Fun Fact: The Inupiaq Alphabet


In the early seventies, linguists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks partnered with local experts to create a standardized written version of the Inupiaq language. Shishmaref is extremely lucky to have one of the local experts in our village. John Sinnok was instrumental in creating the written version of Inupiaq and preserving our local dialect. He taught a basic Inupiaq Writing class during Inupiaq Days, and Flat Stanley and I attended.

The Inupiaq Alphabet has 23 letters. Some you probably recognize. Some you probably don't. (Wow, that was profound. Get ready for the Pulitzer nomination...)

Picture 1

This is the "belted l." You begin pronouncing it like you would a regular English "l," but then you make a sound kind of like you're clearing your throat.

(Note to readers: Stay with me. The descriptions will get better from here on out. I promise.)

Picture 2

This is the dotted g. It's pronounced kind of like the belted l. You begin pronouncing it like an English g and end with a sound like you're clearing your throat.

(Note to readers: Just kidding about the improved descriptions thing...)

Picture 3

This is the "n" with a tail. It is pronounced like the "ng" in "song."

Fun facts about Inupiaq consonants:

-you will never have three consonants together in an Inupiaq word

-the letter "v" makes a "b" sound if it precedes the letters "l" or "z"

-zr together sounds like "sh"

-the Shishmaref dialect of Inupiaq has five consonants that are not used in other Inupiaq dialects

-four of the consonants in the other dialects are not used in the Shishmaref dialect (they are represented in the top picture with a squiggly line underneath them)


Inupiaq only has three vowels: a, i, and u, but they can be combined in nine different ways, each with its own pronunciation.

a = uh
aa= aahhh (like a doctor is checking your throat)
ai= long a (like ape, ate, or angelic)
au = oh (like oat, only, or ode)

i= short i (like is, if, or iridescent)
ia= ee-uh
ii= eeeeeeeeeeeee (like something started you)
iu= eee-oo

u= oo (said in a short syllable, like you're shouting "Boo!" at someone (you wouldn't say, "Booooooooooooooo!"))
ua = oo-uh
ui= oo-ee
uu= ooooooooo (like booing a bad ref at a basketball game, "Boooooooooooooooooooooooo!")


After learning the basic phonics of Inupiaq, John gave us a series of quizzes. He would say words or letter combinations, and we had to write them down, spelling them according to Inupiaq phonics. Flat Stanley and I did AWESOME on the quizzes until John got to the six- and seven-letter words. Then we started tanking it.

I guess we need a little more practice. Maybe we should check out the following sites:

Alaskool's Inupiaq Text Dictionary

BSSD Inupiaq Dictionary With Pictures and Sound Recordings