Language watchdog needed in Nunavut
For over 20 years I have been promoting that we use the correct writing of our words when we use the standardized Roman orthography; it is for the protection, preservation and promotion of our Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun languages. I am very concerned that we are damaging our Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun languages by spelling our words incorrectly.
Many Inuit and most non-Inuit are not literate in writing standardized Roman orthography. Each time we incorrectly spell our Inuktitut words, either their meanings are changed or the words lose their meanings altogether. This has been a fact of life with our Inuit language in Nunavut.
Many of our surnames were spelled incorrectly and it is encouraging that some people have taken steps to change their names to reflect the correct spelling and meanings to their names. To me, that’s the only route to go, in order to preserve, save, and protect our culture and language.
If we use place names as an example, we have already lost the traditional pronunciations and meanings of community names, such as Talurruaq to Taloyoak, Kuugaarruk to Kugaaruk, Ulukhaktok from Ulukhaqtuuq. If we are not willing to ensure that traditional place names and all words are spelled accurately then their pronounciations and meanings will be lost and forgotten forever.
Recently I was reading through the web site of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly and noticed the report of Nunavut Boundary Commission. In the Boundary Commission Report, there are several community and proposed constituency names incorrectly spelled.
They are Kingait-Kinngait, Kangiqliniq-Kangir&iniq, Naujat-Naujaat, Tunnuniq-Tununiq, Ikaluktuutiak-Iqaluktuuttiaq, Pangnirtung-Panniqtuuq, Netsilikmiut East-Nattilingmiut East. Both Iqaluit and Ikaluktotiak come from the root word Iqaluk. Why do we spell Ikaluktotiak and not the correct way of spelling it, Iqaluktuuttiaq. It makes a big difference!
In the same report, there is word that appears as Nattilik, which is the correct spelling of Nattilik Riding. Why change it to an incorrectly spelled name such as Netsilik, which was spelled by Father Rouselliere when they were filming the Nattilik (netsilik) Series in the early 1960s.
Who writes those community names? Which elders do they consult with, before writing these traditional names for publication? Who proofreads these community names before they are printed? What role does the Nunavut Languages Commissioner play in this important task? Our ancestors left us with traditional names and we are destroying them ourselves; no one comes forward to speak for these voiceless traditional Inuit names.
The government, supported by the Inuit organizations, needs to immediately establish a Nunavut (Inuktitut) Language Commission, whose responsibility would be to review the Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun words, before the Government of Nunavut makes them public.
Culture, Language Elders and Youth and the Languages Commissioner of Nunavut should sponsor a meeting of Inuit elders and youth and talk about the preservation, protection and promotion of Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun languages. We must do this for our children and our grandchildren, while our elders are still alive. I take pride and strength from my language and I aim to write it accurately.