Today, the Inuit language counts over 100,000 speakers, unevenly distributed across the northernmost lands of North America: Alaska, the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. It is closely related to the Yupik languages of Alaska and Chukotka, with which it forms the eastern branch of the Eskaleut language family.
village enneigé au Nunavik avec quelques maisons
Village d'Inukjuak, Nunavik, 2014 © Marc-Antoine Mahieu‎

Discover the language

Despite a profound unity, linked to the rapidity with which the direct ancestors of the Inuit (the Thule) spread from west to east across the American Arctic (in the 13th century), the Inuit language and culture are subject to significant regional variations. Four groups of dialects can be distinguished: those of Alaska (inupiaq), those of the Canadian Western Arctic (inuvialuktun in the Northwest Territories, inuinnaqtun west of Nunavut), those of Canada's Eastern Arctic (Inuktitut in Nunavut, but also in Nunavik in Quebec's Far North), and finally those of Greenland (including kalaallisut, which has the status of a national language). Culturally, diversity is determined by physical factors (latitude, annual cycles, wildlife resources), intellectual factors (representations, value systems) and historical factors (relations between Inuit and contacts with Westerners). Beyond these regional specificities, contemporary Inuit recognize themselves as a people, whose most striking symbol is the existence of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. The Inuit Circumpolar Council places the protection of the Arctic environment, the promotion of indigenous knowledge and know-how, and political responsibility at the forefront of its concerns. It is one of the permanent members of the Arctic Council, which brings together the eight countries bordering or neighboring the Arctic Ocean.

Studying Inuktitut at Inalco

The training in Inuit language and culture offered at I'INALCO is based on the study of Inuktitut, which holds official status in Nunavik (Arctic Quebec) and Nunavut (autonomous territory of Canada). It is the Inuktitut of Nunavik that serves as the reference for learning at INALCO. With its oral tradition, but transcribed for more than a century using a syllabary, Inuktitut is a very difficult language, and one that is unfamiliar to non-native speakers.

Taught over four years, it is taught by Marc-Antoine Mahieu. It includes the acquisition of grammar, the practice of basic oral and written interaction, the analysis of various texts and documents, translation from Inuktitut, as well as an introduction to the diversity of dialects, their functioning and evolution. Cultural courses are taught mainly by Guy Bordin, an ethnologist. As the Inuit are among the peoples most studied by Westerners, a significant part of the training involves reading.

The different Inuktitut diplomas
Inalco offers three state-recognized and accredited institutional diplomas in Inuktitut. They constitute a four-year course of study, focusing on the acquisition of knowledge and skills relating to the Inuit language and culture of the Canadian Eastern Arctic. Enrolment in the "Distance Inuktitut Passport" allows students based in Canada to follow courses by videoconference (and to sit exams for a total of 24 ECTS) but does not lead to a diploma.

Please contact the Inuktitut teacher before enrolling (in DLC or PASSLO).

Thanks to a partnership between Inalco, the Northern Health Program of the Montreal Children's Hospital (MCH) and the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services (NRBHSS), Inuktitut courses can be taken from Nunavik and major Canadian cities.

Training courses

Diplômes de Langue et Civilisation (DLC) levels 1 to 3 - à distance

Find out more

What Inuktitut tells us about the Inuit, Langues O' no 1 (pp. 40-42)
The syllabic script of Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit of the Canadian Eastern Arctic, Marc-Antoine Mahieu, Itinéraire(s) n°11 (November 2021)