Words of the Inuit

A Semantic Stroll through a Northern Culture


Words of the Inuit is an important compendium of Inuit culture illustrated through Inuit words. It brings the sum of the author’s decades of experience and engagement with Inuit and Inuktitut to bear on what he fashions as an amiable, leisurely stroll through words and meanings.

Inuit words are often more complex than English words and frequently contain small units of meaning that add up to convey a larger sensibility. Dorais’ lexical and semantic analyses and reconstructions are not overly technical, yet they reliably evince connections and underlying significations that allow for an in-depth reflection on the richness of Inuit linguistic and cultural heritage and identity. An appendix on the polysynthetic character of Inuit languages includes more detailed grammatical description of interest to more specialist readers.

Organized thematically, the book tours the histories and meanings of the words to illuminate numerous aspects of Inuit culture, including environment and the land; animals and subsistence activities; humans and spirits; family, kinship, and naming; the human body; and socializing with other people in the contemporary world. It concludes with a reflection on the usefulness for modern Inuit—especially youth and others looking to strengthen their cultural identity—to know about the underlying meanings embedded in their language and culture.

With recent reports alerting us to the declining use of the Inuit language in the North, Words of the Inuit is a timely contribution to understanding one of the world’s most resilient Indigenous languages.


"Professor Dorais once again provides expert information and insight into the Inuit language and culture as only he can. This book is written so that academics, Inuit and the public can all learn more about the people who live in Canada’s most northern region. By examining the rich meanings contained within words of Inuktitut, Dorais details social nuances and core aspects of both traditional and modern Inuit culture.”

Alana Johns, Professor Emerita, Department of Linguistics, University of Toronto

About the Authors

Louis-Jacques Dorais is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology, Université Laval. Since the mid-sixties, a period of time when he became fluent in Inuktitut, he has travelled almost yearly to Inuit communities in Canada, Alaska and Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), in order to conduct research and teach Inuit linguistics to local students.

Lisa Koperqualuk is Curator and Mediator of Inuit Art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. She has worked with Inuit organizations and committees at the provincial, federal and national levels since becoming Vice President of International Affairs at the Inuit Circumpolar Council. A trilingual speaker and trained anthropologist, she has worked as an Inuktitut teacher at John Abbot College, an educational councillor for the Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, and as Director of Communications and Public Relations at the Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau-Québec.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Words from the Past, A Stroll Through Inuit Semantics

Ch. 1 Words for Speaking About the Environment and Land

Ch. 2 Words for Speaking About Animals and Subsistence Activities

Ch. 3 Words for Speaking About Humans and Animals

Ch. 4 Words for Speaking About Family, Kinship, and Naming

Ch. 5 Words for Speaking About the Human Body

Ch. 6 Words for Socializing in the Contemporary World

Conclusion: Words for the Future