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

  • 10,000 construction heaters recalled in Canada over fire risk

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO – A popular construction heater is being recalled following two separate reports that it overheated and caught fire. The recall covers the Mastercraft Construction Heater. According to Health Canada, approximately 10,000 of the 4,800-watt heaters were sold at Canadian Tire locations between 1997 and 2014, when they were discontinued. Source
  • Judges question continued secrecy of parts of Mueller report

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals panel is voicing skepticism over the Justice Department's claim it can defy Congress' request for secret material from the Mueller report. Two of the three judges who heard arguments at a hearing Monday seemed prepared to order at least some of the material sought by the House for its impeachment inquiry to be turned over. Source
  • 3 killed in shooting at Walmart in Oklahoma: police chief

    World News CTV News
    DUNCAN, Okla. -- Two men and a woman were fatally shot Monday outside a Walmart store in Oklahoma, the chief of police said. Two victims were shot inside a car and the third was in the parking lot outside the store in Duncan, Police Chief Danny Ford said. Source
  • Boy killed, girl in critical condition after two cars collide with moose

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- One child is dead and another is fighting for her life after a crash involving two vehicles and a moose in western Quebec. The collision occurred Sunday afternoon, when a vehicle hit the moose on route 323 in Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix, about 150 kilometres northwest of Montreal. Source
  • 32 arrested at Indian call centre that targeted Canadians

    World News CTV News
    TORONTO – Indian authorities say they have shut down a call centre where dozens of people tried to dupe Canadians into handing over money through a phone scam involving social insurance numbers. Sameer Sharma, a deputy police commissioner in New Delhi, said in a statement that the "swanky international scam call centre targeting Canadian citizens" first came to the attention of police on Friday. Source
  • 'We're always ready': Life aboard Canada's HMCS Ottawa enforcing sanctions against North Korea

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO – Commander Alex Barlow’s day starts like many Canadians - with an early morning, 6 a.m. workout. But, while many enjoy the comfort of a treadmill at home or a local gym, Barlow’s is aboard a 5,000-tonne warship – the HMCS Ottawa, a Halifax-class frigate in the Royal Canadian Navy fleet currently travelling to the Philippines Sea. Source
  • Bridge collapse in France leaves 15-year-old girl dead

    World News CTV News
    PARIS -- Authorities say a bridge has collapsed in rural southwest France, killing a 15-year-old girl and leaving at least one person missing. Toulouse prosecutor Dominique Alzeari said the girl's mother was rescued by witnesses after several vehicles, including hers, fell into the Tarn River on Monday morning near the village of Mirepoix-sur-Tarn. Source
  • University of Calgary encourages its exchange students to vacate Hong Kong

    World News CTV News
    CALGARY – The University of Calgary has offered assistance to two of its students who are currently participating in an exchange program in Hong Kong as police and protesters continue to clash in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. Source
  • Trump says he'll 'strongly consider' Pelosi offer to testify in impeachment inquiry

    World News CBC News
    President Donald Trump suggested Monday he might be willing to offer written testimony in the House impeachment inquiry over whether he pressured Ukraine's president to investigate Joe Biden and his son while withholding aid to the country. Source
  • U.S. officials knew of Ukraine's Trump anxiety: AP

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Despite his denials, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was feeling pressure from the Trump administration to investigate former Vice-President Joe Biden before his July phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump that has led to impeachment hearings. Source