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The German Connection

The German Connection

How brushing up on your deutsch lessons might help you get by in Northern Labrador
By Daniel Campbell
May 27
From the May 2016 Issue

The Inuit of Nunatsiavut (Labrador), like Inuit across the Arctic, have their own dialect of Inuktitut—Inuttitut—but unlike the other dialects, the careful listener might hear a hint of German. 

Missionaries who arrived from Germany in the 1700 and 1800s, when not busy trying to convert Labrador Inuit to Christianity, took the time to record Inuttitut dictionaries. But when they came across concepts that don’t appear in Inuttitut—things that just didn’t exist in pre-contact Labrador—they simply used German words. 

That’s why the Inuttitut word for potato—Kâttopalak—looks pretty similar to the German version (Kartoffel). It’s the same with God (Koti in Inuttitut, Gott in German), lion (Luivik in Inuttitut, Löwe in German), and coin (Silipa in Inuttitut; Silber, meaning silver, in German). 

The days of the week and times of day in Inuttitut are spelled almost exactly the same as German words too, and sound very similar—something that may baffle an English listener.  

But Inuttitut, like many aboriginal languages, is now severely endangered, with only a few hundred speakers left. So if you’re planning a trip to Nunatsiavut, make sure you take the time to study the local language, and maybe learn some phrases. 

And hey—if you know a bit of German, you’ve already got a head start.