Proto-Eskimo–Aleut language

Proto-Inuit-Yupik-Unangan or Proto-Eskimo–Aleut was the common ancestor of the Eskimo languages and Aleut. Its existence is known through similarities in Eskimo and Aleut. The existence of Proto-Eskimo–Aleut is generally accepted among linguists. It was for a long time true that no linguistic reconstruction of Proto-Eskimo–Aleut had yet been produced, as stated by Bomhard (2008:209). Such a reconstruction was offered by Knut Bergsland in 1986. Michael Fortescue (1998:124–125) has offered another version of this system, largely based on the reconstruction of Proto-Eskimo in the Comparative Eskimo Dictionary he co-authored with Steven Jacobson and Lawrence Kaplan (1994:xi).


Fortescue reconstructs the phoneme inventory of Proto-Eskimo-Aleut as follows:[1]

Labial Alveolar Velar Uvular
  plain  palatalized
Nasal mn()[decimal 1]ŋ
Plosive ptkq
Affricate c[decimal 2][decimal 2]
Fricative voiceless
voiced vðɣʁ
Lateral fricative (ɬ)[decimal 3]
Approximant lj[decimal 4]
Front Central Back
Close iu
Mid ə
Open a


    • // may not have been distinct from */n/; Fortescue reconstructs it for the correspondence of "Sirenikski Eskimo initial /j/, elsewhere /n/".
  1. It is not clear from Fortescue's description whether the sounds denoted by */c/ and */sʲ/ were affricates [ts tsʲ] or fricatives [s ].
    • /ɬ/ may have been a later development from clusters of */l/ with a plosive.
    • /j/ was most likely a fully palatal approximant, but it is grouped with the palatalized alveolars for convenience.

Possible relation to other language families

There are no generally accepted relations between Proto-Eskimo–Aleut and other language families. A substantial case for a genetic relationship between Proto-Eskimo–Aleut and several languages of northern Eurasia was published by Michael Fortescue in 1998 in Language Relations across Bering Strait (see Uralo-Siberian languages).


  1. Fortescue 1998, pp. 124–125


  • Bergsland, Knut. 1986. "Comparative Eskimo–Aleut phonology and lexicon". Journal de la Société finno-ougrienne 80:63–137.
  • Bomhard, Allan R. 2008. Reconstructing Proto-Nostratic: Comparative Phonology, Morphology, and Vocabulary, 2 volumes. Leiden: Brill.
  • Fortescue, Michael, Steven Jacobson, and Lawrence Kaplan. 1994. Comparative Eskimo Dictionary with Aleut Cognates. Alaska Native Language Center.
  • Fortescue, Michael. 1998. Language Relations across Bering Strait: Reappraising the Archaeological and Linguistic Evidence. London and New York: Cassell.
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