Friday, 6 July 2012

Proposing Terminology Development Principles (part iv)

One of the most misunderstood and, therefore, one of the most contentious issues of discourse on Inuktitut is the notion of "standardization". Let me make it clear from the outset that I'm not talking about making Inuktitut dialects and their unique features (usually community-specific phraseologies and terms) into one homogenous language; I'm talking about how to denote units of measure (ie, Canada uses the metric system so we have to figure out how to convert imperial units like inches, pounds, etc. into km, grams and seconds in published works), monetary notations, conventional scientific symbolism, etc. into consistently usage of these concepts in Inuktitut.

I have seen in various translations the use of transliteration for (eg) such terms as $1miliantaalas for $1,000,000 and these are usually done without context or explanations of how these magnitudes are set up in the source language. One million dollars is a lot of money to be sure, but how does that compare to $100; $1,000; etc. -In the decimal system, the addition of a zero to a dollar figure raises the amount by a factor of ten: ie, 1,000 is ten times 100; one million is a thousand times a thousand.

Going about it this way may not sound so important but when one starts dealing with such things as percentages, fractions, decimal fractions, scientific notation such as 4 x 106 (ie, 4 followed by 6 zeros or 4 million) the context becomes key to comprehension of these magnitudes, especially to be able to denote or convert them into something more understandable or managable.

I have not suggested any notational devices/techniques here because I think the best way to deal with these issues belong to such bodies as the Inuit Language Authority, Nunavut Teachers' Association, Nunavut Union of Employees, etc.

In terms of coining new Inuktitut terms in fields as biology, geography, chemistry, etc. there are conventional scientific principles of nomenclature and symbolism (like gold is denoted as Au in internationally accepted symbolic terms, in scientific literature for biology the vulgate terms are used in the normal language but the latinized names are usually included as well for the sake of clarity and specificity) that Inuktitut may pattern itself after.

There are usually deep, deep connections in scientific concepts that are not immediately obvious. For example, the radiation from the sun especially is connected to the notion of radioactivity because the sun is run by quantum physical processes of fusion (hydrogen converted to helium and so on) but so is radioactive uranium, which is in no way connected in the Inuktitut term, nungusuittuq (ever-lasting (source of energy)) to the process of atomic decay and conversion into more stable elements.

The example of using plain-language explanations without explaining the logic system behind the term (ie, how the term is generated) where lives are at stake is the Inuktitut term for "cancer" which is often rendered as "that which cannot be cured" when oncology or histology of cell structures is more descriptive than the vulgate "cancer": neoplasia - new (unmitigated cell) growth.

There is much to be done; much can be done for Inuktitut. Inuktitut's ability to adapt to new concepts is infinite; knowing how to do that is the major hurdle. The polysynthetic struture of Inuktitut grammar is much more flexible than English which uses latin and greek-bases to impress sophistication it neither deserves nor has real claim to. Brachiopodia sounds impressive but its etymology is just "hand-foot".


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