Nunavut Edition Headline News

July 27, 1998

ICC looks at common writing system for Inuit language

ICC leaders say Inuit must overcome their fear of losing local dialects and adopt a common writing system.

Nunatsiaq News

NUUK, GREENLAND - Their fear of losing local dialects has for years kept many Inuit leaders from starting talks on a common writing system for the Inuit language that could ensure the survival of the language.
NTI President Jose Kusugak: "The more we work internationally, the more we see the necessity of a standardized writing system."

"I know that fear of abolition of existing writing systems has been an impediment to the writing system discussion for many years," Greenland Premier Jonathan Motzfeldt said during the Inuit Circumpolar Conference's eighth general assembly being held in Nuuk this week.

"Now time has come to introduce a manageable writing system in order to secure a real preservation of our Inuit language and in order to enhance our communications."

The idea of a common Inuit writing system isn't a new one for ICC members, who passed a resolution to that effect at their 1989 general assembly.

But as discussions continue into economic trade, education, and communication development among Inuit within the circumpolar world, leaders may now be ready to take a fresh look at the idea.

Respect existing systems

"All existing writing systems and dialects must be respected," Motzfeldt said, "But we must also fully acknowledge that our Inuit language is dying in some areas, even close to extinction."

Nunavut Tunngavik President Jose Kusugak, who represents all Nunavut land claim beneficiaries, first proposed a common writing system in 1976, when he was working with other linguists at the Inuit Cultural Institute's language commission in Arviat.

"The problem was when we brought the original idea to the first meeting of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, it was led by policitians at the time," Kusugak, a linguist who entered the realm of politics, said after Monday morning's discussion on education.

"Language and housing are two things that are sacred to every Eskimo in the Arctic and once you mention those things, people tend to tighten up."

Politicians fear backlash

He added politicians didn't move the idea forward because they feared not being re-elected. That's why he's suggesting that linguists from each circumpolar country be the ones spearheading the development of such a system.

Kusugak said that time has not only soothed fears, but also made people realize that the absence of a common system is hindering development within the Arctic.

"The more we work internationally, the more we see the necessity of a standardized writing system," he said. "Anybody who uses the language in business areas realizes the necessity of a standard writing system and possibly the standardization of the language itself. This would eliminate so many problems and so many miscommunications. Just talking about it helps."

As a linguist, Kusugak says something needs to happen urgently, but as a realist he admits that may not happen.

"I would say if we try to fast track it, we're going to have a revolution. It is an issue that's very close to the hearts of people."

ICC President Aqqaluk Lynge, who told delegates the "soul of our spirit is our language," suggested ICC form a communication and language commission to look into the hurdles facing Inuit language today.

That commission, if established, would also develop programs to preserve and promote the Inuit language.