XXX ESKIMO CONVERSATION

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

-297-

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Arctic Village
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgment vii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I the Background 11
  • Geography 13
  • Climate 19
  • Iii History 29
  • Part II the People 45
  • Iv the Whites 47
  • V an Evening at the Roadhouse 57
  • Vi the Eskimos 72
  • Vii an Evening at Big Jim's 83
  • Viii Eskimo Biographies 88
  • Part III the Economic Life 99
  • Ix Labor 101
  • X Capital 117
  • Xii the Advent of the Mechanical 132
  • Xiii Food 138
  • Xiv Clothing 144
  • Xv Shelter 151
  • Xvi the Quest for Gold 156
  • Xvii Living off the Country 164
  • Xviii Financial Summary 176
  • Part IV the Communal Life 185
  • Xix Law and Law Enforcement 187
  • Xx Voluntary Communal Responsibility 198
  • Xxi Sickness and Health 204
  • Xxii the Hazardous Koyukuk 214
  • Xxiii Quarrels and Unpopularity 222
  • Xxiv Inter-Racial Relations 230
  • Xxv Children and Education 238
  • Part V the Sexual Life 247
  • Xxvi Marriage 249
  • Xxvii Promiscuity and Taboos 264
  • Xxviii Chickens 273
  • Part VI the Recreational Life 283
  • Xxix White Conversation 285
  • Xxx Eskimo Conversation 297
  • Xxxi Dancing 305
  • Xxxii the Arts 315
  • Part VII Koyukuk Philosophy 327
  • Xxxiii the History of the World 329
  • Xxxiv Medicine Men and the Supernatural 340
  • Xxxv Christianity Among the Eskimos 352
  • Xxxvi the Religion of the Whites 358
  • Xxxvii White Happiness 364
  • Conclusion 373
  • Appendix 381
  • General Index 383
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