Nippivik wanes into Siqiñaatchiaq

November is almost to a close, and while editing my Iñupiaq database today, I ran into the word for November, Nippivik. It literally means ‘sunset time’. Soon it will be Siqiñaatchiaq [siqiɲaacːiaq] , or ‘no sunshine’ (December). In North Slope dialects it’s Siqiñġiḷaq [siqiɲʁiʎaq] instead; Siqiñaatchiaq is what I’m used to because my Iñupiaq consultant speaks a Malimiut dialect.

These may seem like strange terms for months or parts of the year, until you remember that the Iñupiat live above the Arctic Circle. So in November, the sun sets and won’t appear again for about three months (give or take a bit depending on where exactly your town or village is). As an Alaskan from south of the Arctic Circle, I can still testify that ‘no sunshine’ is quite aptǃ

English is bit boring in this respect, with the occasional shift from basic numbering – which isn’t even accurate in the modern calendar – to months named after historical figures (July, August). Modern Japanese has a basic numbering system, too (‘first month’, ‘second month’, etc.), but Old Japanese and Classical Japanese used different terms (they switched to the new names when the government adopted the solar calendar). 霜月 simotuki, for example, was ‘frost month’, November.

What other interesting month and/or season names are out there?

Iñupiaq map

Following the excellent suggestion over at Jabal al-Lughat, I’ve created a Google Earth map for Iñupiaq. It’s rudimentary, and I haven’t marked which villages and towns speak which dialect yet, but I think it’s useful anyway.

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(Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.)

Unfortunately, Google doesn’t have all the towns and villages necessary, and I don’t know their GPS coordinates. Missing from the map are Council, Mary’s Igloo, and Barter Island, AK (at the very least). The Google Earth file (in .kmz) is here for anyone interested. I’ll try to update and refine it when I get the time.

While Google may not have accurate info for all the towns and villages in rural Alaska (what we call The Bush), note that major roads and such aren’t missing from the map – they’re just not there at all. Most of Alaska is not connected by road or rail whatsoever. This means that contact between villages (and thus dialects) is still somewhat difficult, although modern telecommunications certainly make a big difference.

My consultant this past summer was from Noatak, near Kotzebue. She’d also lived in Kotzebue for many years as an adult. I also got to work with and learn from two speakers of North Slope Iñupiaq (from Barrow) and one from Point Hope.

EDIT: I’ve just gone through and changed the placemarkers for each village so that they reflect which dialect is spoken. In cases where more than one dialect is spoken in the same village, however, I couldn’t see a ready visual solution so I just marked with one of them. Also, I added Kaktovik, which ought to do nicely for Barter Island, as well as Anchorage and Fairbanks for reference.

Carrier phrases

Is there a general strategy for using carrier phrases when there are huge pauses between words in a language? I’m just curious, because I haven’t been able to find anything about this in phonetics or phonology sources. So I’m asking here in case one of the two people who ever see this blog can point me in the right direction.

It’s generally accepted that to control for various effects (especially focus), you should elicit lexical items within carrier phrases. However, from what I can tell, this advice usually assumes that there are relatively short pauses between words, as in English (and other European languages I’m familiar with). What if the language tends to have much longer pauses between words? Are there any negative effects when using carrier phrases?

I ask because my Iñupiaq consultants typically produced sentences with 5-7 seconds between words, especially in longer narratives. This got me a gentle scolding a few times when I thought they were finished speaking and they really weren’t!

On the one hand, I think as long as all the words being compared are in the same carrier phrase, it doesn’t matter how long the pauses are. On the other hand, I want to make sure that I’m not making assumptions that will have bad consequences for data analyses.

Native languages of Alaska

I just presented a poster on Iñupiaq phonetics at a conference, and while I can’t claim it’s anything other than mediocre and a work in progress, people’s questions really drove home one fact: people, whether linguists or not, really don’t know much about the language families of North America.

Let’s take a tour, shall we? Of the languages of Alaska, anyway.

(Picture from the Alaska Native Language Center.)

  • Eskimo-Aleut
    • Iñupiaq, Central Alaskan Yup’ik, Siberian Yupik, Alutiiq, Aleut
    • The Inuit subgrouping of the Eskimo branch continues through Canada all the way to Greenland.The Yupik subgrouping of Eskimo has members across the Bering Strait in Russia.
  • Na-Dene (Athabaskan)
    • Ahtna, Tanaina, Holikachuk, Deg Hit’an, Gwich’in, Koyukon, Tanana, Upper Tanacross, Lower Kuskokwim, Upper Kuskokwim, Upper Tanaina, and probably Tlingit and Eyak.
    • Also in Canada and the contiguous United States. The most famous member of this family is, of course, Navajo (hence the inset in the picture above).
  • isolates/unknown
    • The genetic grouping of Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and Eyak is hotly debated. These are all in Southeast (what we Alaskans call The Panhandle), including over the border with Canada.
    • A large camp of scholars believes that Tlingit and Eyak belong to a larger family including Athabaskan (they call it Tlingit-Eyak-Athabaskan for the time being), with Haida and Tsimshian each being isolates. See a diagram here. Others question the inclusion of Tlingit and/or Eyak in Na-Dene. As I am not versed in the historical linguistics of these languages, I really have no opinion one way or the other (yet!).

So you see, there are twenty indigenous languages comprising at least two language families. Alaska is a bit unusual compared to the rest of the continent, though, where there tend to be a lot more families scattered around. I imagine the terrain and climate have something to do with that.