Perhaps no branch of Arctic research is of more interest to the scholar than the language of the people who inhabit that region. A careful comparison of the dialect of the different tribes is of great value in ascertaining their history, the origin of the race and the gradual extension of their journeyings to the remotest point from their native land yet reached by them. It is generally admitted that the North American Esquimaux are of Mongolian extraction; that at some period the passage of Behring Strait was affected and the immigrants gradually extended their migration to the eastward and finally occupied Greenland, where the mighty ocean headed them off and brought their wanderings in that direction to an abrupt termination. During what period of the world's history the exodus from Asia occurred is not known. There are those who believe it to have taken place when what is now known as Behring Strait was an isthmus, the shallowness of the water throughout that channel indicating the physical change to have been of comparitively recent date. This opinion was upheld by Lutke in his "Voyage Autour du Monde," vol. 2, page 209, and Whymper, in his work upon Alaska, page 94, alludes to the shallowness of Behring Strait and also of the sea so named, as permitting the whalers to ride at anchor in their deepest parts. Peschel in "Races of Man", page 401, prefers to believe that the transfer was made while Behring Strait still held its present character.
There are not wanting authorities who seek to show that the entire Western Continent was thus peopled by immigration from Asia, and similarity of feature with the Mongolian is traced even to the most southern tribes of South America. The close connection between the "medicine men" of the Indians, the arng-ke-kos of the Esquimaux, and the shamans of Siberia and Brazil, are also quoted to show the probability of one origin. It is, however, in the language of the hyperborean races of America and Asia that the strongest proofs of a like origin is found. The Tshuktshi of Northern Asia, the Esquimaux of America, and the Namollo, all bear a very close relationship, especially in linguistic characteristics.
In common with all the aboriginal languages of America, the Esquimaux language is agglutinative, though, for the accommodation of the white strangers who visit their shores, they separate the words and use them in a single and simple form. In its purity it employs suffixes only for the definition and meaning, though complex sentences are often formed of a single word - that is, it is a polysynthetic in character. No philologist familiar with the whole territory has ever made a comparison of the dialects of the polar tribes, probably because no philologist is familiar with all the dialects spoken there. Everything therefore that would tend to throw any light upon the subject or to place before the scholar material by which to prosecute such philological studies must be regarded as of importance.
The long residence of the Danes in Greenland and their intermarrying with the native Esquimaux, has led to a more thorough acquaintance with the language of the aborigines of that continent, than any other portion of the polar regions. In fact, as long ago as 1804 a complete dictionary of the Greenland tongue was published by Otho Fabricius, the translation being in the Danish language. With the exception of a few fragmentary vocabularies, this is the only work upon which the traveller or the student of the languages of the Polar regions can depend.
Mr. Ivan Petroff, the Alaskan traveller, has taken some pains to compile a vocabulary of the various dialects of the Pacific races with whom he has sojourned, which, when published, will form another link in the chain by which the scholar may trace the spread of the Asiatic tribes along the northern seaboard of America. With the publication of the subjoined vocabulary, in continuation of the philology of the central or Iwillik tribes, the chain may be considered complete.
With these people many of the familiar sounds of the civilized languages are found, as, for instance, the child's first words, an-an-na (mother), ah-dad-ah (father), ah-mam-mah (the mother's breast), ah-pa-pah (little piece of meat, either raw or cooked). Then there is the very natural expression for pain or sickness - ah-ah. Many words seem to indicate the meaning by imitating the action or sound to be described, as the motion of the kittewake when it swoops down toward you with its petulant cry, is well described by the word e-sow'-ook-suck'-too and the vibratory motion of a swinging pendulum by ow-look-a-tak'-took.
The superlative degree is expressed by the suffix adelo - as amasuet (plenty) and amasuadelo (an immense number); also tapsummary (long ago) and tapsumaneadelo (a very long time ago). Examples could be multiplied, but are not necessary. The suffix aloo has somewhat of a similar meaning, or as "Esquimau Joe" translated, it signifies "a big thing;" thus, ivick (walrus), ivicaloo (a big walrus); shoongowyer (beads), shoongowyaloo (big beads), etc. Persons are named usually after some animate or inanimate object, and in repeating to you their own or some one else's name they usually affix the word aloo, as ishuark is a black salmon and also a man's name, but in mentioning the name they always say Ishuark-aloo, though such ceremony is not indulged in on ordinary occasions.