Monday, 21 February 2011

demystifying "standardization" of the Inuit Language

Hi y'all,

welcome to my blog. I call it "qituttugaujara" which in Inuktitut means "my (soap)box". This is my first blog entry so I'm starting off with a letter to the editor I wrote recently that never got published - is it plagarism to do that?

During the Inuit Language Week and, specifically, the Inuit Language Symposium in Iqaluit (Feb 7 - 11, 2011) entitled Uqausiqaqatigiinniq: Inuit Language Standardization Symposium, the impression I got is that there is still quite a bit of confusion not only as to what "standardization" really means but how to go about "standardizing" Inuktitut.

The two Inuit writing systems that are used in Nunavut (syllabics and what is called roman orthography) are already standardized following solid linguistic principles of voicing (the differences between 'r' and 'q'; 'k' and 'g') and allowable consonant clusters between dialects ('miksaanut' for North Baffin and 'missaanut' for Cumberland Sound). In my view, where the problem arises is when questions of "uniqueness" and "history" of particular dialects are inadvertantly brought into play during the discussions.

I have yet to hear someone in an Inuit leadership role talk about the need for "standardization" of the Inuit Language in a coherent - dare I say, visionary - manner. But there are fields in public discourse, like politics, administration, science (to cover health, climate change, toxic waste and wildlife management) where standard definitions and terms are absolute key to not only mutual understanding and intelligibility but, most importantly, in order for Inuit values to be brought to bear at the international, national, societal and personal levels. These are important fields of public discourse not "indigenous" to Inuit Language per se so they really aren't intrusions to our sense of uniqueness and history of our dialects. In fact, defining and developing useful terminologies in these fields would enhance the Inuit Language (for the whole circumpolar world that is Inuit Nunaat) and open the world up for our descendents.

At the international level (and inter-regional level in Canada), how I envision "standardized" orthography is to develop and recognize a workable and formalized writing system that could be used by the bureaucracy and academic researchers of ICC and other international bodies to address the orthographical differences between, say, Greenlandic orthography and Canada. The double 'll' in Greenlandic is the voiceless lateral fricative (denoted as '&' in Canadian roman orthography) but in Canada the doubling of consonants like 'll' makes the cluster into a voiced stop (unfortunately cannot avoid linguistic terms in these discussions).

This need, again, has no real bearing on our unique and distinct dialectal variations but "standardizing" a common writing system for Inuit Language at the international level would not intrude but enhance our understanding of each other and enrichen our culture.

Standardization is needed where we need to agree upon common terms and definitions to use at the regional, territorial and national levels in a precise enough manner as not to create confusion and misunderstanding amongst Inuit in serious public discourse, such as politics, science, law and eventually Inuktitut litrature that other cultures and languages take for granted to preserve and advance and keep relevant their own languages.

In terms of recent attempts the problem I see with trying to develop Inuit language terminologies is that often there is little or no language specialist to provide technical advice and guidance to ensure grammatical quality and usefulness and avoid "literal translation".

Literal translations, like “in the coming weeks” for eg, are meaningless and do not translate for the simple fact that in English the phrase structure is adjectival but in Inuktitut the “qaijunit pinasuarusinit” consists of a verb and noun phrases. The point here is that we need Inuit language specialists precisely because these subtle technical pitfalls creep in so easily.

thank you,

Jay Arnakak

1 comment:

  1. uakallanga titirausirijatit miksiqaluakuni....