Sunday, 17 February 2013

A shift in perspective

Last week I attended a very interesting conference sponsored by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami called, Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiit (loosely, one writing system for Inuit (Nunangat)) which stems from the National Strategy on Inuit Education - the legacy piece of Mary Simon (an Inuit luminary of international renown and former President of ITK). Specifically, we were there to flesh out recommendation #9:

Key to a new era in bilingual education is the ability to produce, publish and distribute common Inuit language materials. A standardized Inuit language writing system with common grammar, spelling and terminology, may facilitate the production of these materials. The National Committee on Inuit Education recommends:

The establishment of an Inuit Task Force to explore the introduction of a standardized writing system for Inuit. (First Canadians, Canadians First: National Strategy on Inuit Education, p. 90)

The conference itself was the beginning of the much-needed dialogue on the possibility of a common writing system for all Inuit Nunangat Kanatami. Since we have many writing systems in the various regions of Inuit Nunangat Kanatami, I suggested that we examine the possibility of developing an auxillary (standardized) writing system rather than re-inventing the wheel (so to speak) for various and deep reasons the least of which is to transcend the sense of identity Inuit of the various regions put into their 'unique' writing systems (both what is called 'roman orthographies' and the two different syllabic systems (eastern Nunavut and Nunavik).

In the various places where I've written commentaries on Inuit education and writing systems, I've always maintained (in so many words) that we need a change in perspective - in the same sense as V's words in the movie, V for Vendetta (2005):

"...to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives."

In the same way that 'fairness'; 'justice'; and 'freedom' are abstract notions with real world consequences in the way they inform our actions and values, the notion of 'Inuit Education' likewise cannot be realized if not the explicit source of our actions and values (ie, if it does not inform our social aspirations and our political statements on the issue of Inuit education).

I'm talking about not just the 'preservation' of our glorified past (we've had much discussion on this approach without ever really seeming to go forward much, politically, pedagogically or otherwise) but, at the core of it all, developing a vehicle for engagement with the world in the sense of the 'now'.

We need to approach the subject of 'Inuit education' in a sense of developing a standard vocabulary at the logical and hermeneutic levels. -Hermeneutics, states a Wikipedia entry:

broadly, is the art and science of text interpretation. Traditional hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of written texts, especially texts in the areas of literature, religion and law. A type of traditional hermeneutic is biblical hermeneutics which concerns the study of the interpretation of the Bible. In religious studies and social philosophy, hermeneutics is the study of the theory and practice of interpretation. Modern hermeneutics encompasses everything in the interpretative process including verbal and nonverbal forms of communication as well as prior aspects that affect communication, such as presuppositions, preunderstandings, the meaning and philosophy of language, and semiotics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeneutics

As a person with some linguistics training I've always been fascinated by the idea of 'semiotics' - in a sense of Eco's semiotics because Eco's take on the subject is not just about the interpretation of 'objective' symbols and signs (ie, in the sense of naive de Saussurian mode) but more, how people act and react in that semiotic space loosely called, culture where (unvoiced) "presuppositions, preunderstandings, the meaning and philosophy of language," come into play and determine what is possible, even plausible, in the social and professional discourse.

Given this, I'm a true believer in 'first principles' and 'historical developments' pedagogy. In order to 'break the rules' one first has to learn and know the rules (ie, in order to play music (Inuit/Jay's style, in my case) I first had to learn the 'blues' scale, say, then I tried to elaborate and express my own way of playing the blues - which is completely different than Chicago or Texas Blues or even UK Blues because it stems from me and my talent (or lack thereof) and, believe me, it's more the latter because I try and emulate David Gilmour more than the blues greats and am not very talented at it to begin with).

I think the best place(s) to start at using and expressing a standardized auxillary writing system for Inuit would be to translate and develop commentaries on, say, Isaac Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery, or initiate an approach similar to the French Encyclopedists, that, according to a Wikipedia entry:

promoted the advancement of science and secular thought and supported tolerance, rationality, and open-mindedness of the Enlightenment. Still, as Frank Kafker has shown, the encyclop├ędistes were not a unified group, neither in ideology nor social class. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encyclop%C3%A9distes

It is my belief that in order to use and develop language, one needs a sustainable vehicle to use and advance that language.

Jay

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