Adventures in font mishaps: Iñupiaq “dictionary”

Now that I’m back from my Alaska Native Language Center archives trip (more on that in an upcoming post – the first archive where I’ve ever seen a shampoo bottle in the stacks), I’ve got some catching up to do. First off, I want to post about the by now infamous Webster’s Online dictionaries (not to be confused with Merriam-Webster, the reputable guys). After Jangari’s posts (#1, #2 and #3) about the ridiculous Webster’s Online Dictionary by Philip M. Parker, I couldn’t help but look up what copyrighted Iñupiaq materials might have been lifted. Sure enough, Parker has an online Inupiatun dictionary, an Inupiatun-English thesaurus for purchase, etc. [1]

What’s especially funny in this case is that Parker didn’t bother with fonts, so his Iñupiaq dictionary contains a lot of letters that don’t really exist in the current Iñupiaq orthography (and in many cases not in the phoneme inventory at all). It’s pretty obvious that the material was copied from legitimate sources such as Alaskool’s Iñupiaq dictionary because of the special font Alaskool produced. Their pre-Unicode font involved remapping keys on a standard US English keyboard. The Iñupiaq letter ġ (IPA /ʁ/) was mapped to the English b key, for example. Parker, however, either didn’t manage to get his hands on the Iñupiaq font or it didn’t occur to him another font might be necessary – my money’s on the latter – so his dictionary is chock-full of errors. The word aġnaq ‘woman’, for example, appears as abnaq in his dictionary. The only possible way he could have arrived at grossly and systematically misspelled words like this is if he took them from an online source using the Iñupiaq font.

What I can’t figure out, though, is why one lone Inuktitut word appears in Parker’s Iñupiaq dictionary. He’s got ᑭᖑᐃᖓᒃ (/kiŋuiŋak/, but I’m quite sure Parker’s got that wrong, too) listed as the Iñupiaq word for ‘peace’ and that’s just bizarre. Regardless of whether you think Iñupiaq is a separate language or just Inuktitut with a different name, Iñupiaq doesn’t use the Inuktitut abugida and never has. How on earth did he link ᑭᖑᐃᖓᒃ to Iñupiaq? The Iñupiaq cognate is qiñuiññaq (qiñuiñaq in Alaskool’s; probably dialectal gemination variation), and while I can see the similarity, it would never be written in anything but modified Latin script. Then again, when you’re busy pumping out books every ten minutes, you don’t have time to check whether or not you’ve even got the basics of your topic correct.

[1] Iñupiatun being an alternate name for Iñupiaq; it’s simply the similative case of ‘Iñupiaq’.


10 thoughts on “Adventures in font mishaps: Iñupiaq “dictionary”

  1. James A. Crippen August 14, 2008 / 12:01 pm

    Is ñ /ŋ/ or /ɲ/? I always thought I heard people say /ɲ/ growing up, but now I’m not sure.

    I am relieved to find that Parker doesn’t have a Tlingit dictionary.

    Someone should really see about digitizing the ANLC archives. There’s so much there that isn’t accessible without a terrifically inconvenient trip to Fairbanks, which is definitely up there in the rankings for the worst city on Earth. I think Gary Holton is working on some sort of digital archive project, but it’s always hard to find money…

  2. tulugaq August 14, 2008 / 12:29 pm

    ñ is the palatal one, /ɲ/. I’m not sure I got the Inuktitut transliteration correct, but all the charts I have seem to show all uvular nasals in that word. (My guilty secret is that I can’t seem to remember the Inuktitut script, no matter how many times I’ve studied it, because I don’t end up using it. One of these days… anyway, my transliteration may be wrong.) I’m not placing any great confidence in the correctness of Parker’s data, though. I’m assuming that the actual Inuktitut work has uvular stops and palatal nasals, just like the Iñupiaq one, but it’s still odd that he included Inuktitut script in Iñupiaq lists at all.

    Yes, digitizing archival materials would be a fantastic boon for us! In my first year of grad school, I volunteered to digitize and help with other ANLC archive tasks as an unpaid intern, but no one was interested. Oh well, what can you do? Now they have a part-time archivist, Rose Speranza, helping out and it shows. Maybe once they get the physical materials more organized it’ll be easier to work on digitization.

    No Tlingit dictionary because there’s not one online for him to rip off, right? It’d serve him right if someone made up a completely fake language and posted a dictionary online just to see him steal it and then claim his source wasn’t the online version. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like he cares.

  3. jangari August 17, 2008 / 2:35 pm

    I meant to comment here a while back, but it never seemed to happen. Sorry about that.

    Interesting that Parker has used a non-standard name instead of the normal ‘Iñupiaq’. For his Wagiman materials, he used a spelling that hasn’t been used by anyone for years, except for Ethnologue, who continue to use ‘Wageman’. I see (I think) that Ethnologue similarly has ‘Iñupiatun’ as its spelling for ‘Iñupiaq’. Perhaps Parker is getting the data somehow, and looking up Ethnologue for an alternate name, so that it’s a little less transparent as to where the data came from.

    About the fonts, error checking and so on, this guy puts out books for less than ten cents per copy. He’s absolutely unconcerned whether or not his information is even close to being accurate. If one person buys a copy for fifteen bucks, then that book has immediately paid for itself 150 times over.

    Definitely go digital, but be prepared for a seriously expensive and time-consuming occupation. Take it from me, I’m a digital archivist in my spare time.

  4. David Marjanović August 19, 2008 / 11:46 am

    Inuktitut lacks the palatal nasal, but has the velar one.

  5. Claire August 20, 2008 / 12:28 pm

    Linda, it might be good idea to post this on Amazon’s reviews.

  6. tulugaq August 20, 2008 / 12:37 pm

    Good idea. I posted a review on Google books but forgot about Amazon. It’s a shame Amazon sells his tripe.

  7. mark (the ideophone) August 29, 2008 / 12:22 am

    Thanks to these warnings I will think twice before I put any Siwu materials online free for grabs.

    I’m curious to hear more details about the shampoo bottle!

  8. John Concilus September 4, 2008 / 12:16 pm


    Some of you may be interested in participating in our attempt to build an Open Content licensed, audible, visual and contextual Inupiaq dictionary.

    We have students, elders and teachers at numerous schools in our region along the coast and islands of the Bering and Chukchi Seas involved, and the link went live today.

    Each entry will have a page, a graphical representation using the font file created by Alaskool, and an MP3 file of an Inupiaq speaker saying the word, and using it in a sentence.

    This is a work in progress, and uses the same software and architecture Wikipedia. More importantly, because anyone inside or outside the school district can participate, we welcome feedback and participation from those interested in this language.

    The goal is to have students learn about their language and culture WHILE they help build a first-person, valuable and authentic resource for a new generation that contributes to the knowledgebase about this language.

    The BSSD curriculum site has around 10,000 pages of student, teacher and visitor created resources now, and we expect the Inupiaq Dictionary project to be an active undertaking. The District uses a Creative Commons license prohibiting commercial re-use of our materials, but encourages non-commercial or personal use of all files.


    JTC…in the Bering Sea

  9. tulugaq October 11, 2008 / 9:18 pm

    Thanks for letting us knows, John. That looks like a very promising project.

  10. LM March 17, 2009 / 12:12 pm

    Thanks so much for this blog. I’m an alaskan artist who paints stories of Alaska Natives, and I’m so glad you have this blog. Thanks for it so much. I would never want to misrepresent anything.

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