The Inuktitut Word and English Sentences: A Comparison

We know that Inuttitut can have very long words.


‘At that time, pants were also made’

In many ways, they are very similar to English sentences.

BUT an Inuktitut long word usually has only one base or root element at the left edge of the word. Everything else (postbases, endings) to the right is fairly grammatical. By grammatical, we mean that it is more abstract, more difficult to define and is a member of a fixed set of elements.

A fixed set of elements means that we can’t make up new ones up or borrow them from others languages.

Bases, on the other hand, are rich in meaning. We can get more of an image in our mind’s eye when we hear the base Kimmik ‘dog’ than we get when we hear the postbase
-Katta- ‘usually, often’. Inuttitut speakers can borrow words from other languages and use them as bases – if they wish. One example is the base used in Labrador for dumpling topaik. There are many such examples, though Inuttitut does not borrow words as much as English does. Notice that Inuttitut has never borrowed a postbase.

So bases are essentially an expandable set of elements.

If you want to compare an English sentence and an Inuktitut word sentence, we might proceed as follows (the following is based on Compton and Pittman 2007).

‘I was going to try to board the horse.’                   English words: 9

iki ‘to board’ and hotsi ‘horse’ are both base elements so they cannot be in the same word – only one base per word. They must therefore be separate words.

[iki  ]   [ hotsi ]

-giattu- ‘go to do something’
-gasua- ‘try’
‘niaC- ‘going to’

These element naturally get added to the action base, giving…..

iki-giattu-gasua-niak-Kunga  hotsi-mut           Inuttitut words: 2

So an English sentence can have a number of bases within the sentence but an Inuttitut word sentence can only have one. If there are more bases in Inuttitut, there must be more words.


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