Saturday, 26 February 2011

some features of Inuktitut Linguistics

Inuktitut of the Eskimo-Aleut family, like many of the AmerIndian languages is a polysynthetic language. Polysynthetic means that its grammar is build up by fusing meaningful units (called morphemes) together to construct phrases.

The structure of a typical phrase goes like: noun+modifyer morpheme(s)+case ending.

Where I see mistakes often in Inuktitut writing is at the case ending side of the phrase for the:

"accusative" or direct object (-mik);

"ablative" which indicates "movement from" something (-mit); and

"locative" which indicates location, such as "in the house" (-mi).

Little wonder people make mistakes in writing (though in speech these mistakes tend to disappear); the only difference is in the final segments: k, t, and vowels. To me, this is another example of why teachers of Inuktitut should acquire some knowledge of the grammar of the Inuit Language.

It doesn't hurt at all to learn Inuktitut grammar (all one needs is time, patience and guidance to acquire a working overview), and, in fact, having some knowledge makes one appreciate the beauty of Inuktitut grammatical structures at a deeper level. So worthy is the time that linguistics departments in most universities dedicate at least some study time to the Eskimo-Aleut family.

Having read this short explanation, I now challenge you, the reader, to figure out and "translate" this phrase:

inung-mik aniju-mik illu-mit ullu-mi (takujunga)

for the non-Inuktitut speakers, the phrase translates as: "today (locative), I saw a person exiting (accusative) from a house (ablative).

The inflectional morphology of Inuktitut (ie, case endings) free up the order in which the phrases can occur such that:

ullumi (takujunga) anijumik inungmik illumit

today (I saw) exiting person from a house

still makes grammatical sense because the grammatical function of each "word" is specified and required by the grammar itself.

I think a morphemic analysis of the Inuktitut translation of the Old Testament (which is based on the Moravian translation into Labrador dialect) would show that it utilizes "word" ordering (and other highly sophisticated devices) to imbue the translation itself with dignity and august grace worthy of the sacred text. Those Moravians were masters of excellence in all things: music, art, language, etc.

I'm not much of a religious person myself, but I appreciate profound subtlety and craftsmanship that was put into such things as the Inuktitut version of the Old Testament at just the right time in our history (ie, before the banality of Canadian government took over our lives and tried to destroyed our language and culture).


1 comment:

  1. You are so right when you refer to: «(...) the beauty of Inuktitut grammatical structures at a deeper level.» I compare Inuktitut to Latin, both offering a high degree of precision towards the action via their respective inflectional morphology, as you pertinently name it, as well as their tonal accents. And, as you say: «(...) the grammatical function of each "word" is specified and required by the grammar itself... free up the order in which the phrases can occur.» There is no place for ambiguity.

    Let's do this little comparaison exercise with your sentence: today, I saw a person going out the house.

    inung-mik aniju-mik illu-mit ullu-mi (takujunga);

    Hodie personam *exire domo vidi;

    Hodie (adverbial locative) person-am (accusative) *exire dom-o (ablative) vidi (I saw). Variations of the suffixes as dictated by the case.

    *not sure: qui exebat?

    Aujourd'hui, j'ai vu une personne sortir de la maison;

    Aujourd'hui (adverb), j'ai vu une personne sortir de la maison: The two substantives here remain unchanged since no case ending applicable.

    No matter if they are nominative, dative, accusative, ablative or genitive: still immutable.

    The only declinaison's change would be brought by the plurial (maison-s, personne-s). Hence, the extreme importance of the syntax in french.

    Inuktitut (and related languages) is even more precise than latin, I must say. Like the perfect tense: takuqaujunga (I saw-recent past) or takulauqtunga (I saw-longer past). However, I do not understand why we read takujunga (I see, present tense)... I thought at first that the verb taku was in parenthesis (takujunga) because implied, hence unwritten... but, if so, the statement verb missing would be missing, if I may say... Could you shade some light please?