although village English may sound funny—meaning bad—to English instructors,. it has its own beauty to my ears. There’s no such thing as “correct” village English. I structure my sentences any way I desire. Rules don’t limit village English as long as the listener understands.

Village English is truly a spoken language. It is a form of communication used by the Inupiat people of this region, young and old. The Iñupiat generally enjoy the humorous side of life, sot hey speak village English with a sense of humor. Village English is infectious, once you’ve spent time in the village.End Article

“ It is rare to hear a child speak fluent Inupiaq today.”
Hannah Paniyavluk Loon

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Chris Tickett

In the early 1900’s, the missionaries said Eskimos had to go to school and learn English. They weren’t allowed to talk in their language or they would get a spanking with a big paddle. If they did something wrong in school or hurt someone they would have to work for the Elders.

If a lady had a child before she was 18, she would have to make a pair of mukluks for the city and the city would sell them. I know because my aana’s aunty told me a few years back.

If no one spoke Iñupiaq, it would be very sad and our values would be lost and all that we are about would be lost. It would be cool to learn how to speak Iñupiaq. I only know a few words.

I took Iñupiaq for three years but then I went to Anchorage and took Spanish and sign language. Now, Bertha Sheldon teaches us and she’s funny. She keeps my attention and is interesting to listen to, like a comedienne. My mom can speak Iñupiaq fluently along with my grandparents and my aunties and uncles. I would like to learn how.End Article

“ If no one spoke Iñupiaq, it would be very sad and our values would be lost and all that we are would be lost.”
Chris Tickett


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Table of Contents




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Last modified October 19, 2006