Syllabics versus Roman: Nunavut MLAs debate writing systems
"Many residents identify strongly with the use of syllabics as a way of preserving our language"
While education officials in Nunavut continue to explore the benefits of changing to Roman orthography as a standard writing system for Inuktut across the territory, people in the Baffin region continue to dig their heels in.
Speaking in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly March 1, Uqqummiut MLA Pauloosie Keyootak said a recent radio call-in show in his home community of Qikiqtarjuaq showed where that community’s residents stand on the debate.
The use of syllabics is an important expression of culture and language, particularly for Baffin Inuit, Keyootak said.
“I recognize that in western Nunavut, some communities have been using Roman orthography for a long time,” he said.
“However, in the Baffin region, many residents identify strongly with the use of syllabics as a way of preserving our language, our culture and our identity.”
Keyootak’s constituents fear the Roman writing system will weaken the use of Inuktitut over time, he said.
Nunavut’s education department has been looking at standardizing the Inuktut writing system in the territory’s schools with a focus on the feasibility of using a Roman writing system.
Last year, Education Minister Paul Quassa told the legislature that the Roman writing system has “the potential to build an environment where students would be better equipped for learning more than one language.”
But education officials have yet to decide to go that route, Quassa said March 1.
“We have not made a decision as to which writing system will be taught in the schools,” Quassa said. “[Roman orthography] is already being taught, along with our syllabic system, starting at Grade 4.”
“But I keep saying that the education, no matter where in Nunavut, should be more unified and standardized,” Quassa added. “We should have standardized education in Nunavut because it’s not standardized. When it’s standardized, we have fewer problems.”
During a summit hosted last summer by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, its Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiq group recommended a shift to Roman orthography for all written Inuktut.
The draft also recommended that the syllabics system continue to be taught in higher grades in communities where syllabics have traditionally been used.