AskDefine | Define Eskimo

Dictionary Definition



1 a member of a people inhabiting the Arctic (northern Canada or Greenland or Alaska or eastern Siberia); the Algonquians called them Eskimo (`eaters of raw flesh') but they call themselves the Inuit (`the people') [syn: Esquimau, Inuit]
2 the language spoken by the Eskimo people [syn: Esquimau]

User Contributed Dictionary



First attested 1575–85; earlier form |Esqimawe. From etyl da Eskimo, from etyl fr of 16th-century Basque fishers Esquimaux (, possibly from Spanish esquimao or esquimal), from etyl alg etyl moe ayas̆kimew. The name was originally applied by the Innu people to the Mi'kmaq, and later transferred to the Labrador Inuit. Compare Ojibwe as̆kime.
There is also a folk etymology, once widely cited but now rejected, of an origin in etyl abe askimo. See usage notes.


  • /ˈɛs.kɪ.moʊ/

Alternative spellings

Proper noun

  1. A group of peoples inhabiting the Arctic, from Siberia, through Alaska and Northern Canada, to Greenland, including the Inuit and Yupik.
  2. Any of several languages of the peoples of the same name.



group of peoples
  • Finnish: eskimo
  • Portuguese: esquimós m|p
  • Slovene: eskimi m|p
  • Ukrainian: ескімоси
  • Finnish: eskimokieli
  • Portuguese: esquimó
  • Ukrainian: ескімоська, ескімоська мова


  1. A member of the Eskimo.


member of the Eskimo
  • Czech: Eskymák
  • Finnish: eskimo
  • Portuguese: esquimó
  • Swedish: eskimå
  • Ukrainian: ескімос


  1. Of, or relating to the Eskimo or their language.


of, or relating to the Eskimo
  • Portuguese: esquimó
  • Ukrainian: ескімоський

Usage notes

|Eskimo has come to be considered offensive, especially in Canada. However, it remains an acceptable term for northern peoples in Alaska—including the Inuit Inupiat and the non-Inuit Yupik—and the only encompassing term for all of these Arctic peoples. It is also used worldwide by historians and archaeologists.
The name declined in use because it was thought to stem from a Cree pejorative meaning “eaters of raw meat” rather than from the Inuit people's name for themselves, but this etymology is now discredited (in fact, both the Cree and Inuit ate raw meat).
In Canada, |Eskimo has been superseded by Inuit for the people, which name has official status, and Inuktitut for the language. The Inuit group of Canada's Western Arctic call themselves Inuvialuit. Greenland natives also call themselves Greenlanders or Kalaallit, and their language Greenlandic or Kalaallisut.
Also note that |Eskimo does not include the related Aleut people (Unangam), nor the Indian or First Nations peoples of the Arctic.


Extensive Definition

Eskimos or esquimaux are indigenous peoples who have traditionally inhabited the circumpolar region from eastern Siberia, across Alaska and Canada, and all of Greenland.


There are two main groups referred to as Eskimo: Yupik and Inuit. A third group, Unangam, is related. The Yupik language dialects and cultures in Alaska and eastern Siberia have evolved in place beginning with the original (pre-Dorset) Eskimo culture that developed in Alaska. Approximately 4000 years ago the Unangam (also known as Aleut) culture became distinctly separate, and evolved into a non-Eskimo culture. Approximately 1500-2000 years ago, apparently in Northwestern Alaska, two other distinct variations appeared. The Inuit language branch became distinct and in only several hundred years spread across northern Alaska, Canada and into Greenland. At about the same time, the Thule Technology also developed in northwestern Alaska and very quickly spread over the entire area occupied by Eskimo people, though it was not necessarily adopted by all of them.
The earliest known Eskimo cultures were Pre-Dorset Technology, which appear to have been a fully developed Eskimo culture that dates at 5000 years ago. They appear to have evolved in Alaska from people using the Archaic Small Tools Technology, who probably had migrated to Alaska from Siberia at least 2 to 3 thousand years earlier; though they might have been in Alaska as far back as 10 to 12 thousand years or more. There are similar artifacts found in Siberia going back to perhaps 18,000 years ago. It is believed that the Mongols of China, Eskimos, and probably the Korean people too all share a common ancestor in northern Asia.
Today the two main groups of Eskimos are the Inuit of northern Alaska, Canada and Greenland, and the Yupik, comprising speakers of four distinct Yupik languages and originating in western Alaska, in South Central Alaska along the Gulf of Alaska coast, and in the Russian Far East.


The Eskimo-Aleut family of languages includes two cognate branches. The Unangam (Aleut) branch and the Eskimo branch. The Eskimo sub-family consists of the Inuit language and Yupik language sub-groups. The Sirenikski language is sometimes regarded as a third branch of the Eskimo language family, but other sources regard it as a group belonging to the Yupik branch. Sirenikski is virtually extinct.
the term Eskimo is widely held to be pejorative perception that it means "eaters of raw meat". There are two different etymologies in scientific literature for the term Eskimo. The most well-known comes from Ives Goddard at the Smithsonian Institution , who says it means "Snowshoe netters". and in the eastern Canadian Arctic Inuit. The language is often called Inuktitut, though other local designations are also used.
The Inuit of Greenland refer to themselves as Greenlanders or, in their own language, Kalaallit, and to their language as Greenlandic or Kalaallisut.
Because of the linguistic, ethnic, and cultural differences between Yupik and Inuit peoples there is uncertainty as to the acceptance of any term encompassing all Yupik and Inuit people. There has been some movement to use Inuit, and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, representing a circumpolar population of 150,000 Inuit and Yupik people of Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, in its charter defines Inuit for use within the ICC as including "the Inupiat, Yupik (Alaska), Inuit, Inuvialuit (Canada), Kalaallit (Greenland) and Yupik (Russia)." However, even the Inuit people in Alaska refer themselves as Inupiat (the language is Inupiaq) and do not typically use the term Inuit. Thus, in Alaska, Eskimo is in common usage, and is the preferred term when speaking collectively of all Inupiat and Yupik people, or of all Inuit and Yupik people of the world.


The Alutiiq also called Pacific Yupik or Sugpiaq, are a southern, coastal branch of Yupik. They are not to be confused with the Aleuts, who live further to the southwest, including along the Aleutian Islands. They traditionally lived a coastal lifestyle, subsisting primarily on ocean resources such as salmon, halibut, and whale, as well as rich land resources such as berries and land mammals. Alutiiq people today live in coastal fishing communities, where they work in all aspects of the modern economy, while also maintaining the cultural value of subsistence. The Alutiiq language is relatively close to that spoken by the Yupik in the Bethel, Alaska area, but is considered a distinct language with two major dialects: the Koniag dialect, spoken on the Alaska Peninsula and on Kodiak Island, and the Chugach dialect, is spoken on the southern Kenai Peninsula and in Prince William Sound. Residents of Nanwalek, located on southern part of the Kenai Peninsula near Seldovia, speak what they call Sugpiaq and are able to understand those who speak Yupik in Bethel. With a population of approximately 3,000, and the number of speakers in the mere hundreds, Alutiiq communities are currently in the process of revitalizing their language.

Central Alaskan Yup'ik

Yup'ik, with an apostrophe, denotes the speakers of the Central Alaskan Yup'ik language, who live in western Alaska and southwestern Alaska from southern Norton Sound to the north side of Bristol Bay, on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and on Nelson Island. The use of the apostrophe in the name Yup'ik denotes a longer pronunciation of the p sound than found in Siberian Yupik. Of all the Alaska Native languages, Central Alaskan Yup'ik has the most speakers, with about 10,000 of a total Yup'ik population of 21,000 still speaking the language. There are five dialects of Central Alaskan Yup'ik, including General Central Yup'ik and the Egegik, Norton Sound, Hooper Bay-Chevak, Nunivak, dialects. In the latter two dialects, both the language and the people are called Cup'ik.

Siberian Yupik

Siberian Yupik reside along the Bering Sea coast of the Chukchi Peninsula in Siberia in the Russian Far East The Central Siberian Yupik spoken on the Chukchi Peninsula and on St. Lawrence Island is nearly identical. About 1,050 of a total Alaska population of 1,100 Siberian Yupik people in Alaska still speak the language, and it is still the first language of the home for most St. Lawrence Island children. In Siberia, about 300 of a total of 900 Siberian Yupik people still learn the language, though it is no longer learned as a first language by children. they lived in neighborhood with Siberian Yupik and Chukchi peoples. As early as in 1895, Imtuk was already a settlement with mixed population, Sireniki Eskimos and Ungazigmit (the latter belonging to Siberian Yupik). Sireniki Eskimo culture has been influenced by that of Chukchi (witnessed also by folktale motifs), also the language shows Chukchi language influences.
The above mentioned peculiarities of this (already extinct) Eskimo language amounted to mutual unintelligibility even with its nearest language relatives: in the past, Sireniki Eskimos even had to use the unrelated Chukchi language as a lingua franca for communicating with Siberian Yupik. but even the grammar has several peculiarities not only among Eskimo languages, but even inside the entire language family, thus, even compared to Aleut. For example, it is the only Eskimo-Aleut language that lacks dual number, even its neighboring Siberian Yupik relatives have dual.
Little is known about the origin of this diversity. According to a supposition, the peculiarities of this language may be the result of a supposed long isolation from other Eskimo groups, being in contact only with speakers of unrelated languages for many centuries. Influence by Chukchi language is clear. Sireniki language is sometimes regarded as a third branch of Eskimo (at least, its possibility is mentioned), but sometimes it is regarded rather as a group belonging to the Yupik branch.


Inuit languages comprise a dialect continuum, or dialect chain, that stretches from Unalaska and Norton Sound in Alaska, across northern Alaska and Canada, and east all the way to Greenland. Changes from western (Inupiaq) to eastern dialects are marked by the dropping of vestigial Yupik-related features, increasing consonant assimilation (e.g., kumlu, meaning "thumb," changes to kuvlu, changes to kublu,), and increased consonant lengthening, and lexical change. Thus, speakers of two adjacent Inuit dialects would usually be able to understand one another, but speakers from dialects distant from each other on the dialect continuum would have difficulty understanding one another.
The four Yupik languages, including Alutiiq (Sugpiaq), Central Alaskan Yup'ik, Naukan (Naukanski), and Siberian Yupik are distinct languages with phonological, morphological, and lexical differences, and demonstrating limited mutual intelligibility. Additionally, both Alutiiq Central Yup'ik have considerable dialect diversity. The northernmost Yupik languages — Siberian Yupik and Naukanski Yupik — are linguistically only slightly closer to Inuit than is Alutiiq, which is the southernmost of the Yupik languages. Although the grammatical structures of Yupik and Inuit languages are similar, they have pronounced differences phonologically, and differences of vocabulary between Inuit and any of one of the Yupik languages is greater than between any two Yupik languages.
The Sirenikski language is sometimes regarded as a third branch of the Eskimo language family, but other sources regard it as a group belonging to the Yupik branch.
An overview of the Eskimo-Aleut languages family is given below:
Aleut language
Western-Central dialects: Atkan, Attuan, Unangan, Bering (60-80 speakers)
Eastern dialect: Unalaskan, Pribilof (400 speakers)
Eskimo (Yup'ik, Yuit, and Inuit)
Central Alaskan Yup'ik (10,000 speakers)
Alutiiq or Pacific Gulf Yup'ik (400 speakers)
Central Siberian Yupik or Yuit (Chaplinon and St Lawrence Island, 1400 speakers)
Naukan (70 speakers)
Inuit or Inupik (75,000 speakers)
Iñupiaq (northern Alaska, 3,500 speakers)
Inuvialuktun or Inuktun (western Canada; 765 speakers)
Inuktitut (eastern Canada; together with Inuktun and Inuinnaqtun, 30,000 speakers)
Kalaallisut (Greenland, 47,000 speakers)
Sireniki Eskimo language (Sirenikskiy) (extinct)



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  • Язык сиреникских эскимосов. Фонетика, очерк морфологии, тексты и словарь The transliteration of author's name, and the rendering of title in English: Language of Sireniki Eskimos. Phonetics, morphology, texts and vocabulary
Eskimo in Arabic: الإسكيمو
Eskimo in Czech: Eskymáci
Eskimo in German: Eskimo
Eskimo in Estonian: Eskimod
Eskimo in Spanish: Esquimal
Eskimo in French: Eskimo
Eskimo in Korean: 에스키모
Eskimo in Hindi: एस्किमो
Eskimo in Indonesian: Eskimo
Eskimo in Icelandic: Eskimói
Eskimo in Italian: Eschimese
Eskimo in Georgian: ესკიმოსები
Eskimo in Hungarian: Eszkimó
Eskimo in Dutch: Eskimo
Eskimo in Japanese: エスキモー
Eskimo in Norwegian Nynorsk: Eskimoar
Eskimo in Portuguese: Esquimó
Eskimo in Russian: Эскимосы
Eskimo in Serbian: Ескими
Eskimo in Finnish: Eskimot
Eskimo in Swedish: Eskimå
Eskimo in Turkish: Eskimo
Eskimo in Chinese: 愛斯基摩人
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