Hey guys! Oopsie, so I’m even further behind than I was before… these weekends just keep tripping me up somehow – but no worries, we’ve still got plenty of time left this month; and I am determined to get through the alphabet! So while I’d prefer to not be posting in May, if I am, oh well. We’ll just see how long this series will take.
Anyway, we’ve just managed to reach the letter I, so today I’m going to tell you a little about the language Inuinnaqtun.
Inuinnaqtun is an indigenous Inuit language spoken in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories of Canada by approximately 410 people (Statistics Canada, 2011). It is arguable whether Inuinnaqtun should be considered its own language or a dialect of Inuktitut; however, the Official Languages Act for Nunavut recognises Inuinnaqtun as an official language within its territory (Office of the Languages Commissioner of Nunavut, n.d.) and it is therefore treated as such.
Due to the low number of speakers, as well as the spread of English and French in the areas where Inuinnaqtun is spoken, the language is classified as being definitely endangered (Moseley, 2010), but there appear to be significant efforts being made to revitalise it. There are programmes being offered at Nunavut Arctic College to promote the language and to teach language revitalisation, so that these efforts spread (LeTourneau, 2015). Between these efforts and the official recognition of the language, it seems likely that there will be some positive impact, but it is difficult to tell right now whether Inuinnaqtun will survive in the long term.
LeTourneau, M., 2015. Waking a sleeping language [online]. Northern News Services Online, 13th April. Available from: http://www.nnsl.com/frames/newspapers/2015-04/apr13_15lan.html. [Accessed 17 April 2016].
Moseley, C., ed., 2010. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Paris: UNESCO Publishing. Online version: http://www.unesco.org/culture/en/endangeredlanguages/atlas.
Office of the Languages Commissioner of Nunavut, n.d. Nunavut’s Official Languages. Available from: http://langcom.nu.ca/nunavuts-official-languages/. [Accessed 17 April 2016].
Statistics Canada, 2011. 2011 Census of Canada: Topic-based tabulations | Mother Tongue. Available from: http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/tbt-tt/Rp-eng.cfm?LANG=E&APATH=3&DETAIL=0&DIM=0&FL=A&FREE=0&GC=0&GID=0&GK=0&GRP=1&PID=103267&PRID=0&PTYPE=101955&S=0&SHOWALL=0&SUB=0&Temporal=2011&THEME=90&VID=0&VNAMEE=&VNAMEF=. [Accessed 17 April 2016].
YouTube: Millie’s Dream: Revitalizing Inuinnaqtun
Northwest Territories – Education, Culture and Employment: Inuinnaqtun
Resources for Learning
Inuinnaqtun-English dictionary (Nunavut Arctic College, PDF)
kitikmeotheritage.com: Glossary of Bow and Hunting Terms
I have an honest (if perhaps ignorant) question: why is it important to revitalize endangered languages?
Okay, so first of all, I mean don’t worry about a question seeming ‘ignorant’ – because I don’t think this is; it’s one of the main questions people ask about endangered languages because if there are only a few speakers left, then is there much point in revitalising it? As far as I can tell, I think it mainly depends on the speakers involved. It is incredibly difficult to maintain a language if there are very few speakers and very little interest in the language from those speakers and in those cases, linguists will try to document and preserve as much as possible so that if there is interest down the line, perhaps something can be done about it. Language is very much tied into culture and identity and if some ethnic groups have been assimilated into others (which is a big issue with the vast number of endangered languages in China), then sometimes their language gets left behind. However, there are other cases where a group of people may begin to push back (against assimilation, or against having their language forced away from them, or whatever other reason) and make efforts to revitalise it. Hebrew is an interesting case of revitalisation because it went from being a language used mostly for religious purposes with no “native” speakers, to a language currently used by over five million people. So it’s important to know what the attitudes of the speakers are (positive, neutral, negative towards their language), why their attitudes are this way (economic reasons, cultural reasons, ethnic reasons, pressure from outside groups, pressure from inside groups, etc.) and then see what can be done.
For me, it’s important to revitalise where possible because language represent such diversity and we know that when a language dies, so much culture dies with it. We’re getting better at realising this now and documenting it where revitalisation isn’t possible, but there are so many languages in so much danger that it does seem that many will die out – and I think there’s going to be a push and pull between which languages are considered economically viable (i.e. which ones do you need to learn to make money nowadays) and the efforts being made to celebrate diversity and culture that, I believe, are more and more present.
But yeah, that’s basically what I think about it (maybe this comment is a bit rambly – if so, I’m sorry!). I know there are probably other arguments for and against it, but basically it’s kind of like: why save the pandas? Except languages seem to do more than eat and rest all day. 😉