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Inuit Sign Language

Inuit Sign Language
Native to Canada, Greenland
Native speakers
(no estimate available)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Linguist list

Inuit Sign Language (ISL, or IUR for Inuit Uukturausingit), also known as Eskimo Sign Language and Inuktitut Sign Language, is the indigenous sign language used by Inuit communities in the eastern Arctic, including Nunavut and perhaps northern Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Greenland.

At least since the 18th century, hearing Inuit used some form of sign language for trade and communication between various Inuit languages, a similar role to that played by Plains Sign Language further south. This may have been IUR or at least its ancestor, as the region has a high incidence of congenital deafness. In the territory of Nunavut, for example, the incidence of hereditary deafness is six times that of southern Canada. The deaf are well integrated in the community, and there are perhaps two hearing people proficient in IUR for every deaf speaker, as in other communities with high rates of congenital deafness such as Martha's Vineyard. However, IUR is not (or no longer) used as a contact language among the hearing.[1] Its speakers are the deaf and those hearing people they regularly communicate with; there are perhaps two hearing speakers for every deaf speaker of IUR.[2]

IUR is a threatened language. Those deaf who have been to school use American Sign Language; only about a third of the population (50 people ca. 2000) use IUR as their native language.[2] The sign language of Greenland is reported to be closely related, though with some ASL and Danish Sign Language loans. It is not clear how far west IUR extends.

Greenlandic Sign Language is known as Kalaallisut Ussersuutit in Inuit. Inuktitut Sign Language is Inuktitut Uukturausiq, Inuktitut Tikuqqat, or Tikurarniq Inuktitut. The formal name for the umbrella language is Inuit Uqausiqatigiit Uukturausiq Uqajuittunut "General Inuit Sign Language for Deaf".


  1. ^ According to Schuit (2012). MacDougall (2000) reports that hearing people have been observed using it for inter-dialectical communication, noting that "this is not unusual for nomadic hunters and others living in isolated places". However, it is not clear if he is referring to historical or contemporary accounts.
  2. ^ a b Joke Schuit (2012) "Signing in the Arctic: External influences on Inuit Sign Language". In Ulrike Zeshan & Connie de Vos, eds., Sign Languages in Village Communities.
  • MacDougall, JC (2000) 'Access to justice for deaf Inuit in Nunavut: The role of "Inuit sign language".' Canadian Psychology, 2001(Feb) 42(1):61–73
(a summary may be more readily available in Coon (2009) Psychology: A Journey)
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