Sunday, 20 May 2012

Some features of Inuktitut (part vii)

As an advocate for narrative-based pedagogy (ie, one that teaches comprehension through discussion of ideas behind the text rather than rote memorization of spelling words) I'm often struck by the translated signs I see around Iqaluit.

There is one that shows "catering services" as "they are making finger food". Most public signs are transliterations into syllabics that while appearing Inuktitut are completely meaningless. In most written languages there are writing conventions that denote foreign words or phrases, or commercial trademarked brandnames and businesses are often just rendered as is in the language in which they were created.

In published works foreign names and/or phrases are usually denoted by italicized script, for eg. Through consistent and repeated use, some foreign words and phrases are naturalized into a language or by way of specialist use (English has a lots of these). International conventional notations are also used extensively for maths and science (symbolic notations for the periodic table of elements, units of measure, etc.)*; neologisms are usually defined right in the text where they first occur and grammaticalized for ease and consistency of expression.

*for a syllabic writing system (which is phonetic-based) not only abbreviations are impossible to render but so are acronyms problematic - like, how should one write CO2 in syllabics?; QIA rendered in syllabics (as is) sounds uncannily like "crying"... so I tend to translate short-form as only "Qikiqtani" rather than the complete full name every single instance.

When I first heard of the Inuit Language Authority, I thought it'd start doing the work of creating style guides like the Associated Press Stylebook, and putting out conventional principles of nomenclature and neologisms along with technical glossaries of terms. These are ways and means of setting up industrial and educational standards (writing styles for essay writing, for eg). Specialist fields, like legal, political, administrative and scientific translations are inconsistent but there are no "authoritative" resources to refer to. When I first heard of the Inuit Cultural School I envisioned it setting up academic documentation systems (writing, documentary and videographical styles and formats - like what does an academic description/paper on IQ done in video format look like?).

These are important foundational considerations not only for preservation of IQ but for modernizing Inuktitut discourse into areas not indigenous to Inuit culture but important for keeping the language alive and relevant as the language of society (literature and social commentary that makes sense), and science and technology. Without consistency and agreed upon authoritative standards of excellence in all fields and governance systems Inuit are expected to participate in, no equal footing will be possible.


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