Inuit experts hope to bridge gap between 9 unique 'alphabets'

Two Inuit go hunting. One hands the other his rifle and the recipient says "ma'na."

His partner, though, has no idea what he's just heard.

See Full Article

The word for thanks in his dialect is "qujannamiik."

There are only 60,000 Inuit in Canada, but they are divided between nine different writing forms and at least that many dialects. On Friday, language experts are to meet in Ottawa to help bridge that gulf.

"People can generally understand each other, but there are serious limitations for that understanding," said Natan Obed, head of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada's national Inuit group.

"If we had one unified writing system, we could maximize the ability for us to read in our language and also educate our children and provide them with learning resources."

Inuktitut fractured because it was spoken by widely dispersed groups who rarely interacted. The language splintered further when missionaries developed writing for it.

Syllabics, originally based on characters from Pitman shorthand, are most common in the Eastern Arctic. Roman orthography, the letters of the alphabet most of us recognize, is mostly used in the west.

The dialects have diverged so widely that some use sounds that speakers from other parts of the North can't even pronounce. Obed's group produces a magazine called Inuktitut that native speakers in the far west and the far east just can't read.

The drive to establish a standard writing form dates back to a recommendation in a 2011 report on Inuit education. Last September, experts from the four major Inuit regions began that task and continue their work on Friday.

Controversy is expected.

Many argue orthography is the way to go. It's in common use everywhere -- especially on social media and the Internet, both widely used by Inuit.

Last week, Inuktitut interpreters and translators voted at a conference in Iqaluit in favour of moving to orthography.

But many don't want to say goodbye to the triangles, circles and squiggles of syllabics. The debate gets more heated because the areas where Inuktitut is strongest -- almost all Quebec Inuit say they're fluent -- are the same areas that use syllabics.

"There are more Inuit talking seriously about transitioning out of syllabics into orthography," Obed said. "(But) it is very contentious because it gets to the heart of who people are and how they've learned and express themselves.

"People have equated linguistic preservation and use to syllabics," Obed said. "Syllabics attachment is based on the overarching history and the fact that syllabics allowed people to retain their language and their culture at a time of colonization and great upheaval."

There is no central language authority across all four Inuit regions. Implementing any recommendations from the standardization report will be up to the regional land-claim groups.

Coming together would have economic and cultural benefits, said Obed. It would draw Inuit together and make developing curriculum materials for schools easier and cheaper.

"The Roman orthography side says, 'Look at the practicality of what orthography could do to unlock the learning potential, to reduce costs, to ensure in this digital age that we don't have to get through another set of barriers to express ourselves."

The experts meeting this weekend have until early next year to complete their work.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Many families of people killed in N.S. mass shooting boycott public hearings

    Canada News CBC News
    Lawyers representing more than half of the people killed in the April 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia say they are boycotting four days of public inquiry proceedings in response to a ruling that three key Mounties will not have to testify in person. Source
  • Warriors coach Kerr calls for gun control after Texas school shooting

    World News CTV News
    Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr refused to talk about basketball at a pre-game news conference on Tuesday and instead called for stricter gun control after the killing of at least 18 children and an adult in a Texas school shooting. Source
  • Family grieves teacher killed in Texas school massacre

    World News CTV News
    Eva Mireles on Tuesday went to a job she seemed to love, teaching fourth grade in the small Texas town of Uvalde, but she never came home, murdered along with 19 pupils and another teacher in the latest mass shooting to plague U.S. Source
  • Texas elementary school's end-of-year plans shattered by shooting

    World News CTV News
    The children at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, were two days away from their summer break when Tuesday's massacre unfolded. They had visited the zoo and participated in a gifted-and-talented showcase, recent posts on the school's Facebook page showed. Source
  • Delegations from Sweden and Finland in Turkey for NATO talks

    World News CTV News
    ANKARA, Turkey - Senior officials from Sweden and Finland met with Turkish counterparts in Ankara on Wednesday in an effort to overcome Turkey's strong objections to the Nordic nations' bids to join NATO. Sweden and Finland submitted their written applications to join NATO last week. Source
  • Pakistan raises roadblocks to stop ex-prime minister's banned rally

    World News CTV News
    ISLAMABAD - Pakistani authorities used dozens of shipping containers and trucks to block off major roads into Islamabad on Wednesday, after a defiant former prime minister Imran Khan said he would march with demonstrators to the city centre for a rally he hopes will bring down the government and force early elections. Source
  • U.K. PM 'humbled' by lockdown parties scandal, but wants to move on

    World News CBC News
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has responded to an investigative report on government parties that took place during COVID-19 lockdowns by saying he takes "full responsibility for everything that took place." But while the report published on Wednesday said the blame for rule-breaking lies at the top of government, Johnson insisted again that he did not knowingly break any rules. Source
  • Marcos Jr. proclaimed next Philippine president with huge win

    World News CTV News
    MANILA, Philippines - Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was proclaimed the next president of the Philippines by a joint session of Congress on Wednesday following a landslide election triumph 36 years after his dictator father was ousted in a pro-democracy uprising. Source
  • Palestinian teen shot dead in Israeli raid on West Bank

    World News CTV News
    JERUSALEM - Health authorities said a 16-year-old Palestinian died early Wednesday after being wounded during clashes with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, the latest in a wave of violence that has persisted for months. Source
  • Russia launches fresh offensive, wants sanctions relief to free up Ukraine food supply routes

    World News CBC News
    Russian forces launched offensives on towns in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, with constant mortar bombardment destroying several houses and killing civilians, Ukrainian officials said, as Russia focuses its attack on the industrial Donbas region. Russia has been focused on attempting to seize the separatist-claimed Donbas's two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front, according to Ukrainian officials. Source