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TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic September 19, 2014 - 11:35 am

Taissumani, Sept. 19

What Does “–miut” Mean?

KENN HARPER

Everyone in the Arctic, whether they speak Inuktitut or not, has heard this suffix attached to a word, either in Inuktitut or English, and usually a place name. And most know that it means “the people of (that place.)

And so you hear that certain people are Iglulingmiut (the people of Igloolik.) People from Arctic Bay might be referred to as Ikpiarjungmiut (the people of Ikpiarjuk) or Arctic Bay-miut.

But let’s take a deeper look at the word.

The suffix “-miut” by itself means nothing. It can’t stand on its own, because it is a suffix, and a suffix must be attached to another word.

And so you can’t ask someone, “What community are you a ‘miut’ of?” that would be pure nonsense.

The suffix is plural – meaning “the people of.” So you may need to know the singular in order to talk about yourself, or a friend. That’s easy. It is “-miuq” or “-miutaq.”

So you — or your friend — could be an Iglulingmiutaq or an Iglulingmiuq, or an Ikpiarjungmiutaq or an Ikpiarjungmiuq, or even an Arctic Bay-miutaq or Arctic Bay-miuq.

But you need the longer form if you are going to put it in a complete sentence.

Like this:

“Namimiutauvit?” – Where do you come from? Or — What community are you a resident of? (In some places, this would be “Nanimiutauvit?”)

“Iglulingmiutaujunga” – I’m from Igloolik.

“Namimiutauva?” – Where is he from?

“Pangnirtuumiutauvuq” – He’s from Pangnirtung.

But what if you are from Iqaluit? This is where it gets a little more difficult. Iqaluit is a plural word – it means “fishes.”

But if you say “Iqaluitmiutaq” (singular) or “Iqaluitmiut” (plural), you will be wrong. Even if you know that Inuktitut sometimes drops or changes the final letter of a base word to make it flow better, and you therefore say “Iqaluimiutaq” or “Iqaluimiut,” you will still be wrong.

That’s because the base word, onto which you attach the suffix, has to be in the singular. Fortunately most place names are.

But, sorry, Iqaluit is plural. The singular form (meaning “a fish”) is Iqaluk. It’s not the name of the town — it’s a fish. But you need to know it, so that you can put the proper suffix on.

So the people of Iqaluit are Iqalungmiut (not Iqalukmiut – that would be awkward to pronounce, so notice how the “k” changes to “ng” to make it flow better.) And therefore:

“Namimiutauvit?” – Where are you from?

“Iqalungmiutauvunga” – I’m from Iqaluit.

That’s how the suffix “-miut” is generally used today, as an attachment to specific place names.

But it can be used in a broader sense as well. And so the people of Nunavut are Nunavummiut. The people of the Kivalliq are Kivallirmiut. We are all Canadamiut. As earthlings we are Silarjuarmiut. If there is a man in the moon, he would be a Taqqirmiutaq.

Historically, the suffix “-miut” was used somewhat differently, to describe regional groupings of people. We’ll look at that next week.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

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