The First Inuktitut Word List Part 2″

Taissumanni: 2007-08-24

By Kenn Harper

Last week I reproduced the list of seventeen Inuktitut words collected on Frobisher's first expedition to the Canadian Arctic in 1576. This week, I'll take a closer look at these words.

Let's consider first the words about which there can be no doubt as to meaning. The stems of these words, and in some cases the entire words, are easily recognizable as modern Inuit words. I will not dwell on the endings that have been appended. In some cases they are a second person singular adjectival ending, as one would expect if the sailor pointed to something of his and asked what it was, for example, your hands, your nose.

The easily recognizable words are:

Argoteyt, a hand = aggaak – hands
Cangnawe, a nose = qingak – nose
Keiotot, a tooth = kigutit – tooth
Chewat, an eare = siut – ear
Callagay, a paire of breeches = qarlik – pants, or qarligiik – pants
Attegay, a coate = atigi – inner parka
Coblone, a thumbe = kublu – thumb
Teckkere, the foremost finger = tikiq – index finger
Ketteckle, the middle finger = qitiq&iq – middle finger
Mekellacane, the fourth finger = mikiliraq – third finger

One of these may be ambiguous. Thalbitzer noted that cangnawe may be from either qingaq – nose, or qaniq – mouth. Indeed the sound seems more close to the word for mouth than to nose. One can imagine a situation in which the sailor was pointing to, rather than touching, the object and some confusion arose.

The words left to decipher are these:

Arered, an eye
Mutchater, the head
Comagaye, a legge
Atoniagay, a foote
Polleuetagay, a knife
Accaskay, a shippe
Yacketrone, the little finger

Four of these are relatively easy.

Mutchater, given in the list as "the head" is more readily intelligible when the initial consonant is changed to "n" and when the final consonant is changed to "t". The word can then be seen to be nutchatet. In modern Inuktitut, this word is nujatit – "your hair". The sailor interpreted this as being the word for "head" rather than "hair."

Thalbitzer in his analysis provides linguistic reasons why arered can be equated with isit – your eye – in today's language, ijiit.

Similarly he equates yacketrone with the Greenlandic eqerqune – on your little finger. In modern Inuktitut this would be iqiqqune, from the word for little finger – iqiqquq.

The word polleuetagay is from pilaut or pilauti, meaning a knife.

That leaves three:

Comagaye, a legge
Atoniagay, a foote
Accaskay, a shippe

Stefansson has suggested that comagaye is derived from kamik – boot. Dorais has further suggested kamegik – a pair of boots, which today would be kamigiik. One can imagine the sailor pointing to the lower leg, covered with a high boot, and assuming the word given to mean leg rather than boot.

Thalbitzer has also suggested that atoniagay is derived from a word he gives in Greenlandic spelling as atorniagai – the one he uses. Again, Stefansson has found this implausible and suggested that the word comes from atungaq – boot sole.

But Thalbitzer's explanation, slightly modified, makes more sense. Imagine that the sailor, rather than wearing the boot while eliciting the term, is, instead, holding it. Perhaps motioning to signify his intention to put it on, he asks his Inuit informant its name. The informant may have given him a word – aturniagait – meaning "that which you are going to use" or "that which you are going to put on."

This leaves one word: accaskay – a ship. Thalbitzer is silent on this word. Stefansson and Dorais each made suggestions, both implausible. Indeed Stefansson calls his own suggestion "mere speculation" and notes, "One might say almost anything while looking at a ship." The word remains a mystery.

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 [email protected].


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