Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic March 26, 2014 - 3:24 pm

Expert task force looks at standard Inuit writing system

"We want to maintain the richness of regional dialects, while enhancing the development of Inuit-specific curriculum materials"

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
In the “dual orthography” system that the Inuit Cultural Institute endorsed in 1976, each syllabic character matches a given character or set of characters in Roman orthography. (FILE IMAGE)
In the “dual orthography” system that the Inuit Cultural Institute endorsed in 1976, each syllabic character matches a given character or set of characters in Roman orthography. (FILE IMAGE)

Inuit language experts from across the country are meeting in Ottawa this week with members of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiq task group to talk about the way Inuit words are written down.

AIT, which means “one writing system for Inuktut,” was created in 2012 to work on a standard writing system for the Inuit language.

The creation of AIT responds to one of the recommendations of ITK’s National Strategy on Inuit Education, released in 2011.

And its committee members, appointed by their respective land claims organizations, represent each of the main Inuktut dialect groups across Inuit Nunangat.

“We realized very quickly while developing the strategy that an essential component to delivering Inuit-specific education throughout Inuit Nunangat is the ability to share resources across Inuit regions,” said Mary Simon, chair of ITK’s National Committee on Inuit Education, in a March 25 release.

“But standardizing the writing system is not the same as standardizing the language,” she added. “We want to maintain the richness of regional dialects, while enhancing the development of Inuit-specific curriculum materials.”

During AIT’s two-day meeting this week, its members and language experts will identify key questions to pose during community consultations, which will be held throughout the North later this year.

The consultations will conclude with a national Inuit language summit in the fall of 2015.

ITK president Terry Audla said the standardization of the Inuit writing system would be “the greatest shift in our language” since the Inuit Cultural Institute developed the dual orthography system in the 1970s.

The dual system adopted Roman orthography – a standard way of writing Inuktitut using the English alphabet – and a standardized way of writing syllabics (see image) because Inuit language writing varied regionally, often depending on the religion of the user.

In 1976, the Inuit language commission recommended that “this dual system of writing should be reviewed after five or 10 years of use to measure its effectiveness and make revisions where necessary,” but little, if any official review has been done.

“Everyone who wants to have a say in these discussions will have one,” Audla said of the community consultations. “Our passion for our language is the key to keeping our language alive and strong into the future.”

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