I understand that some people who speak Inuktitut self-designate as "Inuit" which allegedly means "people", or "human beings" or something similar. I've heard the same about people who are described with the exonym "Shoshone" calling themselves "newe" (or a similar term), which is supposed to mean "humans" or "people". Similar translations of endonyms as "people" or "human" seem to exist elsewhere.
But I don't understand how this works. Let's say in Inuktitut, is Inuit only used to self-refer to a more ore less defined group of people? But then the translation of "people" sounds highly misleading. Let's assume the etymology of Pусский ("Russian") became obscured, but people in the area of today's Russia still referred to themselves as "Pусский". Then it certainly would be misleading to say "many people in Eastern Europe and northern Asia call themselves 'Pусский', which in their language simply means 'humans' ". Or are endonyms such as newe or Inuit used as an endonym in one context, but in other contexts used to describe other people in general as well? Thus would it be, depending on context, be correct to say in Shoshoni "there are about 1000 newe, most of them in Idaho", and "there are currently living 8 billion newe on Earth"? I've asked this question in the linguistics subreddit, and the answers that came up stated either:
- newe and Inuit can mean people in general or people of the specific group, depending on context
- newe and Inuit can mean only people of the specific group, in which case translating both to "people" or "humans" is misleading
- newe and Inuit meant people in general in the past and later became an endonym after intense context to other groups outside. I find option 3 believable for Inuit, who may have had little contact to culturally and linguistically different groups, but not so plausible for newe/Shoshones.
I understand that there may not be a single answer for all groups in which this phenomenon exists, but I would be very grateful for some input.