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.

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

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