This post was updated on 15 May 2019.

Every July 9th, Nunavut celebrates its anniversary as Canada’s youngest territory.

In honour of Nunavut Day, here is a list of 15 Inuktitut words travellers or newcomers should know before coming to Iqaluit.

Nunavut has four official languages: English, French, Inuktitut, and Inuinnaqtun. The latter two are Inuit languages. Inuktitut is spoken in more communities, but each has several regional dialects. Interestingly, Nunavut is the only province or territory in Canada that has a dominant language that is neither English nor French, as you can see in the infographic below:

canada-languages
Most commonly spoken language after English and French, by province or territory. Image from Statistics Canada.

English speakers often have difficulty learning Inuktitut, as its roots and grammar are very, very different. I was lucky to learn Inuktitut from the excellent teaching team at the Pirurvik Centre. They offer language classes all over Nunavut and via their website and app, both of which are called Tusaalanga.

Inuit languages were for many years passed on orally and have only relatively recently been recorded in written form, which can be written in English characters or syllabics. For these reasons, there is no single accepted written language, and spelling varies between regions, communities, and people.

Since this list is for people moving to or visiting Iqaluit, I will reference Tusaalanga’s South Baffin Inuktitut dictionary when possible. Click on the titles to hear how the words should be pronounced (when available)!

You should note that almost everyone in Iqaluit speaks English. However, residents, both Inuit and non-Inuit alike, are very likely to mix the following words into their day-to-day speech, such that for most Iqalummiut, these Inuktitut words are as commonplace as hello and thank you.


Related: Take a Peek with Google Inside Iqaluit in Canada’s Arctic Territory


15 Must-Know Inuktitut Words

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1. Nunavut; noo-nah-voot

If you’re coming all the way up here, then you might as well learn how to pronounce “Nunavut” properly. A related word is Nunavummiut (noo-nah-voo-mee-yoot), which is the term used for people who live in Nunavut.

2. Iqaluit; ee-kha-loo-eet

This one’s a little harder to pronounce. If you can’t make the kha sound, then just try to say “ee-ka-loo-eet.” Please, please, do not call the city “Ick-wa-lit,” for the love of frozen beards and eyelashes.

Image from True North.
Image from Finding True North.

Read next: How (And Why) to Learn Language Basics for Travel


3. Inuitee-noo-eet

Another word that is the same in English and Inuktitut, Inuit is the name for the Aboriginal peoples who inhabit Canada’s north.

Inuit is the plural of inuk (ee-nook), and it means “people,” so saying “Inuit people” is redundant.

4. Qallunaat, kha-loo-naht

Originally the Inuktitut word for white people, qallunaat now means non-Inuit.

5. Ullaakuutoo-laa-koot

Ullaakuut means “good morning” and is used as a general greeting. You can also say ullukuut (oo-loo-koot) for “good afternoon.”

6. Qanuippit?; kha-noo-ee-peet

“How are you” or “what’s up?”

You’ll hear this a lot up here!


Read next: Unique Travel Destinations and Recommendations


7. Qanuinngittungakha-noo-ee-neet-toon-gah

The answer to qanuippit, this long word means simply, “I’m fine.”

8. Nakurmiikna-koor-meek

A very important word in any language: thank you.

9. Qamutikkha-moo-tick

A wooden sled that is pulled by snowmobiles or sled dogs. It’s also the name of a building right at Iqaluit’s four corners!

Image from Finding True North.
Image from Finding True North.

10. Ulu; oo-loo

A crescent-shaped knife that can come in various sizes and makes a great gift.

Image from Finding True North.
Image from Finding True North.

11. Kamiikka-meek

The word means “boots” but most commonly refers to handmade sealskin boots.

12. Amautiah-mow-tee

An amauti (plural: amautiit) is a special Inuit parka that is made with a pouch on the back to carry children.

13. Mamaqtuq; ma-makh-too

A really fun word to say and also a really popular song by Iqaluit’s favourite band, The Jerry Cans; it means “delicious.”

14. Alianait; ah-lee-ah-nite

Meaning “wonderful,” it is also the name of Iqaluit’s annual Alianait Arts Festival, held every July.

15. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit; ee-noo-eet khow-yee-mah-yah-too-kha-neet

This phrase roughly translates to “Inuit traditional knowledge,” and it is supposed to inform all governmental decision-making and processes in the territory. To be honest, most people just call it “IQ,” but if you want bonus points from Iqalummiut, practice this saying and more importantly, learn more about what it really means.

Image from Finding True North.
Image from Finding True North.

Think you can pronounce these 15 Inuktitut words? Give them a try and let me know via a tweet!


Learned something? Pin it for later!


Looking for travel inspiration? Wanderful is a global community for travel-loving women. Connect with us:

Anubha Momin
Anubha is the creator of Finding True North, an award-winning blog about life in Iqaluit, Nunavut, a remote town of 8,000 people in the Canadian Arctic, where she lived for the last four and a half years. Since she started Finding True North, which garners 10,000+ unique visitors per month, Anubha has transitioned from writing to film and television jobs, working on- and off-screen on various projects with The CBC, VICE, and Netflix. Anubha's words and photos have appeared in VICE, The Huffington Post, The CBC, Canadian Geographic, Up Here Magazine, Briarpatch, Chatelaine, and more. She was named one of 50 Outstanding Canadians by the Huffington Post in 2016, joined The Walrus Talks national tour as a speaker this year, and is a member of the Polaris Prize Jury. Anubha currently works as an Associate Producer at VICE.

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9 Comments

  1. Hi, Anubha, I found your website when I was doing some research into Inuktitut. I create calendars for other worlds and in making a calendar for Sedna, I decided to name the months after elements of the story of Sedna and I wanted to use Inuktitut words. I found an alternate name for Sedna, Sanna. Are you familiar with the story and these names: Sedna = Sanna?

    I also coach a youth robotics team and this year they are studying polar bears and global warming. They have a few questions for you. Is it okay if we use you as a reference in their research?

    Q. What’s the Inuktitut word for “polar bear”?

    Q. How close to the coast are you?

    Q. Do you see polar bears much?

    Q. What can you tell us about them?

    You can also email us at robotics@earthmans.net. Thanks!

    Oh, we really like your website too!!!

  2. Hi, Anubha, this is Caarthik & Sonny. We are Earthlings on a robotics team in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. We have some questions.

    Q. How commonly do you see seals?

    Q. How many polar bears do you see together – make a family?

    Q. How is global warming affecting you in Iqaluit?

  3. We recently got a white husky, would please give me some easily names or words for polar bear and lucky. I would greatly appreciate it.
    Danette

  4. 15 Must Know Inuktitut Words: Wonderful resource. We would like to print it and bring it up with us but it takes too much paper. Any chance of making a printable version without the photos and other stuff?
    (Please do not divulge our email to anyone else.)

  5. So glad I chanced on this. Thank you! It was great to be able to hear the pronunciation of these key words, and I loved The Jerry Cans and Mamaqtuq !!!

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