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

  • Four officers who responded to U.S. Capitol attack have died by suicide

    World News CTV News
    The District of Columbia's police department on Monday said two more police officers who responded to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol have died by suicide, bringing to four the number of known suicides by officers who guarded the building that day. Source
  • U.S. hits 70 per cent vaccination rate -- a month late, amid a surge

    World News CTV News
    The U.S. on Monday finally reached President Joe Biden's goal of getting at least one COVID-19 shot into 70 per cent of American adults -- a month late and amid a fierce surge by the delta variant that is swamping hospitals and leading to new mask rules and mandatory vaccinations around the country. Source
  • China flooding deaths triple to more than 300 after officials revise toll

    World News CBC News
    More than 300 people died in recent flooding in central China, authorities said Monday, three times the previously announced toll. The Henan provincial government said 302 people died and 50 remain missing. The vast majority of the victims were in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, where 292 died and 47 are missing. Source
  • Woman fatally mauled by bear in northern Alberta

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON -- Mounties say a female tree planter has been mauled to death by a bear in northern Alberta. RCMP told CTV News they received a call just after 3 p.m. on July 31 regarding an attack in a rural area northwest of Swan Hills. Source
  • Family of Black man fatally shot by police in Repentigny, Que., blame racism for his death

    Canada News CBC News
    The family of a Repentigny, Que., man who died after police shot him three times in the stomach on Sunday are blaming anti-Black racism in the city's police force for his death and are demanding justice. Marie-Mireille Bence, the mother of the victim, called police Sunday morning asking them to bring her son, Jean René Junior Olivier, 37, to the hospital because he was having a mental health issue. Source
  • Calgary woman felt 'humiliated' by Alberta sheriffs during a traffic stop

    Canada News CTV News
    CALGARY -- KumKum Roychowdhury says she was driving home to Calgary from her nephew's home in Airdrie, Atla., when she was pulled over by Alberta sheriffs and asked to take a breathalyzer. When she struggled to provide a proper sample after 17 attempts, she said that's when officers told her to remove part of her cultural outfit and open her clothing, an idea she was "insulted" by. Source
  • Calgary woman says she felt 'humiliated' by Alberta sheriffs during a traffic stop

    Canada News CTV News
    CALGARY -- KumKum Roychowdhury says she was driving home to Calgary from her nephew's home in Airdrie, Atla., when she was pulled over by Alberta sheriffs and asked to take a breathalyzer. When she struggled to provide a proper sample after 17 attempts, she said that's when officers told her to remove part of her cultural outfit and open her clothing, an idea she was "insulted" by. Source
  • Sixties Scoop survivors call for federal inquiry and apology

    Canada News CBC News
    WARNING: This story contains distressing details. Former Canadian senator Murray Sinclair and a group representing survivors of the Sixties Scoop are calling for a federal inquiry into the actions and policies of governments that led to thousands of Indigenous children being taken from their homes over four decades and placed with non-Indigenous families. Source
  • FBI used 'provocative photos' of female office staff to catch sexual predators, watchdog says

    World News CTV News
    FBI agents posted provocative photos of female coworkers online without formal authorization as part of sting operations against sex trafficking, according to a new watchdog report. The Justice Department's inspector general said in a report released Monday that some FBI agents "sometimes used photographs of young female support staff employees to pose as minor children or sex workers to entice sexual predators on various social media websites. Source
  • German court sets trial date for former Nazi guard, aged 100

    World News CTV News
    BERLIN -- A German court has set a trial date for a 100-year-old man who is charged with 3,518 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he served as a Nazi SS guard at a concentration camp on the outskirts of Berlin during World War II. Source