Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Proposing Terminology Development Principles (part vi)

One of the unavoidable, natural aspects of human languages is evolution. There are different types of evolution: natural evolution - which usually happens with children-parent interactions -; systemic changes (still natural) - like the Great Vowel Shift that happened to the English between 1300s and 1700s, but systemic changes also happen everyday though not as dramatically as GVS but happen through dialectal variations -; and through introduction of foreign words and phrases.

It is the last one that I want to speak of here.

Since contact, Inuit languages have been slowly changing with the introduction of words (here in North America (Canada and Alaska) it has been mainly English words and phrases, but in Greenland one may assume introduced words in Kalaallusut are of Danish origin; in the Chukchi region, one would also assume Russian words and phrases introduced to that language. One interesting tidbit is that Nunatsiavut adopted German words for the days of the week from Moravian missionaries.

There are older words, such as luuktaaq for "doctor" (which sounds uncannily like the British pronunciation of the word heard through Inuit ears), and I would suggest that the word qallunaaq for "European" or "non-Inuit" in Inuktitut is not the compound word: "eyebrow+belly" in folk etymology, but comes from sailor pidgen for "boss" cahuna.

There are many examples of these adopted words, but the interesting thing is that they are "inuktitutized" in phonology and grammar: the plural form of luuktaaq is luuktaat; for qallunaaq it's qallunaat, and since these have "inuktitutized" naturally into root nouns one may construct Inuktitut phrases:

qallunaatitut "the English language"
qallunaaliaqtunga "I'm going down south"
qallunajjaktuq "he is going to the trading post";

similar constructs are possible for luuktaaq because it is has become a bonafide Inuktitut root noun rather than a phrase.

There are newer terms that Inuktitut is slowly but surely adopting: minutes, seconds, percentages, numbers, units of measure and the months of the year. The only problem I see because I see it as a degradation of Inuktitut is that some people do not bother to grammaticalize these adopted words: instead of saying minatiit (or some variation thereof) some people just say: minutes and so on... though with months of the year and numbers/units of measure, one may naturally add case and verb endings: 7-nik (of seven things); viivuarimit maajjimut (from February to March); 10 kilaamitamik/nik ungasingnilik (it is 10 km away); 10 taalait (10 dollars) and so on.

Any foreign word that is either a noun or a verb that can act as a root may be adopted without any problems with grammaticalization into an Inuit Language. In this fashion, one shouldn't consider these adopted terms as a degradation but as enhancements or evolution of the Inuit Language. The trick is to phonologize/grammaticize them into Inuktitut grammar and phonology so they become productive terms in the Inuktitut lexicology.


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