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Inuit Sea Ice Terminology in Nunavut and Nunatsiavut

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SIKU: Knowing Our Ice


This chapter provides a linguistic perspective on recent research by anthropologists and human geographers about indigenous sea ice terms in Nunavut and Nunatsiavut (Labrador), providing a basic introduction to pertinent linguistic properties of Inuktitut and arguing that they shed further light on Inuit sea ice knowledge. A number of sea ice terms from the largely unknown Utkuhiksalingmiut dialect are provided.

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Many thanks to those who shared their Inuktitut sea ice lists with me. This includes Gita J. Laidler, Shari Gearheard, Claudio Aporta, and Paul Pigott. I especially thank my colleagues Jean Briggs and Conor Cook. This chapter would not exist without the work of all these researchers. I am also grateful to our editor Igor Krupnik for so much help, advice, and encouragement.

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Correspondence to Alana Johns .

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Appendix: A Sample Set of Utkuhiksalingmiutitut Ice Words

Appendix: A Sample Set of Utkuhiksalingmiutitut Ice Words

These words come from the database compiled by Jean Briggs. I have ordered them alphabetically, except that I have placed words beginning with h in the position of s, since they correspond to s words in other dialects (1) and I have placed words beginning with ř in the position of j since they correspond to j in other dialects (2) (From Briggs and Johns in progress).

aaqluqtittuq  a piece of ice that has been stuck to the shore, comes unstuck from the land under the water, separates from the land-bottom, and rises up at one end more than at the other. cf. aaqluqlutit raise your head/face up

ainniq a crack in sea ice, narrow in the fall but in the spring it is open, sometimes 1 to 2 ft wide; contains water and is dangerous. They widen as the ice deepens.

akluaq  a hole in the ice for fishing.

atuarut  (1) crack that runs between shorefast ice and ice that is not attached to the shore, parallel to the shore; (2) cracks that run as (approx.) right angles to (1), starting from a rock that is underwater but attached to the shore. These atuarutit are rich in fish, good places for fishing holes. They exist all winter and are not dangerous. It is a specific instance of a qu’niq or general word for crack.

iřitittuq  thin ice weighted down by snow or many fish piled beside fishing hole so that has sunk; and surface (if it’s by a fishing hole) has become water-covered. c.f. iřiqtut. They are hiding.

ikiqtiniq  the channel of water that is formed between shore and sea/lake/river ice after the ice has loosened and floated up from the bottom of the water in spring.

ikkalruq  a place in the sea where ice rests on top of an underwater “hill” (stays resting on the “hill”) when the surrounding water level has dropped. cf. ikkattuq it is shallow (water or sleep).

illaurat  plural. illauraq singular. Vertical ice needles that result from (or that constitute the ice surface, on both sea and lake, when) water has drained off in spring.

ipřuaqtittuq  the ice has gotten thick; said when the ice is about 2 ft thick. Exclamatory: ipřuaqtilla&ranguřaqquq The ice is really getting thick! c.f. ipřutaq thick (cloth, pile of papers, etc.)

ivulaaqtuq  distant roaring sound of river ice breaking up in the spring; can also be applied to any distant roaring noise, such as an airplane motor.

kaanniq  a place where ice has detached and risen up from the river or sea bottom, i.e., from the land under the ice.

kipuktitaqtut  plural. Many pieces of ice have run under/over each other from opposite directions to create layered ice. cf. kipuktut they pass, coming from opposite direction without seeing or taking note of each other (if they do see each other).

kuaha  ice with no snow on top (i.e., slippery).

kuřřiniq  a concavity/depression in sea ice in vicinity of a seal hole or crack. They can be wide, long, winding, and (after a time) as deep as 3 ft. Water stands in them and drains into the hole or crack.

maniillat  plural. Uneven ice, forced up and broken by pressure. cf. maniituq it (surface) is rough or uneven

nataaq  a thin underlayer of ice between two layers of water in river; from top down: ice – water – ice [nataaq] – water – river bottom

piqulajaq  iceberg.

puktaaq  a piece of flat drifting ice used as a raft; people can fish from it.

qaaptinniq  white ice that results when water bubbles up through ice (either through a crack or when a fishing hole is dug), and floods snow on top of ice, and the snow then freezes.

qaimnguq  New-forming ice at edge of river/lake; ice that forms on top of shore rocks and on shore, as a result of tides. This ice forms in early fall and is uneven and bumpy; it forms only on seashore and not in Chantrey (which lacks tides). It remains attached to shore in spring when the rest of the ice floats out to sea.

haaviliqtuq  the ice is moving away from the land (in spring) or has completed moving away from land. cf. haavittuq the (food – and/or other object) is put out in full view/central position.

hakliq  thin autumn ice. cf. hakliqtaq a thin piece of board (e.g., plywood); also a thin braid; plywood.

hiku  ice; glasses; watch face; lantern globe.

uiguaqtuq  Long thin strips of new, very thin ice form on the surface of water that is just beginning to freeze – so thin they look like calm water (when the water surface is wind-ruffled). cf. uiguřut several pieces (of something) have been laid end to end to lengthen something. The Netsilik equivalent to this word is qimiraqhiřuq.

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Johns, A. (2010). Inuit Sea Ice Terminology in Nunavut and Nunatsiavut. In: Krupnik, I., Aporta, C., Gearheard, S., Laidler, G., Kielsen Holm, L. (eds) SIKU: Knowing Our Ice. Springer, Dordrecht.

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