A Handbook for Teachers (Shortcut to Contents)

Written by
Lawrence D. Kaplan

Edited by
Jane McGary

Alaska Native Language Center

Developed by
Alaska Department of Education
Bilingual/Bicultural Education Programs
Juneau, Alaska

This publication is available for purchase for $4.00 from the Alaska Native Language Center, Box 757680, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775-7680, or by sending e-mail to

This publication was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Civil Rights Technical Assistance and Training Programs, Grant Number G008200907. The opinions expressed herein do not, however, necessarily reflect the positions or policy of the U.S. Department of Education; no official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education should be inferred.

The right to reproduce all or any part of this publication in any form, including photoxerography, microfilm, or microfiche, is reserved by the Alaska Department of Education.

Published and Distributed by

Alaska Department of Education

Pouch F

Juneau, Alaska 99811

First Printing, June 1984 500 copies

Second Printing, November 1984 300 copies

Third Printing, July 1989 300 copies

Fourth Printing, May 1994 300 copies

Fifth Printing, August 1996 300 copies

Cover Photo: Whalebone family. Dolls made by Emma and Elliot Olanna, Shishmaref. Photo by Chris Arend, courtesy of Alaska State Council on the Arts.


Alaska has always had a multiplicity of languages and cultures. Until 1930, Alaska Natives made up the majority of the State’s population, speaking twenty Alaska Native languages, often English, and sometimes Russian.

Today, Alaska Native students comprise approximately 87 per cent of the language minority students enrolled in Alaska’s public school bilingual-bicultural education programs. These students are from the Aleut, Athabaskan, Eskimo, Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian language groups. Other major language groups enrolled in programs include Spanish, Korean, Pilipino, Russian, Japanese, and Vietnamese.

The Department of Education has developed a series of handbooks designed to assist classroom teachers, bilingual-bicultural education and special education program staff, counselors and school administrators in improving instructional services for students from Athabaskan, Inupiaq, and Yup’ik language groups. These handbooks address the unique sociocultural and linguistic characteristics of each group as they relate to the school setting. They also provide educational resources such as recommended readings, listings of school districts enrolling students from each group, and sources of information, materials and instructional assistance for each language group.


The Alaska Department of Education wishes to recognize the individuals who assisted in completing this handbook.

Major presentations on the Inupiaq language and culture were made at the Department’s summer institute on Bilingual/Special Education, Fairbanks, 1983, by Edna Ahgeak MacLean, Assistant Professor of Inupiaq, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and Leona Simmonds Okakok of Barrow. Members of the staff of the Alaska Native Language Center who have contributed to the planning and writing of this work include Steven Jacobson, Chad Thompson, Irene Reed, and Jane McGary.

While each handbook benefited from the assistance of these individuals, final responsibility for the handbook rests with the Alaska Department of Education.




The Study of Language

The Eskimo-Aleut language family

Historical factors and the current situation of Inupiaq

Inupiaq Sounds and Grammar and their Influence on English

Inupiaq in the Classroom

Traditional forms of education

A note on Inupiaq culture


Appendix: The Sounds of Inupiaq

Selected Resources

Districts Serving Yup'ik-speaking Students

Further Sources of Information and Assistance

Map: Native Languages of Alaska



This handbook has been designed to assist school districts in providing effective educational services to students from the Inupiaq language group.

This is one of three handbooks developed to increase school districts’ and school personnel’s understanding of selected Alaska Native language groups. They have been designed for use by administrators and all school staff who have responsibilities for the schooling of these students.

Development of the Handbook

The development of this handbook began in August, 1983, in response to the need for information regarding cultural and linguistic factors which should be understood in the school setting.

This handbook should be regarded as a first edition. It is difficult in one volume to depict the uniqueness and heterogeneity that characterize this language group. It should be recognized that any language group is complex and diverse, having a variety of needs and characteristics based upon different experiences. Much more research and work need to be done to ensure successful schooling for this and other minority language groups in Alaska.


Program Manager

Bilingual/Bicultural Education Programs


A linguist’s fascination with the study of language is based primarily on the complex nature of all language, man’s foremost system of communication. Although the origin of language is uncertain, it is clear that all languages have evolved through time, changing with the history of the peoples who speak them. A language reflects the culture of the group who speak it by incorporating vocabulary appropriate to that culture. For example, Inupiaq has an elaborate vocabulary pertaining to whale-hunting, while Japanese has many different forms of address appropriate to particular situations. In a sense, a modern language recapitulates the history of social and cultural changes among its people, as new words are added and old words dropped to suit a changing environment. For example, even a superficial comparison of the language of Shakespeare with modern English will show how language can reflect the changing attitudes and conditions which English speakers have lived with over the past several centuries.

The grammatical system of a language is a systematic series of relationships which is part of the intellectual ability of anyone who speaks the language. The degree to which language is innate to humans, the way children learn languages, and the existence of so many different types of languages on earth all offer exciting possibilities for linguistic study.

As linguists try to learn about and describe different languages, they rely on a number of assumptions about the nature of all language; these may be considered universal linguistic truths. It is universally held true that all languages are equal in their ability to convey the thoughts of anyone speaking them, that all are effective and valid means of communication. No language is more suitable to human expression than any other, and none has ever been found to be more "primitive" nor more "advanced" in terms of the level of communication whose medium it is. The linguist’s objective approach to language does not allow ranking languages as superior or inferior, but we will see that cultural bias or prejudice may lead a person to favor one language over another.

Virtually everyone learns at least one language is a child, and some learn more than one. Throughout history bilingualism (the knowledge of two languages) and often multilingualism (the knowledge of many languages) have been common among people living where several languages are spoken. In Alaska, for example, in areas where the territory of one Native group bordered on another’s, it was common for members of one group to speak the language of their neighbors as well. Among the three different groups of Eskimos in the Bering Strait area, there were frequent commercial and social relations, and many individuals learned the languages or dialects of their neighbors. Inupiaqs were also commonly bilingual in the areas near Athabaskan territory, notably in the villages of the upper Kobuk River. Bilingualism is of course still quite common in Alaska today, especially among Native people who speak English in addition to their own language.

In an environment such as an Alaskan village where more than one language is used, different factors influence which language is spoken in what situation, determining the role of each language in the community. These factors can be quite complex, but generally we can recognize each language’s domains, that is, the situations where a bilingual person will choose one language over the other. In such cases, there is often a so-called "intimate" language that is not the national or majority language and is used in the home and among family and community members. In official contexts where one deals with government, institutions, or people unrelated to the home community, people are obliged to speak- English, since outsiders do not speak the home language. In situations like this, it is typical that speakers of the minority language, Inupiaq in this case, will learn the majority language, that is, English, but outsiders will not learn the local, minority language.

The relation between minority and majority languages brings us to the realm of linguistics pertaining to how people use language and how they feel about different languages. Many people have favorable or unfavorable attitudes toward certain languages, usually depending on the person’s perception of the group who speak the language in question. If that group is held in high esteem, their language too may be regarded favorably. If for some reason the group is disliked or accorded low social status, their language too may be looked on with disfavor. Such attitudes are often expressed in statements that a given language is not as good as one’s own, or that it sounds unpleasant. Thus non-linguistic considerations, that is, social attitudes, can interfere with our appreciation and acceptance of languages other than our own. Sometimes the negative attitudes of other segments of society can influence people to feel badly about their own native language, causing conflict and confusion within the individual.

Attitudes about language play an important role in situations where more than one language is used, especially where a majority language such as English exists alongside a minority language, in this case Inupiaq. It is important to remember that all languages deserve recognition and respect as equally elaborate and effective systems of communication. Becoming familiar with another language and culture inevitably increases one’s respect for them. Learning about another language also brings to light the linguistic accomplishments which characterize that language. No student of English can help but be awed by the genius of Shakespeare; so too do students of Inupiaq come to love and appreciate the rich oral literature of that language.

The Eskimo–Aleut language family

The two major language families of Alaska are Eskimo-Aleut and Athabaskan-Eyak, with the former found primarily in the northern and western coastal areas and the latter found in the interior. Inupiaq is part of the Eskimo-Aleut language family. Eskimo-Aleut languages probably originated in the Bering Sea area, making Alaska the North American homeland of these peoples. Of course, Eskimo languages have traveled far beyond Alaska, with Inupiaq spreading into Canada and Greenland and Yupik into Siberia.

Although there is a definite relationship between the Eskimo languages and Aleut, the split between the two is probably at least 4,000 years old, so that the Aleut language is quite different from Eskimo in some important respects. The Eskimo languages proper can be divided into two branches, Yupik and Inuit or Inupiaq. There are three Yupik languages in Alaska: Central Yupik, spoken along the coast of southwestern Alaska, along the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, and around Bristol Bay; Alutiiq, spoken on the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island, the southern Kenai Peninsula, and around Prince William Sound; and Siberian Yupik, spoken on St. Lawrence Island in Alaska and on the Chukchi Peninsula in Soviet Siberia (actually, the three forms of Eskimo termed Siberian Yupik are probably different enough to be called three different languages).

The second branch of the Eskimo language family, Inuit or Inupiaq is considered a single language which extends across the arctic regions of the western hemisphere from the Bering Strait to Greenland. Neighboring dialects of Inuit are usually quite similar and neighboring groups can understand one another easily, but some individual dialects may have unique characteristics which make it difficult for other Inuit to understand them. Dialects markedly different from any others in Inuit, for example, are found in both geographic ends of' the Inuit area, on the Diomede Islands and in East Greenland.

At this point we should explain what linguists mean by "language" and "dialect." A language is a distinct and unified system of spoken communication which can be divided into different dialects. Dialect differences distinguish particular groups within a language community, generally based on such factors as geography, socioeconomic status, or ethnic origin. American English includes all three types of dialects; for example, New Yorkers and Texans often have identifiable geographical dialects, members of the upper class on the East Coast may speak with an accent or vocabulary that sets them apart, and ethnic groups like Mexican-Americans or Irish-Americans may have distinct features in their speech. Inuit dialects, on the other hand, are almost exclusively regional or geographical. What distinguishes a dialect from a language is that people who speak different dialects of the same language can generally understand one another, while people who speak different languages cannot unless they are bilingual. Languages may be related, like English and German or Yupik and Inupiaq, but if they are truly separate languages, they are different enough so that communication between them is hampered. In this way, we find that Central Yupik and Inupiaq are related but different languages, while Kobuk Inupiaq and Barrow Inupiaq, whose speakers can understand each other, are different dialects of the same language.

Within Alaskan Inupiaq there are two major dialect groups, each with two dialects. North Alaskan Inupiaq includes the North Slope dialect (spoken along the Arctic coast as far south as Kivalina) and the Malimiut dialect (spoken south of Kivalina in and around Kotzebue, along the Kobuk River, and at the head of Norton Sound, especially in Koyuk and Unalakleet). The Nunamiu dialect, found primarily at Anaktuvuk Pass, is transitional between the North Slope and Malimiut dialects. The other major dialect group is Seward Peninsula Inupiaq, found on the Seward Peninsula and in the area of Norton Sound; this group includes the Bering Strait dialect (spoken on King Island and the Diomedes and in the coastal villages north and west of Nome) and the Qawiaraq dialect (spoken in Teller near the original place named Qawiaraq and in the villages west and south of Nome as far as Unalakleet).

The earliest writing of Inupiaq took place when explorers first arrived in Alaska and began recording words in the native languages they encountered. They wrote in a manner which adapted the spelling of their own language, or of other languages they knew, to the new language they were recording. Spelling was therefore often inconsistent, since the writers were often making it up as they went along. Unfamiliar sounds were in some cases omitted or else confused with other sounds, so that Eskimo q was frequently not distinguished from k, and long consonants or vowels were not distinguished from short ones, e.g., n from nn or a from aa.

Writing of the language by Inupiaqs did not begin until the missionaries arrived and began translating religious materials into the Native languages. Writing was at first based on English and so was not optimally suited to the sound system of' Inupiaq. Written materials were nevertheless readable by those who knew the language. It was not until the 1940s that anyone attempted to decide on a coherent and accurate writing system for the language which would allow spelling to be standardized. In 1946 Roy Ahmaogak, an Inupiaq Presbyterian minister from Barrow, worked with Eugene Nida, a member of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, to develop the current Inupiaq writing system. Although changes have been made in the orthography since its origin—most notably the change from k to q—the essential system was accurate and is still in use. It is interesting to note as well that Greenlandic Eskimo, a near relative of Alaskan Inupiaq, has a distinguished history of literacy, written by missionaries since the eighteenth century and with a standard orthography which dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. (A spelling reform in the 1970s improved and updated the old Greenlandic writing system.)

Historical factors and the current situation of Inupiaq

It is difficult to say why a language dies out in one area and continues to be spoken in another. Did some greater outside pressure place Inupiaq in jeopardy while neighboring Central Yupik remained viable? While comparing their situations yields only inconclusive results, it is useful to an understanding of the current situation of Inupiaq to explain the events and influences that have shaped modern-day Inupiaq culture.

Europeans arrived in the Inupiaq region later than in more southerly parts of Alaska. The Inupiaqs’ first heavy contact with outsiders was in the Bering Strait and Norton Sound areas, where European trade goods—rifles, tobacco, and metal knives—arrived even before the eighteenth-century explorers.

The Russians, who established themselves in Alaska in the mid-eighteenth century, did not have much direct contact with the Inupiaqs, except at their settlement of St. Michael near Unalakleet. Although the Russians did not travel much north of this area, their goods did, along with the Russian names for them. In areas heavily influenced by the Russians, Russian-derived names for such things as soap, flour, tea, and sugar are still in use more than a century after the Russians' departure. Going from south to north in the Inupiaq area, one finds fewer and fewer Russian loan words, from dozens in Unalakleet to only two in Barrow.

The first large wave of outsiders to reach northern Alaska were whaling crews. They were ethnically quite mixed, including Hawaiians (also known as Kanakas), white Americans, Scandinavians, and the so-called Portuguese, who were mostly Portuguese-speaking Blacks from the Cape Verde Islands off West Africa. The whalers had a profound effect on the Inupiaq groups they encountered for a number of reasons. First, they were competing for whales, which had already been driven almost to extinction by whalers in the Eastern Arctic. Eskimo whalers in fact adopted many technological innovations from the old whaling ships. The whaling crews also brought with them disease and alcohol, resulting in disastrous epidemics and introducing the scourge of alcoholism to people whose culture had no previous experience of addictive intoxicants.

Commercial whaling in the Arctic ended shortly after the turn of the century. A few decades before, a concerted effort to influence and change Native Alaskan culture had begun in the form of missionization. There has been much debate about the role of missionaries and their long-term effects on Alaska, but in any case, it seems clear that most of them misunderstood and failed to respect the traditional systems of beliefs they encountered when they arrived. Of all the outsiders who came to Alaska, missionaries were the first whose goal it was to change the Eskimos into people like themselves.

The new religion profoundly disrupted traditional Eskimo culture as missionaries introduced foreign ideas and values, presenting them as universal truths when they were actually artifacts of European cultures. They encouraged people to adopt the European-American life style, including dress, table manners, and other kinds of behavior which the newcomers admired in themselves and wished to see mirrored in the people they encountered. This cultural chauvinism was especially merciless in some areas where religious groups fought to eradicate Native music and dancing. At the first Inuit Circumpolar Conference in Barrow in 1977, an Indian leader from Canada told those assembled, "When they come to change you, the first thing they will try to take from you are your drums. Never give up your drums."

The native language was another target of those who thought they would "improve" the Native people of Alaska. Education was to move Native people into the mainstream of American society; this was of course not the traditional sort of education by which Native people trained their children to take their adult roles in society, but European-style classroom education. The teachers were White people from the United States and the language of instruction was English. The first students came to school speaking only the language of their home, so a bilingual member of the community had to translate in the classroom. Many people who went to school in the early days report that, very understandably, they did not learn much.

No schools in Alaska under the Territorial administration encouraged the use of any Native language. Most, in fact, actively discouraged it by punishing children for speaking their own languages, striking them, taping their mouths shut, and isolating individual offenders. Such mistreatment remains a vividly traumatic memory for many middle-aged Inupiaq people today. Not only did these attacks on their language strike at the foundations of the children’s identity, but the forms the punishment took were violently at odds with accepted behavior in their culture. At the same time, school and government personnel told parents to speak English to the children at home, and fearful that their children would suffer punishment, the parents tried, even though many of them spoke very little English themselves.

Another factor which has affected the viability of the Inupiaq language is boarding schools to which many children were sent, especially during their teen years. Since village high schools did not exist until recently, children were often sent out of state to Bureau of Indian Affairs high schools and later to BIA schools in Alaska, located at White Mountain, Eklutna, and later Mt. Edgecumbe in Sitka. This policy no doubt furthered the students’ formal education but removed them from their home environment during the crucial years when they would traditionally become mature members of their own society, perfecting the language skills they had learned as children. Many young people barely spoke their native language while they were away from home, so that they got into the habit of conversing mostly in English and remained with language skills which would traditionally have been appropriate only to children, since in all languages child speech matures naturally as the speaker nears adulthood. Boarding schools must be considered an additional force of acculturation on the generation that attended them.

Leona Okakok of Barrow, in a presentation to the Bilingual Special Education Institute held in Fairbanks in August, 1983, spoke about the effect that boarding schools have had on the passing on of traditional skills and knowledge: "One of the young ladies I knew at the University said that she went home one summer, after having been away at school for what seemed like forever. She had all of this education and brought it back home and was confronted with having to butcher her first seal, and she didn’t know one thing to do. She said, ‘What did I go to school for? I’ve come home and I don’t know how to do a very elementary thing which young ladies know, how to prepare an animal for consumption.’"

Leona went on to discuss the role that parents must assume: "There has to be a realization that parents are involved in the education of their children. This is something which had been lost, because once the children were taken out of the village to boarding schools, this act in itself said, ‘O.K. We’re taking over the education of the children. You don't have to worry about it.’ And they are taught the Western culture and brought back, and anything the parents try to teach the kids—if it clashes in any way with what is being taught in the Western school—they were told ‘Don’t.’ We have to teach them this way. The parents were not a part of the teaching of the child for so many years. Me too. I have to push myself to get back into the education of my own children."

It was the intent of the educational system to convince Native people that English was superior to their own languages as a means of communication. Few Alaskans would dispute the usefulness of English to those living here, and nearly everyone would agree that English should be taught in the schools. Early educators, however, presented English not is a practical skill but as a moral necessity, thoughtless of the effect that this would have on the local cultures and the self-respect of their people. This effect was indeed profound. As the school and other mainstream institutions have taken over the roles that traditionally belonged to the family and community, traditional activities and customs yielded to foreign ones. Thus children have come to know less and less about the culture of their ancestors.

The introduced educational system has imparted not only facts and skills but also cultural values. This has often created conflict and unease in the very people who were supposed to be helped. The implication that introduced customs, beliefs, and language are superior to indigenous ones has been very disruptive for people who grew up with their own set of beliefs. It is complex enough to learn two sets of attitudes and traditions simultaneously without the added burden of prejudice and cultural dominance.

When a dominant culture is in contact with a minority culture, the minority may come to accept, to some extent, the majority’s view of them. This is directly relevant to the change in the status of Inupiaq language in Alaska. It is oversimplifying to say that parents followed orders and stopped speaking Inupiaq to their children. Rather, parents probably responded to the devaluation of their culture by outside institutions. Bombarded with negative attitudes, many people no longer felt proud to pass on their language and traditions.

Knowing something of this history is essential to understanding the present linguistic situation. A new teacher in a village will do well to understand some of the mistakes of the recent past, since they have shaped many of the attitudes and practices he or she will encounter. It is to be hoped that such an understanding will prevent continuation and repetition of those mistakes.

To understand fully the language situation in Alaska today, we must consider the current status of Inupiaq and its relationship to other dialects of Inuit. To begin with, anyone who visits an Inupiaq area will observe that the native language is spoken mostly by adults. There are in fact few children and teenagers anywhere in Alaska who can speak fluent Inupiaq. At Wainwright, south of Barrow, there are small children who speak it, and in the villages of the upper Kobuk River some high-school-age children still converse in it. When we discuss the survival of a language, we must consider the age of the youngest speakers of the language. If the youngest generation does not speak a language, this indicates that the language is not being passed on in the way it has traditionally been during its entire past history, as all languages are passed on from parent to child, assuring the continuity of language.

The process of language shift occurs when there is discontinuity, when the child has a first language different from that of his parents. Most Alaskan Inupiaq children have English as their first language, even though their parents have Inupiaq as their own first language. The consequences of language shift vary with the situation. Among immigrants to the United States, for example, most grandchildren of immigrants learned to speak English better than the language of the "old country" (which they may not have learned at all), but this shift affected only the immigrant groups and not their ancestral language overall. That is, even if many or most Greek-Americans do not speak Greek, that language continues to be used in Greece as it has been for centuries. The kind of language shift occurring among Inupiaqs functions similarly to that found among immigrants, but its effect is totally different. If a language does not continue to be used in its homeland, the shift could result in the death of the language. If an entire population—not merely emigrants or particular segments of society—abandon their language, the language is not renewed by being passed on and will eventually have no speakers.

A language with few or no children who speak it is called a moribund language, and if this situation is not changed, it will be a dead language, one with no native speakers. When a language dies, extensive written records of it may remain (as with Latin), or else nothing may remain. Writing and modern devices like tape-recording and video recording serve to document a language but they cannot maintain it as a creative medium. In Alaska, one language that has been recorded is already dead; this is Eyak, an Indian language of Prince William Sound, of which only two partial speakers remain, living in different towns, so that the language is no longer used.

Language death is a tragic situation. People whose language is being lost may feel this loss very strongly. The last speakers of a language experience great loneliness, without people to communicate with in their native language and lamenting the end of a long cultural tradition. Members of an ethnic group who have not learned the old language often feel deprived of their cultural tradition and feel alienated from their ancestral community. People outside the group who appreciate its culture regret the loss, for the loss of a language means the loss of a unique cultural treasure in the world, which thereby takes another step toward "monoculture," the prevalence of one dominant language and culture where once there were many.

If few or no children in Alaska speak Inupiaq, then almost no one is learning it as his native language and the future of the language is at best uncertain. If it is any consolation, Inupiaq’s neighboring Eskimo languages remain quite strong. Central Yupik is still spoken by many people of all age groups. Siberian Yupik on St. Lawrence Island is still spoken by virtually the entire native population of the island. Inuit dialects related to Alaskan Inupiaq are found to the east in Canada and Greenland. In Canada, most Inuit villages—with notable exceptions in Labrador and the Mackenzie River delta near the Alaskan border—maintain Inuit as their principal language. All Greenlanders speak their form of Inuit, Greenlandic. In recent years, communication worldwide among Eskimo groups has increased, especially through the biannual Inuit Circumpolar Conference, and trends are developing which cut across the international borders which divide Eskimos. If these trends include an emphasis on maintaining the languages, Alaskan Inupiaq may benefit from the influence of Inuit groups whose language remains strong.


The sounds of Inupiaq are not very different from those of English, when one compares a wide range of the world’s languages, but there are some significant differences. Inupiaq has only three basic vowels, a, i, and u; they are pronounced as so-called pure vowels, with a like the u in English nut, i like the ee in sleep, and u like the u in rule. These are short vowels; they have corresponding long vowels, aa, ii, and uu. In Inupiaq, long and short vowels must be distinguished in speech and writing because they can make a difference in the meanings of words. For example, suvat means "what are they doing?" but suutvat means "what are they?" Short vowels may also be joined, producing the diphthongs ai, ia, au, iu, and ui.

Inupiaq consonants differ from English consonants in some important ways. For example, in Inupiaq there is no b, d, or g (in linguistic terms, all stops are voiceless). As a result, many Inupiaqs have difficulty making the distinctions between b and p, d and t, and k and g in English, so that a pair of words like ‘pill’ and ‘bill’ may sound the same. On the other hand, Inupiaq has a number of consonant sounds not found in English, making it difficult for English speakers to say Inupiaq words correctly. You are sure to encounter the letter q, which represents a sound much like k but pronounced farther back in the throat. English speakers usually have trouble at first distinguishing k and q. The Inupiaq sound written g is pronounced like a French or German r; the Inupiaq sound written simply as g is not a stop (like English g) but a fricative, and may seem to be between g and y to English speakers. There are other Inupiaq sounds different from anything in English, but it is difficult to discuss them in a work of this nature.

Speakers of Inupiaq English have few real pronunciation difficulties, other than that mentioned above. There is certainly an Inupiaq "accent," which depends not only on the pronunciation of sounds but also on intonational qualities. This accent, however, probably does not interfere with other English speakers’ understanding of Inupiaq English any more than any other American regional accent does.

The grammatical differences between Inupiaq and English are numerous and very important to anyone working with speakers of both languages. I will only point out here some very general differences; a full course in the language would be necessary to make adequate comparisons.

Inupiaq words are often very long compared to English words, because Inupiaq words are composed of a word stem followed by a number of suffixes and an inflectional (grammatical) ending. An entire English sentence may be translated by a single Inupiaq verb, because Inupiaq suffixes express the same things English expresses by pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs. For example, umiaqpaqaqtut means ‘they have a big boat’; umiaq means ‘boat,’ pa (from qpak) means ‘big,’ qaq means ‘have,’ and tut means ‘they.’

It is impossible to give a complete picture of Inupiaq grammar in this brief work, but it will be helpful to anyone working with Inupiaq children to learn a few basic facts about the Inupiaq language and about how languages influence each other. Although few Inupiaq children in Alaska speak anything but English, many hear a great deal of Inupiaq in their daily lives. They may know some Inupiaq words and use them in English conversation, and their English pronunciation may be influenced by the sounds of Inupiaq.

Wherever languages are in contact, either or both of the languages may change over time. The most common kind of influence is in terms of accent or pronunciation. Words from one language may also pass into use in the other. We have already mentioned the borrowing of Russian words for trade goods into Inupiaq; there has been a great deal of such borrowing from English too, of course, so that English words are also used in Inupiaq. Similarly, English has adopted a few Eskimo words, such as "anorak," "igloo," and "kayak," objects English speakers first encountered in Eskimo territory.

Of greatest interest to us here is the influence of Inupiaq on English. So-called "Village English" or "Bush English" is common not only among people who also speak Inupiaq, but also among the younger generations who speak only English. Village teachers have often asked for help in understanding and dealing with the different variety of English their students speak.

There are several varieties of English spoken in Alaska, but the type we will speak of here is that which is influenced by Inupiaq in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Like the English spoken by some immigrant communities such as Mexican-Americans or Chinese-Americans, it is a type of "non-standard English," that is, it is in some ways unlike the English taught in schools and used in the national media. Nonstandard English is not, however, limited to bilingual communities; American English also has many regional dialects and informal varieties of speech which are not taught in the schools.

The descriptions I give here of Inupiaq-influenced English apply mostly to those whose first language is English, but some also apply to those for whom English is a second language. Generally, though, the two groups require separate treatment.

Inupiaq-influenced English may have any number of grammatical differences from standard English, and the exact number and nature of these differences vary among individual speakers. I will mention a few common features of the English of northwestern Alaska which I have observed, but this list is by no means exhaustive.

1. Speakers often omit the third person singular marker -s from verbs, for example saying ‘he eat’ for ‘he eats.’

2. Inupiaq has no gender distinctions in its pronouns. English distinguishes among males, females, and non-humans by using the gender pronouns ‘he, him,’ ‘she, her,’ and ‘it,’ but Inupiaq makes no such distinction. The same Inupiaq word means ‘he is eating,’ ‘she is eating,’ or ‘it is eating,’ depending on the context in which it occurs. If it is desirable to emphasize gender, nouns like ‘man’ or ‘woman’ may be used. Because of this difference, an Inupiaq speaker may use the wrong pronoun when speaking English, saying, for example, ‘Mary got his coat’ for ‘Mary got her (own) coat.’

3. Speakers tend to form questions using only intonation to mark the question, rather than inverting the order of subject and verb, e.g. ‘You want some soup?’ rather than ‘Do you want some soup?’

4. Prepositions tend to be used differently from standard English. For example, you may hear ‘He went movie’ for ‘He went to a movie.’ Locations and directions are especially affected, for example, ‘at us’ for ‘at our house’ or ‘on the way’ for ‘in the way.’

5. The auxiliary verb let is used to express causation, permission, or obligation, which standard English uses different auxiliary verbs to express; for example, ‘My mother let me sweep the floor’ for ‘My mother made me sweep the floor.’

6. Plural forms may be used instead of singular or collective forms for certain nouns, e.g. ‘sleds’ for ‘(one) sled.’

7. Quantifiers may be different, e.g. ‘any many’ for ‘any number of'’ and ‘any much’ for ‘any amount of.’

8. Verb tenses are expressed differently. The simple present tense is modified by always to distinguish it from the past tense, which may in turn be modified by already or some other adverb indicating past time; for example, "he always eat dinner early" for "he eats dinner early," but "he eat already" or "he eat yesterday" for "he ate." The definite or distant past may be a form like "he was go" or "he been go." The modifier never may replace the standard not, as in "he never eat yet" for "he hasn’t eaten yet."

[insert map of Native Languages of Alaska—somewhere?]

The question of how a teacher should approach this variety of English is a complicated one. This variety of language tends to be very well established as the language of younger generations in Inupiaq villages. This is in part a legacy of educational policies that urged parents to speak English to their children. Since many of those parents spoke English with difficulty and with strong influences from their native Inupiaq, the language the children learned was a nonstandard variety. It seems likely that had parents spoken Inupiaq to their children and left the teaching of English to schools, the children would have learned both Inupiaq and a more standard variety of English. This is what has happened in much of southwestern Alaska, where children speak Yupik at home and English only at school, so that they are bilingual.

It is the school’s goal to teach standard English, realizing its importance for people in American society who wish to hold a job where language skills are necessary. The English used in commerce, education, and government is required by our society to be fairly standard, not in the accent a person has when speaking, but in the grammatical constructions he or she uses in both speaking and writing.

The reasons for learning standard English are largely practical. It is useful and may help one to achieve educational and career goals. Because of the social value placed on speaking standard English, many—or even most—Americans grow up thinking that nonstandard English "sounds bad." This attitude may cause them to look down on speakers of nonstandard English; it may even influence the classroom demeanor of a teacher.

It is very important not to convey the impression that the local variety of English is an inferior way of speaking, since it may be the first language of most of your class. The goal of the school should not be to root out or "correct" local English, but rather to teach standard English and enable people to use it at appropriate times. It is very common in this country that people’s home language is different from the language they use at school or work. Almost everyone can "switch" his or her speech according to context, adopting a more or less formal manner of speaking depending on the situation. For example, many of my Inupiaq students at the University speak more formal English in the classroom than they do at home or when talking among themselves.

Some teachers report success in explaining to their classes that they are learning a form of English at school which is different from what they speak at home, the school’s language, of course, being standard English. The children can be taught to distinguish between the two and to use standard forms in school. Nonstandard forms are not criticized; instead, equivalent standard forms are presented as alternatives acceptable in the formal context. Children are not made to feel bad for using nonstandard forms, but each type of English is given its place. In the past, teachers have traditionally responded to nonstandard varieties of English in ways which create bad feelings among people about their own language and thus about themselves. Remember that standard English is a useful, practical tool which will benefit students in their education and careers. It is not to be taken as a moral imperative or a mark of superiority, even though many people in the society at large often view it that way.


There are two languages of importance to an Alaskan rural school, English and the native language of the area. All schools, obviously, teach English, and we have discussed above the need to understand the English-language situation in villages and to teach standard English as an alternative, but not invariably superior, form of language. Many schools in Inupiaq villages teach Inupiaq as well. All or nearly all state schools in Regional Educational Attendance Areas (REAAs) have some sort of bilingual or bicultural education program.

The term "bilingual education" is used a great deal in Alaska to describe the introduction of Native culture and language into the school curriculum. Instruction in schools becomes bilingual only when both languages, English and Inupiaq, are used as media of instruction; that is, when students can go beyond the study of the language to use it in learning concepts and skills.

Where children come to school speaking English, as is the case in most Inupiaq areas, schools teach aspects of Native culture in the classroom, often including instruction in the Native language. Bicultural programs may touch on many instructional areas. Often children are taught handicrafts and the use of traditional tools. Traditional stories, which fulfilled all the same functions in Native society that literature does in European culture, may be taught. Students may learn the history of their region and people, including aspects of the traditional life style that may no longer be practiced. In addition, school programs may teach Inupiaq as a second language to children whose first language is English.

The task of teaching Inupiaq as a second language is difficult and challenging. Most of us can think back on our experiences with foreign language courses in high school and college and realize how much work goes into both learning and teaching a second language. Learning one’s first language is a natural process; parents teach children merely by speaking to them and without any training in instructional techniques. Learning a second language requires a very different kind of effort from both teacher and learner. By the age of eleven or twelve, people no longer learn language in the same way they did as young children; in most cases, someone who learned a language as a teen-ager or adult will never reach the same level of ability as a native speaker of that language, but will always retain at least a slight accent or grammatical awkwardness in it.

The teaching of Inupiaq in village schools poses all the difficulties encountered in any second-language teaching program, together with some special ones created by the newness of Inupiaq as a school subject, First, although the eventual goal of second-language instruction is to give the student working command of the spoken and written language, it is difficult to achieve this without long hours of exposure to the language, or a so-called "total immersion" program. The few hours a week devoted to a second language, be it Inupiaq in a village school or German in a city high school, often serve to impart only a basic familiarity with the sounds of the language, a little basic vocabulary, and a few grammatical structures.

For commonly taught languages like French and Spanish there are a great number of resources available to teachers—textbooks, tapes, readers, and detailed courses of study. In addition, many university programs are available to train teachers of the commonly taught languages, so there are plenty of teachers available to schools. Inupiaq language teaching, however, has begun quite recently, and the materials for teaching it are still rather limited. The demand for them, however, is relatively restricted. The problem is accentuated by dialect differences in the language which make it difficult and in some cases impossible for speakers of one dialect to use materials from another. The majority of Inupiaq language materials are in the Barrow dialect which makes them quite useful to the entire North Slope and of some use to the malimiut dialect as well, but of little use to the Seward Peninsula dialects. Besides the linguistically legitimate need to develop materials for dialect areas with pronounced differences, speakers of one dialect may have a strong allegiance to their variety of the language which makes them unwilling to use materials in another dialect even when differences are not so pronounced. In some cases, where the difference between dialects is approximately equivalent to that between American and British English, materials could be shared readily were teachers not unwilling to do so because of local pride in their own variety of the language. This kind of attitude helps to maintain the diversity of the language but does not help in developing a large, generally useful and accepted body of teaching materials. (One must remember that while the writing system of English obscures or ignores many regional dialect features, the more phonetically exact writing system of Inupiaq does not.)

The advent of bilingual and bicultural education is related to the importance that was given to the issue of relevancy in education during the early 1970's. The question was raised as to whether schools should continue providing a fairly standardized curriculum or one which reflected the culture and possible special needs of the particular group being taught. While each side has had its proponents and its detractors, the resulting compromise of a mixed curriculum as found in many Alaskan schools has proved satisfactory to most educators. Some of the traditional knowledge important in Eskimo culture has been brought into the classroom by the bilingual-bicultural teacher. The goal of this teaching is to impart knowledge traditionally considered important in Eskimo culture as well as to give children respect for their own traditions by representing them as a thing of value to be taught in school. Similarly, the Inupiaq teacher serves as a role model for Inupiaq pupils, showing them that their own people can be figures of authority and respect in the school.

Another major issue in Inupiaq language teaching is teacher training. The typical foreign language teacher receives his or her training during several years of full-time study at a college or university. It has usually been impractical to train Inupiaq teachers in this way, since many are older or middle-aged people who cannot leave their homes for a long period. Most of their training has been given in short, intensive workshop sessions, of which many are needed to equal a bachelor’s degree. In most districts, Inupiaq teachers remain at their jobs for some years, although teacher turnover in some schools creates occasional discontinuity in the bicultural program, necessitating training of a new and generally inexperienced person. Experience counts tremendously in teaching, and turnover works against developing a staff of skilled, well-trained teachers.

Despite the difficulties faced in rural Inupiaq programs, it is important to realize that there are some remarkably effective teachers who work well with their scarce materials and brief training. Many older, experienced teachers use existing materials to the fullest and often design their own to supplement them. Some teachers are enrolled in degree programs, foremost of which is the University of Alaska’s Cross-Cultural Educational Development Program (X-CED) which, while not designed to produce second-language teachers, does offer training in bilingual-bicultural education. There is, too, much natural teaching ability, especially among older people who grew up within the traditional Inupiaq educational system, being trained by their elders. Many people who were raised this way understand how to teach as they were taught and do an excellent job of instructing others, especially in practical skills.

Traditional forms of education

Every culture has some way of passing on to its younger members all the kinds of information they need to become functioning adults in that society. This is called "education." In modern American culture, education is largely formal and takes place in institutions at specific times and places. We should not assume that because our form of education is formal, it is superior (or inferior-) to any other. It is merely different.

Traditional Alaskan Native education is far less institutionalized and formal. It is also less direct and explicit, but this is not to say it is less effective. Life in the Arctic is very difficult. In older times especially, knowledge of skills related to subsistence was crucial for survival and these skills were taught in a coherently planned way. Motivated by necessity, children learned to become as skillful at hunting and surviving as their parents.

We cannot give a complete account of how each kind of cultural knowledge was passed on, nor do we want to urge the use of traditional educational methods in schools. We will simply present the basic principles of traditional education in the hope that readers can thus better understand community attitudes toward education and determine if and how the school program can benefit from the way students learn at home.

Inupiaqs have a rich tradition of storytelling. Oral narratives in their culture fulfilled all the functions written literature does in ours, and one of these functions, of course, is education of the young. Some types of Inupiaq stories are personal narratives, historical traditions, and mythological stories.

One of the primary functions of personal narratives is to educate the young. Rather than being an excuse to boast about personal achievements, these narratives often recount mistakes the narrator has made. The implied moral of these stories is that young people should not make the same mistakes.

This does not mean that all personal narratives deal with blunders. Many are the stories of very skilled and resourceful people. Narrators tell of successes and subtly emphasize the hard work and positive cultural values that contributed to them. Some narratives describe in detail practical ways of coping with challenges; for example, successful hunters may recount the techniques they used on a hunt.

Leona Okakok, in a presentation on Inupiaq culture to the Bilingual Special Education Institute held in Fairbanks in August of 1983, gave an interesting description of traditional education: "Traditional Inupiaq education was highly individualized as it had to be. The parents were the primary teachers; they were responsible for the education of the child. Because the parents were both the loving nurturers and the teachers, they were the authority figures. From the time a child is born in our culture, the nurturing begins. From the naming of the child, the nurturing of a productive member of society begins, because the training involves getting someone whose abilities you hope to pass on to that child, because it is named after someone that you respect. And then as the child grows with our own traditional Inupiaq education, his own proclivities, his own inclinations, are nurtured and encouraged and used as a deciding factor in what to nurture that child into, what that child will grow up as, even taken as signs of what that child is going to grow up to be. This type of nurturing of the child’s own inclinations is what I think assured us of a productive member of society. The educational system which used individualized learning, the family learning that we had to do in our own culture, saw the incentive as right there within the child himself; all that is needed is guidance with no pushing or prodding toward something which the child doesn’t want to do anyway."

A note on Inupiaq culture

A newcomer to an Inupiaq village may notice some of the language phenomena discussed above, such as the influence of the Inupiaq language on local English. More subtle, and yet equally real, are cultural differences which set Eskimo village life apart from that of mainstream America. ‘Culture’ refers to the behavioral patterns of a society, the body of customs, beliefs, attitudes, and practices which characterize a social group. Someone who is not Inupiaq will certainly notice that traditional Inupiaqs do many things differently from what he is used to. A large variety of cultural differences is present which affect nearly all domains of life. While it is true that many traditional practices are no longer found, especially those pertaining to the old religion and kinship system, much traditional culture, nevertheless, endures to the present, and an understanding of it is important to anyone dealing with Inupiaqs, especially in a village. Awareness of cultural differences allows one to deal effectively and respectfully with people of another ethnic group. It can be particularly valuable for schoolteachers to learn some basic aspects of Inupiaq culture, so that they can correctly interpret the behavior of their pupils and of village people, and in order to conduct themselves in accordance with community standards and expectations.

Since the subject of Eskimo culture is too broad and complex to treat effectively in a work of this nature, I recommend reading works written on the subject, with the following caution: much of the anthropological literature on Eskimos describes traditional life as it was a century or more ago. As in our own society, change has been rapid in recent decades and much of what was observed in the past is today only history. It is valuable nevertheless to familiarize oneself with history, since it shapes the present, but it is important to understand that much of it is no longer applicable. And yet much of it is, since some parts of Inupiaq culture have changed little. In any case a familiarity with the subject will allow the sensitive observer to gain an awareness of the people he is living among.

In her presentation organized by the State Department of Education mentioned earlier, Leona 0kakok of Barrow was articulate in her expression of some of the cultural differences between Inupiaq children and schoolteachers which she remembers from her own childhood. She said:

"One problem with communication in the classroom was that we did not realize that nonverbal communication was not understood by the teacher. She would ask us a question requiring a yes-or-no answer, and we raised our eyebrows, and to us we had already answered. But she wants to hear it. To us we’re repeating, and to her we just said it once, you know, ‘yes.’ . . . most of us were still shy at that time and very hesitant to speak anyway, it was hard. We had to find out that verbal communication was what was understood by the teacher and we gradually learned to use that more and more, and kind of phase out the nonverbal, because we knew we were going to keep getting asked over and over, the same thing, although we keep answering ‘yes’ all the time. I’m sure some of those teachers must have felt very uncomfortable coming into a classroom with all these kids who were kind of hesitant to talk, especially some of those teachers who were from a very gregarious, constantly speaking type of society, to be confronted with a whole classroom full of kids who would not say a word. But we learned that she wanted verbal answers and we would give her verbal answers."

"Another problem that came up was that in our society, when we are asked something, we are never the first ones to answer. We are taught to think something through and be reasonably sure of the answer before we can say something, especially to an authority figure. And in the classroom, we were taught to raise our hands first, the very first thing when a question was voiced was to raise our hands and get an answer. And this was real hard for some of those teachers to get used to, because there were kids who would never raise their hands. There were a couple of people who would [raise their hands] and the vocal ones were the ones with whom the teacher talked, because the others of us just would not talk. Although we were absorbing a lot of information, we just weren’t coining out with it right away."

Teachers coming to a village will notice significant differences between life in rural Alaska and the life they have been used to, differences that require changes in habits and behavior on their part. Many times the material changes, like getting wood and water and keeping warm, are easier to deal with than the equally necessary changes in patterns of social behavior and teaching methods.

For example, a teacher may be puzzled or annoyed on occasions when most of the students seem tired and uninterested. He may become angry and strict. This approach might be appropriate in a larger community, but in a rural village the students’ collective behavior may be the result not of a peer conspiracy but of some activity going on in the entire community. During a winter carnival or other celebration, the whole village participates. Children get very little sleep and may come to school exhausted. A teacher who has not alienated himself from the community will be sensitive to such events and not schedule difficult material on these days.

In general teachers should keep in mind the principle that the school is a part of the community. A school can teach its students how to function in mainstream American society without forcing them to renounce their own community. Such force need not be overt and conscious; it may be exerted by a teacher who stresses the importance of "getting out of the village," implying that the only life the students love is a dead end and that the parents and relatives they love and respect are somehow failures. It takes little imagination to understand how attitudes like this can lower a child’s self-respect, confidence, and interest.


In writing this pamphlet, I hope to have provided information about the Inupiaq language and its situation in Alaska, especially in relation to English. The Inupiaq people and their language have experienced profound changes over the past century, and the change continues, affecting all areas of village life, including education. I hope that teachers will benefit from the information and observations I have set forth, by increasing their awareness of the current language situation in Inupiaq Alaska and thereby becoming better able to understand and cope with the particular situation in their community. Some questions, such as those concerning future developments on the linguistic scene, remain open-ended and can only be surmised based on experience in other cases. Other questions, like those pertaining to culturally-based behavior, are open to interpretation and discussion, with the result that they may cause even experienced observers to disagree. I hope, however, that I have been able to provide some illumination of the sorts of language questions which commonly arise and to provoke thought about them so that teachers may use creativity to seek their own answers.


The phonetics (sound system) of Inupiaq is quite different from English, but the writing systems use the same Roman alphabet. Many letters represent the same sounds in Inupiaq as in English, but some do not.

Eskimo vowels can be short or long: a (ah), i (ee), and u (oo) are short vowels, each has an equivalent long vowel: aa, ii, and uu.

Diphthongs are pairs of short vowels and their pronunciation may vary with dialect:

ai (pronounced like the vowel in either ‘lie’ or ‘lay’)

au (pronounced like the vowel in either ‘cow’ or ‘sew’)

ia (sounds like ee-ah)

iu (ee-oo)

ua (oo-ah)

ui (oo-ee)

Of the consonants, many like p and t are very close to their English counterparts. Sounds which are written differently from English or which are unfamiliar to speakers of English are given below.

Please note: Six of the following characters require that the InupiaQ font be installed on your computer to appear correctly. Please go to the font download page to get this free font then use your browser's "Back" button to return to this page.

q (an uvular stop, like k but pronounced back in the throat; no English equivalent)

b (a "back" g, like French or German r)

j (voiceless 1, no English equivalent)

x (like ly, close to lli in English "million")

o (voiceless l with an added y sound)

e (like ny, the same as in Spanish ‘mañana’)

f (like ng in English ‘singer’)

sr (voiceless r, something like the shr in English ‘shrink’)

r (sounds like English r or like the z in ‘azure’)

kh (like the ch in German ‘ich’; no English equivalent) [x] below

qh (like the ch in German ‘ach’ or Scottish ‘loch’; no English equivalent) [x] below

Like vowels, Inupiaq consonants can be short or long. In Inupiaq, short consonants are written single and long consonants are written double (for example, p is short, pp is long). These doubled consonants are also called "geminated" consonants.

For a more thorough explanation of the Inupiaq writing system, refer to either the Kobuk lnupiaq Literacy Manual or the North Slope Inupiaq Literacy Manual, both by Lawrence D. Kaplan and available from the Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

The Consonant Grid.




Works on the Inupiaq Language

Inuit Studies. [periodical.] An academic journal devoted to articles on Inuit language and culture. Published by the Centre d’Etudes Inuits, Université Laval, Québec, Canada.

Kaplan, Lawrence. 1981. Kobuk Inupiaq Literacy Manual. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center. [In English; literacy and reading and writing drills for speakers of the language.]

Kaplan, Lawrence. 1981. North Slope Iñupiaq Literacy Manual. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center. [In English; literacy and reading and writing drills for speakers of the language.]

Krauss, Michael E. 1981. Alaska Native Languages: Past, Present, and Future. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center, Research Paper Number 4. [Includes a summary of the history, relationships, present status, and possible future of Alaskan Inupiaq, along with similar discussion of other Alaskan Eskimo and Indian languages.]

Krauss, Michael E. 1982. Native Peoples and Languages of Alaska. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center. Full-color wall map.

MacLean, Edna Ahgeak. 1981. Iñupiallu Tanyillu Uqaluyisa Ilayich: abridged inupiaq and English Dictionary. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center. [Brief dictionary, Inupiaq-to-English and English-to-Inupiaq, designed for use by students and the general reader; Barrow dialect.]

Sun, Susan et al. 1979. Kayiqsisautit UqayusraŸ nikun: Kobuk Iñupiat Junior Dictionary. Anchorage: National Bilingual Materials Development Center. [English-to-Inupiaq, with examples; written for classroom use.]

Webster, Donald and Wilfried Zibell. 1970. Inupiat Eskimo Dictionary. Fairbanks: Summer Institute of Linguistics. [Outdated orthography but contains much of interest to the student of the language; Barrow and some Kobuk dialect.]

Works on Inupiaq Culture

Anderson, Douglas, Ray Bane, et al. 1977. Kuuvaymiut Subsistence. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. [Modern culture of the Kobuk Inupiaq, with emphasis on subsistence methods and resources.]

Brower, Charles. 1943. Fifty Years Below Zero. New York: Mead and Company. [Autobiography of life on the North Slope.]

Frankson, David and Dinah. 1981. Whaling: A Way of Life. Anchorage: National Bilingual Materials Development Center. [In Inupiaq and English, written for school use.]

Jenness, Diamond. 1959. People of the Twilight. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Nelson, Edward W. 1899. The Eskimo about Bering Strait. Bureau of American Ethnology Annual Report, Vol. 1, pp. 1-518. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. [Excellent early documentation of Seward Peninsula and Malimiut Inupiaq culture and technology.] Reprinted, 1983, Smithsonian Institution.

Nelson, Richard W. 1969. Hunters of the Northern Ice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [Modern North Slope culture and subsistence methods.]

Okakok, Leona S., editor. 1978. Puiguitkaat. Barrow: North Slope Borough Commission on History and Culture. [Transcripts of statements at a North Slope Borough Elders Conference, in Inupiaq with English translations, describing and discussing traditional ways.]

Oquilluk, William. 1973. People of Kauwerak. Anchorage: Alaska Methodist University Press. [Traditional history of the Seward Peninsula Inupiat.]

Ray, Dorothy Jean. 1975. The Eskimo of Bering Strait. Seattle: University of Washington Press. [A general historical and anthropological work.]

Spencer, Robert F. 1959. The North Alaskan Eskimos: A Study in Ecology and Society. Bulletin 171, Bureau of American Ethnology. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Inupiaq Stories

Cleveland, Robert, et al. 1981. Stories of the Black River People. Anchorage: National Bilingual Materials Development Center. [Traditional stories in Inupiaq and English.]

Sampson, Ruth Ramoth et al. 1979, 1980. Unipchaallu Uqaaqtuallu: Legends and Stories. 2 volumes. Anchorage: National Bilingual Materials Development Center. [Traditional stories from northwestern Alaska, in Inupiaq and English.]


Alaska Native Language Center, Talking Alaska series, including two 30-minute videotapes on Inupiaq



Northwest Arctic School District North Slope Borough School District
Box 51 Box 169
Kotzebue, AK 99752 Barrow, AK 99723-0169
(907) 442-3472 (907) 852-5311
Bering Strait School District Nome City Schools
Box 225 Box 131
Unalakleet, AK 99684 Nome, AK 99762
(907) 624-3611 (907) 443-2231
Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Anchorage School District
520 Fifth Ave. P.O. Box 196614
Fairbanks, AK 99701 Anchorage, AK 99519-6614
(907) 452-2000 (907) 333-3322



Alaska Association for Bilingual Education Alaska Native Language Center
2111 Ennis Cir. University of Alaska
Anchorage, AK 99515 Fairbanks, AK 99775-7680
(Publications, conferences) (Publications, instruction)
Alaska Pacific University Press AK State Advisory Council for Bilingual/Bicultural Education
Alaska Pacific University Kenai Peninsula Borough Schools
Anchorage, AK 99504 152 Park Ave.
(Publications) Soldotna, AK 99669
Alaska State Library Alaska State Museum
Pouch G Pouch FM
Juneau, AK 99811 Juneau, AK 99811
(Traveling media kits, publications, traveling photographic exhibits)
Center for Cross-Cultural Studies Institute of Alaska Native Arts
University of Alaska Fairbanks P. 0. Box 80583
Fairbanks, AK 99775-0900 Fairbanks, AK 99708
(Consultation, instruction) (Publications)
Oral History Project University of Alaska Museum
Rasmuson Library University of Alaska Fairbanks
University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks, AK 99775
Fairbanks, AK 99775 (Tours, publications, exhibits)
North Slope Borough Language Commission
P.O. Box 69
Barrow, AK 99723



State of Alaska

Bilingual Education Enrollments 1991-92

Language Number of Students, K-12
Yup’ik Eskimo 5,665
Inupiaq Eskimo 2,698
Spanish 809
Filipino 540
Korean 675
St. Lawrence Island (Siberian) Yupik 270
Russian 216
Koyukon Athabaskan 270
Swich’in (Kutchin) Athabaskan 230
Aleut 230
Other 1,886
          Total 13,489


*Student enrollments are derived from School District Reports provided by the Department of Education each school year. These figures are based on reports from 1991-92.

Bilingual/Bicultural Education Programs

State of Alaska, 1981-1982

Distribution of Students by School District





Speakers D,E


Inupiaq Eskimo
Northwest Arctic




North Slope Borough




Bering Strait




Nome City Schools











Iditarod Area



Alaska Gateway



Dillingham City




685 (22%)

2,516 (78%)


Yup’ik Eskimo
Lower Kuskokwim




Lower Yukon




Southwest Region








St. Mary’s Public




Dillingham City




Lake & Peninsula




Bering Strait








Iditarod Area









1,524 (39%)

2,399 (61%)


St. Lawrence Island (Siberian) Yupik
Bering Strait




Nome City Schools





110 (82%)

25 (18%)


Sugpiaq (Alutiiq)
Kenai Pen. Bor.




Lake & Peninsula



Kodiak Island Bor.




4 (3%)

119 (97%)



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