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

  • President says Iran will 'respond' if U.S. missile law passes

    World News CTV News
    TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday his country will respond if a bill in the U.S. Congress imposing sanctions on people involved in Iran's ballistic missile program becomes law. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Tuesday and it now goes to the Senate. Source
  • Ohio to execute Ronald Phillips, man convicted of rape and murder of three-year-old

    World News Toronto Sun
    LUCASVILLE, Ohio — Ohio is preparing to put a condemned child killer to death in the state’s first execution in more than three years. Forty-three-year-old Ronald Phillips is scheduled to die Wednesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. Source
  • New York eyes ‘textalyzer’ to crack down on distracted drivers

    World News Toronto Sun
    ALBANY, N.Y. — New York state is set to study the use of a device known as the “textalyzer” that would allow police to determine whether a motorist involved in a serious crash was texting while driving. Source
  • Life in prison sought for abduction, rape of 4-year-old girl

    World News CTV News
    BILLINGS, Mont. -- Prosecutors say a Montana man turned every parent's nightmare into reality when he chased down a 4-year-old girl at night in a park, snatched her while a friend watched helplessly, then raped and left her for dead on an American Indian reservation. Source
  • Residential school cemetery in Regina to get provincial heritage designation

    Canada News CTV News
    REGINA -- The chief of the group representing Saskatchewan First Nations says designating a residential school cemetery as a provincial heritage property is a sign of recognition and respect. Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says people went through a horrific time at the Regina Indian Industrial School. Source
  • Stolen tortoise found and returned to animal shelter

    World News CTV News
    New York City police have found a rare tortoise that was stolen from an animal shelter. Police announced Tuesday they have recovered the African spurred tortoise named Millennium that was stolen from the Alley Pond Environmental Center last week. Source
  • Senate health care debate could be suspenseful and raucous

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- The Senate's days-long debate on health care features a dynamic that's relatively rare on Capitol Hill. Genuine suspense. Debate kicked off Tuesday without an obvious endgame. Several Republicans voted to start debate but said the bill will have to be changed for them to vote to actually pass the legislation later this week. Source
  • TSB to release report into fatal capsizing of fishing boat off N.B.

    Canada News CTV News
    MONCTON, N.B. -- A new report into the fatal capsizing of a fishing boat that claimed the lives of two men off the coast of northern New Brunswick will be released today. The Transportation Safety Board will release details of its investigation into the June 2016 sinking at a news conference in Moncton, N.B. Source
  • Trump: Liberation from 'Obamacare nightmare' is close

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Celebrating a slim but symbolic health-care win in Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump told supporters in Ohio that the nation was one step closer to liberation from the "Obamacare nightmare." "You think that's easy? That's not easy," he told a crowd of thousands just hours after the Senate took a small but hard-fought first step Tuesday toward Republicans' years-long promise to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's health care law. Source
  • N.S. town to bid celebratory send off to derelict environmental ship

    Canada News CTV News
    SHELBURNE, N.S. -- A Nova Scotia town was holding a celebratory send off today for its notorious guest, the MV Farley Mowat, if the weather permitted. The Town of Shelburne invited residents to come to the waterfront to bid farewell to the derelict vessel that was to be towed out of its harbour. Source