THERE is one serious obstacle to any study of the Eskimo conversation. That is the Eskimo language. I myself learned between 700 and 800 words, yet I found that barely enough to follow even the general trend of a conversation. As for getting any of the finer shades of meaning, it was simply out of the question.
The reason is obvious. Stefansson estimates that the average Eskimo has between 10,000 and 15,000 words in his every day vocabulary. Compared with this massive total a trivial 700 words forms scarcely a drop in the bucket. But even a large vocabulary would not eliminate the difficulty of the frightfully complex grammar. For example, I had worked out for myself 182 different inflexions for each Eskimo verb. When I got down to the Congressional Library, however, I found that thirty years ago Father Barnum, who lived among the Eskimos for nine years, worked out a 400 page syntax for their language which showed among other things some sixty-three different grammatical forms for the present tense alone. As to how many forms there may be altogether in the Eskimo language, Stefansson says: "No man has ever worked out the number of possible different ways in which a single Eskimo verb may be used, but it is undoubtedly up in the tens of thousands." But verbs