Inuit language conference wraps in Iqaluit

A task force launched by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national Inuit group, has recommended that roman orthography be explored as a standard Inuit language writing system, following a two-day language conference in Iqaluit.

Task force recommends exploring roman orthography rather than syllabics

The delegates at the two-day conference, organized by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, came from across Canada, Greenland, and Alaska. (Pauline Pemik/CBC)

A task force launched by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national Inuit group, has recommended exploring roman orthography — and not Inuit syllabics — as a standard Inuit language writing system.

The recommendations from the Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiq task force come following a major two-day summit on Inuit languages, which wrapped up Wednesday in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

Delegates from across the four Inuit regions of Canada, as well as representatives from Greenland, and Alaska, attended the summit, which discussed findings from a series of consultations after visits to all of Canada's Inuit regions. 

Though the group recommended Inuit explore the idea of standardizing their writing system using roman orthography, it also emphasized the process will take time and cannot be rushed. 

Juusipi Padlayat of Salluit, Que., said he '[didn't] think there is any problem' with standardizing the Inuktut writing system into roman orthography. (Madeline Allakariallak/CBC)
There are some 60,000 Inuit in Canada, 63 per cent of whom speak their language. 

Both the oral and written language varies among regions, with ITK researchers estimating there are 12 distinct dialects. 

But the key difference in the written language is, while Inuit in Labrador and the western Arctic use roman orthography (the alphabet English language users are used to), Inuit in Nunavut and northern Quebec rely instead on syllabics – distinct characters originally imported by missionaries who had developed them for the Cree. 

Though long discussed as a way to broaden use of the language and make learning it, and using it online, easier, a move away from syllabics was once too controversial for public discussion. 

Now, as Inuit work towards strengthening their education system, and ties to one another, the idea is becoming more accepted. 

A street sign in Iqaluit includes Inuit syllabics. ((CBC))
"I don't think there is any problem with that, if the majority wants to choose that," said Juusipi Padlayat, a delegate from Salluit, Nunavik. "Roman orthography, we don't have a problem with that, we only use this in Nunavik. Even if we are going to retain the use of syllabics, I think we can live with both."

Padlayat added that the final decision regarding language standardization has to made by the people who are most affected. 

Though the group's recommendations will be passed on to the National Committee on Inuit Education and submitted to delegates at Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, they are not binding. It will be up to local land claim organizations, language authorities, and governments to decide how to proceed further.

It was announced in March that the Nunavut government was looking into standardizing the writing system for Inuktitut in the territory's schools using Roman orthography.