Saturday, 16 September 2017

How inter-community, inter-regional, and (inter)national communications between Inuit is possible

I've had what I consider a great privilege of working with Inuit organizations, government departments and interesting people (students and colleagues alike) on issues and challenges pertaining to the Inuit Language. I'm involved in an Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami task force that is looking into reforming and unifying the vastly diverse writing systems of Inuit groups from different regions of Inuit Nunangat (Inuit Homelands), and we've been struggling to envision how inter-Inuit communication would even be possible.

We've made great strides as a task force of Inuit whose languages (ie, dialects) can vary to the point of mutual unintelligibility the further the geographical distance exists between us (and we cover almost the entire circumpolar world). The orthographic conventions we've been working on and developing for a few years now is reaching the point where we'll be able to present a list of recommendations to the ITK Board of Directors in the not too distant future. Thus, the importance of testing out the script as it would unroll in each Inuit region of Canada.

Since we intentionally do not propose to change the unique dialects in any way the issue of converting dialects from one region to another for the purposes of sharing educational resources has seem like such a hurdle to overcome. And it would be weren't it for the shared grammatical structure that all Inuit languages are based on.

The Inuit language, as I've mentioned earlier in this blog, has a polysynthetic grammar - ie, it fuses together morphemic elements to construct meaningful phrases. The verb and noun roots, the infixes in between, and the mood and case endings may differ slightly or dramatically from region to region. But the principles of the grammar do not vary from dialect to dialect.

And this where the strength lies.

In a meeting yesterday with the Nunavut delegation, it suddenly occurred to me that we should exploit this strength and try and come up with an app or software that is designed to analyse and convert one dialect to another by focussing on morphemic features and functions that though may differ at the surface level but do not vary in function are elements that all Inuit dialects share.

For example, the differences between the pronominal endings from dialect to dialect may be accounted for and converted to another because the grammatical function is exactly the same no matter the dialect. In fact, all morphemic elements may thusly be convertible.

I think this approach has the potential to be a game-changer at the international level because the more elements are data-based the more dialects can be converted into another (as long as there is a common orthography on which to base the conversions on). This is a very exciting prospect to me.


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