Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Creating conceptual basis for discussions on non-indigenous terms and ideas

Somewhere in this blog I've mention something a bit about the need for keeping Inuktitut relevant and strong for future generations by extending it into fields not indigenous to Inuit culture proper (whatever and however "culture" is defined).

There is a definite need for making the first steps in creating conceptual basis for discussions on how to generate productive, idea-based terms for Inuktitut (I think this basic idea can be applied to any and all aboriginal languages - I see no compelling reason not to anyhow) in the fields of science, politics, philosophy, etc.

The program of generating these new terms and concepts should be broad and general enough to build upon but also consistent enough to preserve the basic ideas and forms of a given discourse. Let me try and explain by way of an example:

There is no indigenous term for "cat" in Inuktitut so most Inuit say "pussy-cat-ruluk", say, to denote the house pet. But, besides the now sexual connotations tied with the vulgate use of the term, there is no way of connecting the term to the larger taxonomic class of "felidae".

Now, I don't know the exact etymology of the term "feline" but I would imagine it is based on morphology or physiological feature common to all animals that warrant the derivative compounding it. Using this simple logic, I would suggest a neological term, "qittukti", in Inuktitut for "one-that-scratches" (for the retractable claws which I think is common to all felines except for the leopard - but still uses its claws to grasp hold of its prey as it brings it down).

We could say, for house cats "qittuktiralaaq" (tiny one that scratches) and for the larger cats use "qittuktirjuaq" (large one that scratches) and compound it with some salient feature of a given species. For eg, a lion might be classified as "qittuktirjuaq nuilalik" (or perhaps just "nuilalik" with the compound base implicit).

For the periodic table of elements, I started with another approach by appealing to Inuit mythology using the Nunavik name for the (grand) mother of the sun and the moon, Lumaajuq. To achieve some consistency and form, I utilized a grammatical feature of Inukt. for the third person indicative morpheme, -juq, to denote the dynamism of elementary particles and started out like this for the first and second periods:

lumaajuq = hydrogen -the name of the (grand)mother of the sun and the moon, who is also a creature of the watery realm;

issijuq = helium - the base is the Inukt term for "emission" (as in emission from the sun, the (grand)daughter of lumaajuq);

piturnijuq - lithium - to denote the Inukt term for "full moon" who is the (grand)son of lumaajuq;

skipping a couple of elements,

paujuq = carbon - from the Inukt term for "soot"... and so on and so forth.

Of course, we'd still use the international symbolism and conventions to denote these elements mathematically but the Inukt rendition of them forms the basis of productive discussion and pedagogy.

For eg, we could say for simple chemical compounds like so:

lumaajapaujut - hydrocarbons, where the -ja(q)- (morpheme for "pseudo" or "functions like") is inserted between the two basic terms;

paujanirnijuq1 = carbon monoxide; and

paujanirnijuq2 = carbon dioxide.

This idea is not just a naming game especially when used as starting off points for deeper discussion based on primitive, abstract elements and their logical consequences and derivations that form the corpus of a discourse, such as in science, where international conventions and symbolisms and first principles are opened up (not maliciously supplanted) for the first time to Inuit, especially Inuit students, using linguistic constructs that not only obey grammar but are inherently fruitful to contemplate.

Jay

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