Nunavik team urges more work on rescuing the Inuit language
“It is a precious heritage worth every effort to preserve”
KUUJJUAQ — Inuktitut is a language we treasure, illirijavit, la langue que nous chérissons, says the recently-published trilingual report from Nunavik’s Inuktituurniup Satuurtaugasuarninga language project.
Those involved in the three-and-a-half year project, initially called “Save Our Language,” “delved deeply into diagnosing the condition and status of the Inuktitut language” in Nunavik.
“It is a precious heritage worth every effort to preserve,” says the introduction to the report on the project conducted under Nunavik’s Avataq Cultural Institute.“Inuktitut deserves recognition as an official language in the Arctic areas of Canada.”
Inuktitut in Nunavik is undergoing that threaten its health and existence, says the introduction to the report, which details what people recommended to the team as ways “to really keep Inuktitut alive.”
That work team included Zebedee Nungak, the director of the Inukitut language department at Avataq, educational consultant Sarah Tuckatuck Bennett and former Ivujivik mayor Adamie Kalingo, interpreter and translator Ida Saunders, and former administrator Moses Novalinga as a language analysts.
To find out more about the state of Inuktitut they visited every community in Nunavik as well as Chisasibi, a largely Cree community with a small Inuit population, asking questions, such as “do you think the Inuktitut language has a future?”
For the report on the project, which received money from the federal and provincial governments, the team produced statements, about 100 in all, as “early warning indicators of the dangers Inuktitut faces in the modern world.
Together these compromise a “declaration by the stakeholders of Inuktitut in Nunavik to keep their language alive and healthy.”
In their report they also included “pathways for action,” such as:
• recognition of Inuktitut as an official language;
• establishment of “All-Inuktitut” days throughout the year and an Inuktitut Awareness Week;
• creation of a working group of Inuit linguists and a Inuktitut Language Authority to, among other tasks, to set standards for the presently confusing Inuktitut writing systems;”
• establishment of an “exclusive Inuktitut place of learning;”
• more prominence to Inuktitut in signage and in the workplace and a language policy to support and promote Inuktitut where “ the present state of affairs reflects the dominance of English.”
• upgrading of interpreter-translator and teacher training;
• more language instruction for Inuit and non-Inuit;
• more exchanges between youth and elders;
• more support for the creative arts, such as the project’s youth theatre project, and the establishment of Inuit cultural centres;
• more programs and resources for urban Inuit; and,
• repatriation of Inuit literature and cultural materials now at universities, museums, research centres and collections.
The language project team said the quality of Inuktitut has eroded to the point that it puts the “cultural identity” of Inuit in Nunavik at risk.
Truncated speech, Anglicized terms, language mixing, mispronunciations and use of improper tenses are among the common degradations of the language, cited in the report.
While the report doesn’t call for the adoption of Roman orthography it does say that the region needs “an official writing system,” as well as less bickering over dialectal differences, which it says are futile.
The report also makes suggestions on ways people in communities can promote Inuktitut, such as trying not to mix Inuktitut with a second language, speaking properly and clearly, respectfully correcting other speakers and trying to use complex traditional words.
To move ahead with the recommendations in the report, which all Nunavimmiut have received, Avataq plans to hold a region-wide gathering on language, starting April 15 in Kangiqsujuaq.
Avataq president Charlie Arngak say all Nunavik organizations have been invited to attend the meeting, as well as four representatives from every community.
“The report is good,” he said. “But we will have to talk about it.”