For Teachers

Teaching Tips:

  1. See What’s Out There: There’s more Iñupiat resources than you might think, although it may take a little bit of digging to find it. Much of the Iñupiat language resources that are available have been created for students and teachers, so take advantage of that and use them. Check out this document for a list of resources.
  2. Allow Mistakes: Language learning is a scary thing, and it gets more difficult and frightening the older we get. Many students are apprehensive about speaking because they feel uncomfortable making mistakes, whether it is mistakes in pronunciation, getting words mixed up or in constructing their sentences. In a language class, it is important to create an environment where students are allowed to make mistakes. As children, we didn’t go from baby-talk straight to perfectly formed sentences. It was a process, and learning a language later in life is definitely a process that takes time and many mistakes.
  3. Get Student Input: Several years ago, I attended a Where Are Your Keys (a language learning method) training session. At the end of each training session, we conducted a “pluses and deltas” session. This this where the students are invited to share what they thought went well or worked for them (“pluses” or + ), and what they would change about the lessons (“deltas” or Δ). The teacher writes down all suggestions and uses them to adapt their teaching strategies and approaches. What I liked about this is that it gets students to think about their learning, and it reframes the old “pros and cons” approach into something more active. The delta symbol (Δ) signifies change, while “con” simply implies negativity. When students share things that didn’t work for them, see it as an opportunity to adapt your teaching methods to best fit the needs of your particular class.
  4. Communicate and Collaborate: Know other language teachers? Get their input. Even if you don’t teach the same language, other language teachers may have methods, lesson plans, and activities that you might find useful in your own class. You might even be able to collaborate with their classes through Skype, Google Hangout or Zoom.
  5. Share: Got a great lesson plan? Do you have an activity that worked really well in your class? Share it with others.

Lesson Ideas


Lesson Suggestions

Think of the subjects that are taught from elementary to post-secondary schools. Math, Writing, Science, Art. How many resources do you think are out there? For these subjects, there are innumerable lesson plans, curricula, and activity ideas out there. But this is not necessarily the case for Iñupiat language. Although more and more resources are being developed, there are still many gaps in resources for teachers.

Here are some ideas for creating lessons and activities in your class:

  1. Student-created resources: Have students create an infographic for Iñupiat grammar concepts, such as this one. This will place the responsibility for learning into the students’ hands and allow them to create their own understanding of a subject. An activity like this also allows for some creativity. Make a list of the grammar concepts you are teaching. Some examples are noun cases, types of verbs, verb moods, demonstratives, etc. Have students choose one to create an infographic for. Piktochart and Canva are good places to start for creating infographics.

2. Teaching online? One of the most important ways to practice fluency is by holding conversations in the language. It can be challenging to facilitate this type of practice when your students not only have different schedules, but they also are in different cities. This is where conferencing and discussion platforms such as Google Hangout, Zoom or Slack can be helpful. Here are a couple ways to use these platforms in your class.

  • Students can hold discussions and conversations with each other in Iñupiat. They can even create recordings of their conversations.
  • In order to spark conversation, give your students something to converse about, or have them find something they would like to talk about. It could be an image, a video, a slideshow, etc. Students may use the screenshare function to display whatever you or they choose to talk about.

3. Foster Creativity: Are some of your students interested in music? Have them create or translate a song. Are they creative writers? Let them write stories, poems, or essays. The possibilities are endless and you will end up with some great student-created projects.

4. Get them moving! Dedicate one class period a week, or every two weeks to TPR (total physical response). Let students respond to commands such as “Qaiñ” or “Aullaġiñ.” And give students a chance to give commandments and lead the TPR game. Here are a couple you can try.

  • “Mauŋaġiñ!/ Nutqaġiñ!” (Come here!/Stop!) (aka Redlight/Greenlight)
    • Need: plenty of space (hallway, gym, a field, etc.)
    • Rules: This is a common children’s game but in case you forgot, here are the rules.
    • Skills taught: Basic commands in plural, dual, and singular forms
  • “Natmun? (To Where?)
    • Need: a blindfold (I bought a cheap sleeping mask for this), a somewhat spacious (and clear) area.
    • Rules: Have an end goal, such as a classroom door. One person is blindfolded and spun around three times. The rest of the class directs the blindfolded person to the place they need to go. Each person gets a turn.
    • Skills taught: Demonstrative adverbs, basic commands

Atiġausit: Nouns

Remember again all those grammar lessons you received as a kid. Remember that a noun is a word that refers to a person, place, thing or idea. Of course, in Iñupiat, nouns look different than English nouns.

Iñupiat nouns come in singular, dual and plural forms. How will you be able to identify Iñupiat nouns? By following these guidelines:

  1. a singular noun can end in any of these letters: a, i, u, n, k, q
  2. all dual nouns end in k
  3. all plural nouns end in t (or ch after a strong i)

Nouns play many roles in Iñupiat sentences. They can be the subject, object, or they can even become the verb of the sentence. In order for an Iñupiat noun to play different roles in a sentence, it either needs to have a postbase attached or it needs to be in a specific noun case. A noun case is a special suffix ending, similar to a postbase. But, unlike a postbase, you can’t attach anything else onto a noun case.

There are 9 noun cases. If you are following the Module schedule, then you’ve already learned about one of the uses of the Relative Case, and one use of the Modalis Case. If you continue with the modules, you will learn about the other noun cases along with other grammar concepts.

If you would like to learn about the functions of all the noun cases, check out the chart linked below.

Iñupiaq Noun Cases

Are you able to identify Iñupiat nouns? Practice here.

Transitive Verbs

To learn about intransitive verbs, go here.

Ok, here’s a quick rundown of what transitive verbs are. Remember that verbs carry action. Intransitive verbs do not transfer the action directly to an object. However, transitive verbs do. Take the English verbs ‘help,’ ‘eat,’ and ‘see.’

‘Ted is helping Barney and Robin.’

‘Marshall is eating three pancakes.’

‘Lily sees a picture.’

Ted-gum ikayuġaik Barney-lu Robin-lu.

Marshall-gum niġigai siḷaavyaich piŋasut.

Lily-m qiñiġaa qiñiġaaq.

In order to create transitive sentences, you need a minimum of three ingredients:

  1. transitive verb
  2. relative noun
  3. direct object

Transitive verbs take endings that are different from intransitive verb endings. These verb endings indicate the person and number. This lesson will cover indicative verb endings.

Remember that you must begin crafting your sentence with a verb stem and complete it with a verb ending. There are a number of postbases that can be added in between, but right now we will focus on this formula:

verb stem + ending = sentence

ikayuq ‘to help’ + ai ‘3rd sing – 3rd pl’ = ikayuġai ‘He/she is helping them.’



For verb endings, we’ll use a chart similar to the intransitive verb chart.

Transitive Verb Endings

  3rd Person2nd Person1st Person
1st Personsingularigaikkaitkaikpiñivsikivsi
dual ikpukivukivukivsigiñivsikivsi
2nd Personsingularinikkiñitiniŋmaivsigukivsigut
3rd Personsingularaaaikaiaatinaasikaasiaaŋaaatigukaatigut
Assimilate according to the following verb stem-finals:

Vowel: add g + ending
Consonants: add k + ending
k: add k + ending
It (Strong I): palatalize t to ch + ending
q: assimilate q to ġ, add ending

Assimilation Examples:

ai- “to fetch (someone/something)”

Aigiga utkusik.

paqit- “to find (someone/something)”

Paqitkaa tammaqtuaq

SuŋIt- “to not say/do anything (to someone/something)”

Suŋitchaat “They are not saying anything to them”

piḷak- “to butcher (a game animal)”

ullak- “to approach (someone/something)”

ullakkaatin “She is approaching you.”

qiñiq- “to watch, look at, see (someone/something)”

Relative Case: Who’s doing what?

In your transitive Iñupiat sentence, the subject of your sentence must be in the relative noun case. This is different from intransitive sentences, where the subject is in the absolutive case (in other words, no change is made to the noun). To get started, let’s take a look at these two English sentences.

Aalaak sees the Kanauq.

Kanauq is helping her grandmother.

Notice that the endings of the subjects change.

Aalaagum qiñiġaa Kanauq.

Kanaum ikayuġaa aakani.

Remember from the noun case chart, that the marker for the relative case is -m or -gum

Assimilation: these are the assimilation rules for the relative case.

Pay attention to the noun stem ending to see how you add the relative case maker -m or -gum

Vowel (-n finals get changed to -ti and -ñ finals get changed to -si): just add

iglu         iglum

nuviya    nuviyam

aŋun      aŋutim

Weak q: q gets dropped

aġnaq       aġnam

qimmiq    qimmim

Strong consonant (Q or k): add :um

natchiQ   natchiġum

tupiQ       tupqum

for -k endings, k becomes g and then is dropped if it is between two single vowels.

uyaġak     uyaġaum

kamik       kamŋum

Dual and Plural: these words look the same whether they are in the relative case or the absolutive case. Take a look at these examples.

Relative and Absolutive
Relative and Absolutive

Transitive Sentences

Ok, here’s a quick rundown of what transitive verbs are. Remember that verbs carry action. Intransitive verbs do not transfer the action to an object. However, transitive verbs do. Take the English verbs ‘help,’ ‘eat,’ and ‘see.’

‘Ted helped Barney and Robin.’

‘Marshall ate a three pancakes.’

‘Lily sees a picture.’

Ted-gum ikayuġaa Barney-lu Robin-lu.

Marshall-gum niġigai silaavyak piŋasut.

Lily-m qiñiġaa qiñiġaaq.

In order to create transitive sentences, you need a minimum of three ingredients: a transitive verb, a relative noun, and a direct object. Follow the links to learn how to create a transitive sentence.

2.1.1 transitive verb

2.1.2 relative noun

2.1.3 direct object



Modalis Case: The Indefinite Object


The modalis case plays many roles in the Iñupiat language. This is one of them.

In your intransitive sentence, often times you will need what is called an indefinite object. But what is an indefinite object?

First, an object of a sentence is the noun that is receiving the action of the verb, such as the word ‘pancake’ in the following sentence. 

Marshall is eating a pancake.

An indefinite object refers to a non-specific object in an intransitive sentence. Take a look at the word ‘pancake’ in the following examples.

Marshall is eating a pancake. ‹—- indefinite

Marshall is eating the pancake ‹—- definite

An indefinite object, in Iñupiat, is always a part of an intransitive sentence rather than a transitive sentence. And an Iñupiat indefinite object takes the modalis case, which is a specific ending (similar to a postbase) ÷mik.

Marshall niġiruq siḷaavyaŋmik.

Remember that word order is flexible in Iñupiat. The word order depends on what you want to emphasize in your sentence.

Marshall siḷaavyaŋmik niġiruq.

Niġiruq siḷaavyaŋmik Marshall.

Niġiruq Marshall siḷaavyaŋmik.

Siḷaavyaŋmik niġiruq Marshall.

Siḷaavyaŋmik Marshall niġiruq.

Assimilation with ÷mik

If you need a refresher on assimilation, click here.

÷mik is the ending for the modalis case. This site is using the same assimilation symbols as the North Slope Iñupiaq Grammar. Remember that the ÷ means that “the postbase deletes stem-final weak q but not Q, k, or n.” Here are examples of assimilation for ÷mik, depending on the noun ending. For instance if a noun ends in:

vowel, n or ñ

Just add. For nouns ending in -n or -ñ, either add or convert -n to -ti and -ñ to -si and add.

qavlu                     qavlumik an eyebrow

puya                      puyamik a piece of dirt or grime

avillaitqan            avillaitqanmik or avillaitqatimik a friend

akiñ                       akiñmik or akisimik a pillow

weak consonant

Add, deleting weak q. Middle consonant may be geminated.

aġnaq                   aġnamik a woman

qaqasaŋŋuaq     qaqasaŋŋuamik a computer

qayaq                   qayamik or qayyamik a kayak

qimmIq                qimmimik a dog

strong consonant:

Add, retain the strong consonant and assimilate. For the purpose of this lesson, strong q’s will be marked as Q. 

uyaġak                  uyaġaŋmik a rock

kamik                    kamiŋmik a boot

AiviQ                     aiviġmik a walrus

Dual and Plural Nouns

Remember that all dual nouns end in -k. Remember that all k’s are strong. Strong I’s cause palatalization. When assimilating dual nouns with the modalis case, add ÷nik.

qaqasannuak       qaqasaŋŋuaŋnik (two) computers

uyaqqak                uyaqqaŋnik (two) rocks

aivvak                    aivvaŋnik (two) walruses

qimmIk                 qimmiŋñik (two) dogs

Remember that absolutive plurals end in either -t or -ch. For modalis plurals, add ÷nik to the singular form of the noun. Strong consonants are retained and assimilated.

qaqasaŋŋuaq         qaqsaŋŋuanik computers

uyaġak                     uyaġaŋnik rocks

aiviQ                        aiviġnik walruses

qimmIq                   qimmiñik dogs

Changing Sounds: Assimilation and Palatalization

I. Assimilation

Yes, if you’ve ever studied any part of the Indigenous histories of North America, the word ‘assimilation’ has an ugly flavor that just kinda lingers on the tongue when spoken. However, in the process of Iñupiaq language-learning, ‘assimilation’ refers to the way word stems, endings and postbases get adjusted so that they can work together to create meaning. It’s kinda like putting puzzle pieces together, if the ends of the puzzle pieces had to change in order to fit each other. Because Iñupiat words consist of many pieces with differing sounds, assimilation functions to make sounds more closely resemble each other in order to make pronunciation flow better.

In order to understand the assimilation process, we need to understand certain rules, which are explained below. Some of the terminology may be a little daunting, but don’t let that intimidate you. It’s the concept that will help your learning that is the most important, not whether or not you remember what exactly a uvular consonant is.

Ki, let’s get started.

Rules and Factors

Impossible Clusters

First of all, it is important to know that there are some letter combinations that simply do not work. These are called impossible clusters. Just like Rory and Dean from Gilmore Girls, as good as these letters may look together, they will never end up with each other. The following are impossible clusters in Iñupiatun.

  1. Three or more consonants

Examples: mpl, qsrl

exceptions: ksr, tch

These combinations are exceptions because sr and ch are digraphs, which means that two letters are used to represent one sound. So, these two digraphs (two letters representing one sound) are essential one letter of the Iñupiat achagat.

2. Three or more vowels


3. Sounds from different rows on the consonant grid

Stopspt -----› chkq'
ł -----›ł̣s
Voiced Fricativesvl -----›r

For instance, because ł and ñ are in different rows, they will not be found next to each other in any Iñupiat word.

4. Velar and Uvular Sounds

kq, qk, gġ, ġg

The Weak and Strong Consonants

Iñupiat has certain letters that are considered ‘weak’ or ‘strong.’ Basically, weak consonants often get dropped from words during the assimilation process, while strong consonants often get assimilated to another sound.

q  and k

In Iñupiat, there are weak q’s and strong q’s. In the lessons on this site, strong q’s will be capitalized (Q) for easy identification. However, activities may not visually distinguish between strong and weak q’s.

In Iñupiat, all k’s are strong.

The Weak I

In Iñupiatun, the letter ‘I’ is classified as either ‘strong’ or ‘weak.’ This affects the letters that are around the ‘I.’ The first ‘i’ that we will talk about is the weak i.

There are two main changes that occur with the weak ‘i’

First, you will need to know that the weak i is always alone. You will never find it next to another vowel. Consonants, yes; vowels, no.

Weak i never plays with other vowels.

But, in the assimilation process, it is inevitable that weak i will be placed next to another vowel. So what happens?

The weak i has to change…

The weak i gets transformed to ‘a’ when placed next to another vowel.

When placed next to another vowel, weak i gets changed to ‘a.’

Examples: siñi (‘edge’) + 3rd person possessive -(ŋ)a = siñaa (‘its edge’)

Consonant Gemination

In some cases, the weak i causes consonants to geminate (to double). This happens with 2-syllable nouns. For instance, take a look at the way the following nouns are dualized.

kamik —› kammak

tupiq —-› tuppak

iri      —-› irrak

II. Palatalization

The palatalization refers to when a sound gets changed so that the sound is articulated against the palate (the roof of the mouth).

The Strong I

In Iñupiat, the major factor in palatalization is the Strong i. Remember, the letter ‘i’ is classified as either ‘strong’ or ‘weak.’ This affects the letters that are around the Strong ‘I.’

If the strong i is followed by any of these letters





then those letters get changed to

s or ch



Still confused? Here is a handy infographic