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Eskimos or Esquimaux are indigenous peoples who have traditionally inhabited the circumpolar region from eastern Siberia (Russia), across Alaska (United States) and Canada, and Greenland.

There are two main groups that are referred to as Eskimo: Yupik and Inuit. A third group, the Aleut, is related. The Yupik language dialects and cultures in Alaska and eastern Siberia have evolved in place beginning with the original (pre-Dorset) Eskimo culture that developed in Alaska. Approximately 4,000 years ago the Unangam (also known as Aleut) culture became distinctly separate, and evolved into a non-Eskimo culture. Approximately 1,500-2,000 years ago, apparently in Northwestern Alaska, two other distinct variations appeared. The Inuit language branch became distinct and in only several hundred years spread across northern Alaska, Canada and into Greenland. At about the same time, the Thule Technology also developed in northwestern Alaska and very quickly spread over the entire area occupied by Eskimo people, though it was not necessarily adopted by all of them.

The earliest known Eskimo cultures were Pre-Dorset Technology, which appear to have been a fully developed Eskimo culture that dates to 5,000 years ago. They appear to have evolved in Alaska from people using the Archaic Small Tools Technology, who probably had migrated to Alaska from Siberia at least 2,000 to 3,000 years earlier; though they might have been in Alaska as far back as 10,000 to 12,000 years or more. There are similar artifacts found in Siberia going back to perhaps 18,000 years ago.

Today the two main groups of Eskimos are the Inuit of northern Alaska, Canada and Greenland, and the Yupik, comprising speakers of four distinct Yupik languages and originating in western Alaska, in South Central Alaska along the Gulf of Alaska coast, and in the Russian Far East.

In Alaska, the term Eskimo is commonly used, because it includes both Yupik and Inupiat, while Inuit is not accepted as a collective term or even specifically used for Inupiat. No universal replacement term for Eskimo, inclusive of all Inuit and Yupik people, is accepted across the geographical area inhabited by the Inuit and Yupik peoples.[1] In Canada and Greenland, the term Eskimo has fallen out of favour, as it is considered pejorative by the natives and has been replaced by the term Inuit. The Canadian Constitution Act of 1982, sections 25 and 35 recognized the Inuit as a distinctive group of Canadian aboriginals.[2]



The Eskimo-Aleut family of languages includes two cognate branches: the Aleut (Unangam) branch and the Eskimo branch. The Eskimo sub-family consists of the Inuit language and Yupik language sub-groups.[3] The Sirenikski language, which is virtually extinct, is sometimes regarded as a third branch of the Eskimo language family, but other sources regard it as a group belonging to the Yupik branch.[3][4]

Inuit languages comprise a dialect continuum, or dialect chain, that stretches from Unalakleet and Norton Sound in Alaska, across northern Alaska and Canada, and east all the way to Greenland. Speakers of two adjacent Inuit dialects can easily understand one another, but speakers of dialects at the extreme distant ends of the range have significant difficulty. Seward Peninsula dialects in Western Alaska, where much of the Inupiat culture has only been in place for perhaps less than 500 years, are greatly affected by phonological influence from the Yupik languages. Eastern Greenlandic, at the opposite end of the Inuit range has had significant word replacement due to a unique form of ritual name avoidance.[3][4]

The four Yupik languages have existed in place, which probably includes the locations where Eskimo culture and language began, for much longer than the Inuit language. Alutiiq (Sugpiaq), Central Alaskan Yup'ik, Naukan (Naukanski), and Siberian Yupik, are distinct languages with limited mutual intelligibility.[3] Even the dialectal differences within Alutiiq and Central Alaskan Yup'ik sometimes are relatively great for locations that are relatively close geographically.[4]

While grammatical structures of Yupik and Inuit languages are similar, they have pronounced differences phonologically and differences of vocabulary between Inuit and any of one of the Yupik languages is greater than between any two Yupik languages.[4]


Origin of the name Eskimo

Two principal competing etymologies have been proposed for the name "Eskimo", but the most commonly accepted today appears to be the Montagnais word meaning "snowshoe-netter". The word assime·w means "she laces a snowshoe" in Montagnais. Since Montagnais speakers refer to the neighbouring Mi'kmaq people using words that sound very much like eskimo, Ives Goddard of the Smithsonian Institution has concluded that this is the more likely origin of the word.[5][6]

Jose Mailhot, a Quebec anthropologist who speaks Montagnais, however, published a paper in 1978 which suggested that the meaning is "people who speak a different language".[7]

Folklore has it that speakers of some Algonkian languages coined the term Eskimo to mean "eaters of raw meat". Linguistic research by anthropologists does not support that etymology, and the majority of academic linguists hold the non-pejorative view of Eskimo, but it is nevertheless commonly felt in Canada and Greenland that the term Eskimo is pejorative.[1][8][9][10][11]

The Inuit Circumpolar Conference meeting in Barrow, Alaska, officially adopted "Inuit" as a designation for all Eskimos, regardless of their local usages, in 1977[citation needed]. However, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, as it is known today, uses both "Inuit" and "Eskimo" in its official documents[12][13].


laminar armour from hardened leather enforced by wood and bones worn by native siberians and Eskimo
Late lamellar armour worn by native siberians and Eskimo

In Canada and Greenland[1][8][11][14] the term Eskimo is widely held to be pejorative[14][15] and has fallen out of favour, largely supplanted by the term Inuit. However, while Inuit describes all of the Eskimo peoples in Canada and Greenland, that is not true in Alaska and Siberia. In Alaska the term Eskimo is commonly used, because it includes both Yupik and Inupiat, while Inuit is not accepted as a collective term or even specifically used for Inupiat (which technically is Inuit). No universal replacement term for Eskimo, inclusive of all Inuit and Yupik people, is accepted across the geographical area inhabited by the Inuit and Yupik peoples.[1]

The primary reason that Eskimo is considered derogatory is the arguable[7][16][17][18] perception that it means "eaters of raw meat."[15][19] There are two different etymologies in scientific literature for the term Eskimo. The best-known comes from Ives Goddard at the Smithsonian Institution, who says it means "snowshoe netters."[16] Quebec linguist Jose Mailhot, who speaks Innu-aimun (Montagnais) (which Mailhot and Goddard agree is the language from which the word originated), published a definitive study in 1978 stating that it means "people who speak a different language."[7][18]

Since the 1970s in Canada and Greenland Eskimo has widely been considered offensive, owing to folklore and derogatory usage. In 1977, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference meeting in Barrow, Alaska, officially adopted Inuit as a designation for all circumpolar native peoples, regardless of their local view on an appropriate term. As a result the Canadian government usage has replaced the (locally) defunct term Eskimo with Inuit (Inuk in singular). The preferred term in Canada's Central Arctic is Inuinnaq,[20] and in the eastern Canadian Arctic Inuit. The language is often called Inuktitut, though other local designations are also used.

The Inuit of Greenland refer to themselves as Greenlanders or, in their own language, Kalaallit, and to their language as Greenlandic or Kalaallisut.[1]

Because of the linguistic, ethnic, and cultural differences between Yupik and Inuit peoples there is uncertainty as to the acceptance of any term encompassing all Yupik and Inuit people. There has been some movement to use Inuit, and the Inuit Circumpolar Council, representing a circumpolar population of 150,000 Inuit and Yupik people of Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, in its charter defines Inuit for use within the ICC as including "the Inupiat, Yupik (Alaska), Inuit, Inuvialuit (Canada), Kalaallit (Greenland) and Yupik (Russia)."[21] However, even the Inuit people in Alaska refer to themselves as Inupiat (the language is Inupiaq) and do not typically use the term Inuit. Thus, in Alaska, Eskimo is in common usage, and is the preferred term when speaking collectively of all Inupiat and Yupik people, or of all Inuit and Yupik people throughout the world.[1]

Alaskans also use the term Alaska Native, which is inclusive of all Eskimo, Aleut and Indian people of Alaska, and is exclusive of Inuit or Yupik people originating outside the state. The term Alaska Native has important legal usage in Alaska and the rest of the United States as a result of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.

The term "Eskimo" is also used world wide in linguistic or ethnographic works to denote the larger branch of Eskimo-Aleut languages, the smaller branch being Aleut.


An Inuit family, c.1917

The Inuit inhabit the Arctic and northern Bering Sea coasts of Alaska and Arctic coasts of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec, Labrador, and Greenland. Until fairly recent times, there has been a remarkable homogeneity in the culture throughout this area, which traditionally relied on fish, sea mammals, and land animals for food, heat, light, clothing and tools. They maintain a unique Inuit culture.

Alaska's Inupiat

The Inupiat people are the Inuit people of Alaska's Northwest Arctic and North Slope boroughs and the Bering Straits region, including the Seward Peninsula. Barrow, the northernmost city in the United States, is in the Inupiaq region. Their language is known as Inupiaq.

Canada's Inuit

Canadian Inuit live primarily in Nunavut (a territory of Canada), Nunavik (the northern part of Quebec) and in Nunatsiavut (the Inuit settlement region in Labrador).


The Inuvialuit live in the western Canadian Arctic region. Their homeland - the Inuvialuit Settlement Region - covers the Arctic Ocean coastline area from the Alaskan border east to Amundsen Gulf and includes the western Canadian Arctic Islands. The land was demarked in 1984 by the Inuvialuit Final Agreement.


The Kalaallit live in Greenland, which is called Kalaallit Nunaat in Kalaallisut.


The Yupik are indigenous or aboriginal peoples who live along the coast of western Alaska, especially on the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta and along the Kuskokwim River (Central Alaskan Yup'ik), in southern Alaska (the Alutiiq) and along the eastern coast of Chukotka in the Russian Far East and St. Lawrence Island in western Alaska (the Siberian Yupik). The Yupik economy has traditionally been strongly dominated by the harvest of marine mammals, especially seals, walrus, and whales.[22]


The Alutiiq also called Pacific Yupik or Sugpiaq, are a southern, coastal branch of Yupik. They are not to be confused with the Aleuts, who live further to the southwest, including along the Aleutian Islands. They traditionally lived a coastal lifestyle, subsisting primarily on ocean resources such as salmon, halibut, and whales, as well as rich land resources such as berries and land mammals. Alutiiq people today live in coastal fishing communities, where they work in all aspects of the modern economy, while also maintaining the cultural value of subsistence. The Alutiiq language is relatively close to that spoken by the Yupik in the Bethel, Alaska area, but is considered a distinct language with two major dialects: the Koniag dialect, spoken on the Alaska Peninsula and on Kodiak Island, and the Chugach dialect, is spoken on the southern Kenai Peninsula and in Prince William Sound. Residents of Nanwalek, located on southern part of the Kenai Peninsula near Seldovia, speak what they call Sugpiaq and are able to understand those who speak Yupik in Bethel. With a population of approximately 3,000, and the number of speakers in the mere hundreds, Alutiiq communities are currently in the process of revitalizing their language.

Central Alaskan Yup'ik

Yup'ik, with an apostrophe, denotes the speakers of the Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, who live in western Alaska and southwestern Alaska from southern Norton Sound to the north side of Bristol Bay, on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and on Nelson Island. The use of the apostrophe in the name Yup'ik denotes a longer pronunciation of the p sound than found in Siberian Yupik. Of all the Alaska Native languages, Central Alaskan Yup'ik has the most speakers, with about 10,000 of a total Yup'ik population of 21,000 still speaking the language. There are five dialects of Central Alaskan Yup'ik, including General Central Yup'ik and the Egegik, Norton Sound, Hooper Bay-Chevak, Nunivak, dialects. In the latter two dialects, both the language and the people are called Cup'ik.[23]

Siberian Yupik

Siberian Yupik reside along the Bering Sea coast of the Chukchi Peninsula in Siberia in the Russian Far East[4] and in the villages of Gambell and Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island in Alaska.[24] The Central Siberian Yupik spoken on the Chukchi Peninsula and on St. Lawrence Island is nearly identical. About 1,050 of a total Alaska population of 1,100 Siberian Yupik people in Alaska still speak the language, and it is still the first language of the home for most St. Lawrence Island children. In Siberia, about 300 of a total of 900 Siberian Yupik people still learn and study the language, though it is no longer learned as a first language by children.[24]


About 70 of 400 Naukan people still speak the Naukanski. The Naukan originate on the Chukot Peninsula in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in Siberia.[4]

Sireniki Eskimos

Some speakers of Siberian Yupik languages used to speak an Eskimo variant in the past, before they underwent a language shift. These former speakers of Sireniki Eskimo language inhabited settlements Sireniki, Imtuk, and some small villages stretching to the west from Sireniki along south-eastern coasts of Chukchi Peninsula,[25] they lived in neighborhood with Siberian Yupik and Chukchi peoples. As early as in 1895, Imtuk was already a settlement with mixed population, Sireniki Eskimos and Ungazigmit[26] (the latter belonging to Siberian Yupik). Sireniki Eskimo culture has been influenced by that of Chukchi (witnessed also by folktale motifs[27]), also the language shows Chukchi language influences.[28]

The above mentioned peculiarities of this (already extinct) Eskimo language amounted to mutual unintelligibility even with its nearest language relatives:[29] in the past, Sireniki Eskimos even had to use the unrelated Chukchi language as a lingua franca for communicating with Siberian Yupik.[28]

Many words are formed from entirely different roots than in Siberian Yupik,[30] but even the grammar has several peculiarities not only among Eskimo languages, but even compared to Aleut. For example, dual number is not known in Sireniki Eskimo, while most Eskimo-Aleut languages have dual,[31] including its neighboring Siberian Yupik relatives.[32]

Little is known about the origin of this diversity. According to a supposition, the peculiarities of this language may be the result of a supposed long isolation from other Eskimo groups,[33][34] being in contact only with speakers of unrelated languages for many centuries. Influence by Chukchi language is clear.[28]

Because of all these, the mere classification of Sireniki Eskimo language is not settled yet:[35] Sireniki language is sometimes regarded as a third branch of Eskimo (at least, its possibility is mentioned),[35][36][37] but sometimes it is regarded rather as a group belonging to the Yupik branch.[38][39]


Inuit languages comprise a dialect continuum, or dialect chain, that stretches from Unalaska and Norton Sound in Alaska, across northern Alaska and Canada, and east all the way to Greenland. Changes from western (Inupiaq) to eastern dialects are marked by the dropping of vestigial Yupik-related features, increasing consonant assimilation (e.g., kumlu, meaning "thumb," changes to kuvlu, changes to kublu,[40] changes to kulluk,[40] changes to kulluq[40]), and increased consonant lengthening, and lexical change. Thus, speakers of two adjacent Inuit dialects would usually be able to understand one another, but speakers from dialects distant from each other on the dialect continuum would have difficulty understanding one another.[4]

The four Yupik languages, including Alutiiq (Sugpiaq), Central Alaskan Yup'ik, Naukan (Naukanski), and Siberian Yupik are distinct languages with phonological, morphological, and lexical differences, and demonstrating limited mutual intelligibility. Additionally, both Alutiiq Central Yup'ik have considerable dialect diversity. The northernmost Yupik languages — Siberian Yupik and Naukanski Yupik — are linguistically only slightly closer to Inuit than is Alutiiq, which is the southernmost of the Yupik languages. Although the grammatical structures of Yupik and Inuit languages are similar, they have pronounced differences phonologically, and differences of vocabulary between Inuit and any of one of the Yupik languages is greater than between any two Yupik languages.[4]

The Sirenikski language is sometimes regarded as a third branch of the Eskimo language family, but other sources regard it as a group belonging to the Yupik branch.[4]

An overview of the Eskimo-Aleut languages family is given below:

Aleut language
Western-Central dialects: Atkan, Attuan, Unangan, Bering (60-80 speakers)
Eastern dialect: Unalaskan, Pribilof (400 speakers)
Eskimo (Yup'ik, Yuit, and Inuit)
Central Alaskan Yup'ik (10,000 speakers)
Alutiiq or Pacific Gulf Yup'ik (400 speakers)
Central Siberian Yupik or Yuit (Chaplinon and St Lawrence Island, 1400 speakers)
Naukan (70 speakers)
Inuit or Inupik (75,000 speakers)
Iñupiaq (northern Alaska, 3,500 speakers)
Inuvialuktun (western Canada; together with Siglitun, Natsilingmiutut, Inuinnaqtun and Uummarmiutun 765 speakers)
Inuktitut (eastern Canada; together with Inuktun and Inuinnaqtun, 30,000 speakers)
Kalaallisut (Greenland, 47,000 speakers)
Sireniki Eskimo language (Sirenikskiy) (extinct)

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kaplan, Lawrence. (2002). "Inuit or Eskimo: Which names to use?". Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved on 2007-04-06.
  2. ^ "Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms". Department of Justice Canada. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Comparative Eskimo Dictionary with Aleut Cognates". Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kaplan, Lawrence. (2001-12-10). "Comparative Yupik and Inuit". Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved on 2007-04-06.
  5. ^ Goddard, Ives (1984). "Synonymy." In Arctic, ed. David Damas. Vol. 5 of Handbook of North American Indians, ed. William C. Sturtevant, pp. 5-7. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. Cited in Campbell 1997
  6. ^ Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America, pg. 394. New York: Oxford University Press
  7. ^ a b c Mailhot, J. (1978). "L'étymologie de «Esquimau» revue et corrigée." Etudes Inuit/Inuit Studies 2-2:59-70.
  8. ^ a b Historical Dictionary of the Inuit By Pamela R. Stern
  9. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition
  10. ^ wikitravel == Greenland
  11. ^ a b Ostgroenland-Hilfe Project
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b usage note, Inuit, American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000
  15. ^ a b Setting the Record Straight About Native Languages: What Does "Eskimo" Mean In Cree?
  16. ^ a b "Eskimo" by Mark Israel
  17. ^ Goddard, Ives (1984). Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 5 (Arctic). Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 978-0160045806. 
  18. ^ a b Cree Mailing List Digest November 1997
  19. ^ Eskimo, American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition, 2000
  20. ^ Ohokak, G.; M. Kadlun, B. Harnum. Inuinnaqtun-English Dictionary. Kitikmeot Heritage Society. 
  21. ^ Inuit Circumpolar Council. (2006). "Charter." Retrieved on 2007-04-06.
  22. ^ Yupik. (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 13, 2008, from: Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  23. ^ Alaska Native Language Center. (2001-12-07). "Central Alaskan Yup'ik." Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved on 2007-04-06.
  24. ^ a b Alaska Native Language Center. (2001-12-07). "Siberian Yupik." Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved on 2007-04-06.
  25. ^ Vakhtin 1998: 162
  26. ^ Меновщиков 1964: 7
  27. ^ Меновщиков 1964: 132
  28. ^ a b c Menovshchikov 1990: 70
  29. ^ Меновщиков 1964: 6–7
  30. ^ Меновщиков 1964: 42
  31. ^ Меновщиков 1964: 38
  32. ^ Меновщиков 1964: 81
  33. ^ Меновщиков 1962: 11
  34. ^ Меновщиков 1964: 9
  35. ^ a b Vakhtin 1998: 161
  36. ^ Linguist List's description about Nikolai Vakhtin's book: The Old Sirinek Language: Texts, Lexicon, Grammatical Notes. The author's untransliterated (original) name is “Н.Б. Вахтин”.
  37. ^ "Языки эскимосов" (in Russian). ICC Chukotka. Inuit Circumpolar Council. 
  38. ^ Ethnologue Report for Eskimo-Aleut
  39. ^ Kaplan 1990: 136
  40. ^ a b c "thumb". Asuilaak Living Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-11-25. 



  • Меновщиков, Г. А. (1964). Язык сиреникских эскимосов. Фонетика, очерк морфологии, тексты и словарь. Москва • Ленинград,: Академия Наук СССР. Институт языкознания.  The transliteration of author's name, and the rendering of title in English: Menovshchikov, G. A. (1964). Language of Sireniki Eskimos. Phonetics, morphology, texts and vocabulary. Moscow • Leningrad: Academy of Sciences of the USSR. 

Further reading

External links

Origin of the name

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ESKIMO, EsKIMos or ESQu1MAUx (a corruption of the Abnaki Indian Eskimantsic or the Ojibway Ashkimeq, both terms meaning "those who eat raw flesh": they call themselves "Innuit," "the people"), a North American Indian people, inhabiting the arctic coast of America from Greenland to Alaska, and a small portion of the Asiatic shore of Bering Strait. On the American shores they are found, in broken tribes, from East Greenland to the western shores of Alaska - never far inland, or south of the region where the winter ice allows seals to congregate. Even on hunting expeditions they never travel more than 30 m. from the coast. Save a slight admixture of European settlers, they are the only inhabitants of both sides of Davis Strait and Baffin Bay. They extend as far south as about 50° N. lat. on the eastern side of America, and in the west to 60° on the eastern shore of Bering Strait, while 55° to 60° are their southern limits on the shore of Hudson Bay. Throughout all this range there are no other tribes save where the Kennayan and Ugalenze Indians (of western America) come down to the shore to fish. The Aleutians are closely allied to the Eskimo in habits and language. H. J. Rink divides the Eskimo into the following groups, the most eastern of which would have to travel nearly 5000 m. to reach the most western: (1) The East Greenland Eskimo, few in number, every year advancing farther south, and coming into contact with the next section. (2) The West Greenlanders, civilized, living under the Danish crown, and extending from Cape Farewell to 74° N. lat. (3) The Northernmost Greenlanders - the Arctic Highlanders of Sir John Ross - confined to Smith, Whale, Murchison and Wolstenholme Sounds, north of the Melville Bay glaciers. These - the most isolated and uncivilized of all the Eskimo - had no boats or bows and arrows until about 1868. (4) The Labrador Eskimo, mostly civilized. (5) The Eskimo of the middle regions, occupying the coasts from Hudson Bay to, Barter Island, beyond Mackenzie river, inhabiting a stretch of country 2000 m. in length and Soo in breadth. (6) The Western Eskimo, from Barter Island to the western limits in America. (7) The Asiatic Eskimo.

The Eskimo are not a tall race, their height varying from 5 ft. 4 in. to 5 ft. Io in., but men of 6 ft. are met. Both men and women are muscular and active, the former often inclining to fat. The faces of both have a pleasing, good-humoured expression, and not infrequently are even handsome. The typical face is broadly oval, flat, with fat cheeks; forehead not high, and rather retreating; teeth good, though, owing to the character of the food, worn down to the gums in old age; nose very flat; eyes rather obliquely set, small, black and bright; head largish, and covered with coarse black hair, which the women fasten up into a knot on the top, and the men clip in front and allow to hang loose and unkempt behind. Their skulls are of the mesocephalic type, the height being greater than the breadth; according to Davis, 75 is the index of the latter and 77 of the former. Some of the tribes slightly compress the skulls of their new-born children laterally (Hall), but this practice is a very local one. The men have usually a slight moustache, but no whiskers, and rarely any beard. The skin has generally a "bacony" feel, and when cleaned of the smoke, grease and other dirt - the accumulation of which varies according to the age of the individual - is only so slightly brown that red shows in the cheeks of the children and young women. The hands and feet are small and well formed. The Eskimo dress entirely in skins of the seal, reindeer, bear, dog, or even fox, the first two being, however, the most common. The men's and women's dress is much the same, a jacket suit, the trousers tucked into seal-skin boots. The jacket has a hood, which in cold weather is used to cover the head, leaving only the face exposed. The women's jacket has a large hood for carrying a child and an absurd-looking tail behind, which is, however, usually tucked up. The women's trousers are usually ornamented with eider-duck neck feathers or embroidery of native dyed leather; their boots, which are of white leather, or (in Greenland) dyed of various colours, reach over the knees, and in some tribes are very wide at the top, thus giving them an awkward appearance and a clumsy waddling walk. In winter two suits are worn, one with the hair inside, the other with it outside. They also sometimes wear shirts of bird-skins, and stockings of dog or young reindeer skins. Their clothes are very neatly made, fit beautifully, and are sewn with "sinewthread," with a bone needle if a steel one cannot be had. In person the Eskimo are usually filthy, and never wash. Infants are, however, sometimes cleaned by being licked by their mother before being put into the bag of feathers which serves as their bed, cradle and blankets.

In summer the Eskimo live in conical skin tents, and in winter usually in half-underground huts of stone, turf, earth and bones, entered by a long tunnel-like passage, which can only be traversed on all fours. Sometimes, if residing temporarily at a place, they will erect neat round huts of blocks of snow with a sheet of ice for a window. In the roof are deposited their spare harpoons, &c.; and from it is suspended the steatite basin-like lamp, the flame of which, the wick being of moss, serves as fire and light. On one side of the hut is the bench which is used as sofa, seats and common sleeping place. The floor is usually very filthy, a pool of blood or a dead seal being often to be seen there. Ventilation is almost non-existent; and after the lamp has blazed for some time, the heat is all but unbearable. In the summer the wolfish-looking dogs lie outside on the roof of the huts, in the winter in the tunnel-like passage just outside the family apartment. The Western Eskimo build their houses chiefly of planks, merely covered on the outside with green turf. The same Eskimo have, in the more populous places, a public room for meetings. "Council chambers" are also said to exist in Labrador, but are only known in Greenland by tradition. Sometimes in south Greenland and in the Western Eskimo country the houses are made to accommodate several families, but as a rule each family has a house to itself.

The Eskimo are solely hunters and fishers, and derive most of their food from the sea. Their country allows of no cultivation; and beyond a few berries, roots, &c., they use no vegetable food. The seal, the reindeer and the whale supply the bulk of their food, as well as their clothing, light, fuel, and frequently also, when driftwood is scarce or unavailable, the material for various articles of domestic economy. Thus the Eskimo canoe is made of seal-skin stretched on a wooden or whalebone frame, with a hole in the centre for the paddler. It is driven by a bonetipped double-bladed paddle. A waterproof skin or entrail dress is tightly fastened round the mouth of the hole so that, should the canoe overturn, no water can enter. A skilful paddler can turn a complete somersault, boat and all, through the water.

IX. 25 The Eskimo women use a flat-bottomed skin luggage-boat. The Eskimo sledge is made of two runners of wood or bone - even, in one case on record, of frozen salmon (Maclure) - united by cross bars tied to the runners by hide thongs, and drawn by from 4' to 8 dogs harnessed abreast. Some of their weapons are ingenious - in particular, the harpoon, with its detachable point to which an inflated sealskin is fastened. When the quarry is struck, the floating skin serves to tire it out, marks its course, and buoys it up when dead. The bird-spears, too, have a bladder attached, and points at the sides which strike the creature should the spear-head fail to wound. An effective bow is made out of whale's rib. Altogether, with meagre material the Eskimo show great skill in the manufacture of their weapons. Meat is sometimes boiled, but, when it is frozen, it is often eaten raw. Blood, and the half-digested contents of the reindeer's paunch, are also eaten; and sometimes, but not habitually, blubber. As a rule this latter is too precious: it must be kept for winter fuel and light. The Eskimo are enormous eaters; two will easily dispose of a seal at a sitting; and in Greenland, for instance, each individual has for his daily consumption, on an average, 21 lb of flesh with blubber, and 1 lb of fish, besides mussels, berries, sea-weed, &c., to which in the Danish settlements may be added 2 oz. of imported food. Ten pounds of flesh, in addition to other food, is not uncommonly consumed in a day in time of plenty. A man will lie on his back and allow his wife to feed him with tit-bits of blubber and flesh until he is unable to move.

The Eskimo cannot be strictly called a wandering race. They are nomadic only in so far that they have to move about from place to place during the fishing and shooting season, following the game in its migrations. They have, however, no regular property. They possess only the most necessary utensils and furniture, with a stock of provisions for less than one year; and these possessions never exceed certain limits fixed upon by tradition or custom. Long habit and the necessities of their life have also compelled those having food to share with those having none - a custom which, with others, has conduced to the stagnant conditions of Eskimo society and to their utter improvidence.

Their intelligence is considerable, as their implements and folk-tales abundantly prove. They display a taste for music, cartography and drawing, display no small amount of humour, are quick at picking up peculiar traits in strangers, and are painfully acute in detecting the weak points or ludicrous sides of their character. They are excellent mimics and easily learn the dances and songs of the Europeans, as well as their games, such as chess and draughts. They gamble a little - but in moderation, for the Eskimo, though keen traders, have a deeprooted antipathy to speculation. When they offer anything for sale - say at a Danish settlement in Greenland - they always leave it to the buyer to settle the price. They have also a dislike to bind themselves by contract. Hence it was long before the Eskimo in Greenland could be induced to enter into European service, though when they do they pass to almost the opposite extreme - they have no will of their own. Public licentiousness or indecency is rare among them. In their private life their morality is, however, not high. The women are especially erring; and in Greenland, at places where strangers visit, their extreme laxity of morals, and their utter want of shame, are not more remarkable than the entire absence of jealousy or self-respect on the part of their countrymen and relatives. Theft in Greenland is almost unknown; but the wild Eskimo make very free with strangers' goods - though it must be allowed that the value they attach to the articles stolen is some excuse for the thieves. Among themselves, on the other hand, they are very honest - a result of their being so much under the control of public opinion. Lying is said to be as common a trait of the Eskimo as of other savages in their dealings with Europeans. They have naturally not made any figure in literature. Their folk-lore is, however, extensive, and that collected by Dr Rink shows considerable imagination and no mean talent on the part of the story-tellers. In Greenland and Labrador most of the natives have been taught by the missionaries to read and write in their own language,. Altogether, the literature published in the Eskimo tongue is. considerable. Most of it has been printed in Denmark, but some has been "set up" in a small printing-office in Greenland, from which about 280 sheets have issued, beside many lithographic prints. A journal (Atuagagldliutit nalinginarmik tusaruminasassumik univkat, i.e. " something for reading, accounts of all entertaining subjects") has been published since 186 1.

The Eskimo in Greenland and Labrador are, with few exceptions, nominally at least, Christians. The native religion is a vague animism, and consists of a belief in good and evil spirits, limited each to its own sphere; in a Heaven and Hell; and a childish faith is placed in the native wizards, who are regarded as intermediaries between mankind and the spirit-powers. The worship of the whale-spirit, so important a factor in their daily economy, is prevalent.

As regards language, the idiom spoken from Greenland to. north-eastern Siberia is, with a few exceptions, the same; any difference is only that of dialect. It differs from the whole group, of European languages, not merely in the sound of the words, but more especially, according to Rink, in the construction. Its most remarkable feature is that a sentence of a European language is expressed in Eskimo by a single word constructed out of certain elements, each of which corresponds in some degree to one of our words. One specimen commonly given to visitors to Greenland may suffice: Savigiksiniariartokasuaromaryotittogog, which is equivalent to "He says that you also will go away quickly in like manner and buy a pretty knife." Here is one word serving in the place of 17. It is made up as. follows: Savig a knife, ik pretty, sini buy, ariartok go away, asuar hasten, omar wilt, y in like manner, otit thou, tog also,. og he says.

The Eskimo have no chiefs or political and military rulers. Fabricius concisely described them in his day: "Sine Deo, domino, reguntur consuetudine." The government is mainly a family one, though a man distinguished for skill in the chase, and for strength and shrewdness, often has considerable power in the village. No political or social tie is recognized between the villages, though general good-fellowship seems to mark their relations. They never go to war with each other; and though revengeful and apt to injure an enemy secretly, they rarely come to blows, and are morbidly anxious not to give offence. Indeed, in their intercourse with each other, all Eskimo indulge in much hyperbolical compliment. But they are not without courage. On the Coppermine and Mackenzie rivers, where they sometimes come into collision with their AmericanIndian kinsmen, they fight fiercely. Polygamy is rare, but the rights of divorce and re-marriage are unrestricted. The Eskimo have intricate rules governing the ownership of property and the rights of the hunter. As a race they are singularly undemonstrative. When they met each other they used to rub noses together, but this, though a common custom still among the wild Eskimo, is entirely abandoned in Greenland except for the petting of children. There is, in Greenland at least,. no national mode of salutation, either on meeting or parting. When a guest enters a house, commonly not the least sign is made either by him or his host. On leaving a place they sometimes say "inuvdluaritse," i.e. live well, and to a European "aporniakinatit," i.e. do not hurt thy head, viz. against the upper part of the doorway. The Eskimo, excluding the few on the Asiatic coast, are estimated at about 29,000.

Bibliography.-Dr H. J. Rink, Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo (1875); Danish Greenland; its People and its Products (1877); Eskimo Tribes (1887); J. Richardson, Polar Regions (1861),. pp. 2 9 8 -33 1; Sir Clements Markham, Arctic Papers of the R. G. S. (1875), pp. 163-232; Simpson, ibid. pp. 2 33; 2 75; "Hans Hendriks the Eskimo's Memoirs," Geographical Magazine (Feb. 1878, et seq.); Fridtjof Nansen, Eskimo Life (1894); R. E, Peary, Northward over the Great Ice, vol. i. appendix ii.; F. Boas, "The Central Eskimo," Sixth Annual Report of Bureau of Ethnology (1884-1885); J. Murdoch,. "The Point Barrow Eskimo," Ninth Annual Report (1887-1888) E. W. Nelson, "The Eskimo about Bering Strait," Eighteenth Annual: Report, part 1 (1896-1897).

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Alternative spellings


First attested 1584, as Esquimawes. From Danish Eskimo, from French plural Esquimaux (possibly from Spanish esquimao or esquimal), from the Algonquin language Montagnais ayas̆kimew. This was once thought to mean "eaters of raw meat", but most authorities now believe it signifies either "netters of snowshoes" or "speakers of a foreign language". Compare Ojibwe as̆kime (to net snowshoes). The name was originally applied by the Innu people to the Mi'kmaq, and later transferred to the Labrador Inuit; see usage notes.


  • IPA: /ˈɛs.kɪ.moʊ/
  • Hyphenation: Es‧kimo

Proper noun




  1. A group of indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic, from Siberia, through Alaska and Northern Canada, to Greenland, including the Inuit and Yupik.
  2. Any of the languages of the Eskimo.





Eskimo or Eskimos

Eskimo (plural Eskimo or Eskimos)

  1. A member of any of the Eskimo peoples.



Eskimo (comparative more Eskimo, superlative most Eskimo)


more Eskimo

most Eskimo

  1. Of or relating to the Eskimo peoples.
  2. In, of, or relating to the Eskimo languages.

Derived terms


Usage notes

Eskimo has come to be considered offensive, especially in Canada. However, it remains an acceptable term for northern peoples in Alaska—including the Inuit Inupiat and the non-Inuit Yupik—and the only encompassing term for all of these Arctic peoples. It is also used worldwide by historians and archaeologists.

The name declined in use because it was thought to stem from a Cree pejorative meaning “eaters of raw meat” rather than from the Inuit people's name for themselves, but this etymology is now discredited (in fact, both the Cree and Inuit ate raw meat).

In Canada, Eskimo has been superseded by Inuit for the people, which name has official status, and Inuktitut for the language. The Inuit group of Canada's Western Arctic call themselves Inuvialuit. Greenland natives also call themselves Greenlanders or Kalaallit, and their language Greenlandic or Kalaallisut.

Also note that Eskimo does not include the related Aleut people (Unangam), nor the Indian or First Nations peoples of the Arctic.


  • Eskimo” in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.
  • “Eskimo” in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Eskimo” in Unabridged, v1.1, Lexico Publishing Group, 2006.
  • “Eskimo” in the The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 2005
  • Eskimo” in the Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper, 2001
  • Eskimo” and “Origin of the name Eskimo” in Wikipedia




From French Esquimau (now also Eskimo as well) (possibly from Spanish esquimao or esquimal), from the Algonquin language Montagnais ayas̆kimew. This was once thought to mean "eaters of raw meat", but most authorities now believe it signifies either "netters of snowshoes" (compare Ojibwe as̆kime (to net snowshoes)) or "speakers of a foreign language".

Proper noun


  1. m. An Eskimo
  2. n. The Eskimo language (group)

Derived terms


Alternative forms

Proper noun


  1. An Eskimo
  2. The Eskimo language (group)

Derived terms

Simple English

Redirecting to Inuit

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