North·Editor's Note

'Talk to me in Inuktut': Old word nothing new, says Inuit language organization

The word Inuktut is not a new word, but it prompts many requests for correction from CBC readers.

The word Inuktut was officially adopted in 2015 by Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit

The word Inuktut refers to both Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun. You can stop sending typo reports now. (Government of Nunavut)

Few words prompt correction requests from CBC readers the way the word Inuktut does.

"There is no such word as 'Inuktut.' It should read INUKTITUT," one reader wrote after CBC published an article with the word Inuktut in it.

Another suggests CBC's repeated use of the word Inuktut is symptomatic of a general failure to respect "the importance of Inuit language":

"Inuktut — is it not Inuktitut? I keep reading articles on the importance of Inuit language and the spelling of the language is spelled incorrectly."

Solomon Awa, acting executive director with Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit, says the word Inuktut has always referred to both Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun. (Courtesy Solomon Awa)

It won't be the last time a reader finds "Inuktut" in a CBC article, and for good reason.

"Inuktut is for all the languages," said Solomon Awa. "Inuktitut is one of the languages."

Awa is acting executive director of Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit — the organization responsible for the promotion and protection of Inuit language. Over a phone call he explained "Inuktut" means "Inuit languages," including Inuktitut.

Inuktitut, he said, refers to Inuktut spoken largely in the Baffin Island regions of Nunavut. Inuinnaqtun is the Inuktut generally spoken in the Western Arctic. But Inuktut is the word speakers of either language could use to refer to Inuit languages as a whole, Awa said.

"Talk to me in Inuktut," Awa said. "That's what I would say in Inuktitut."

If this comes as a surprise, take heart. You're not alone.

In a survey of Nunavut-based businesses and their owners tabled in the Nunavut Legislature in 2015, the Office of the Languages Commissioner of Nunavut noted that 24 per cent of respondents did not know "that the word 'Inuktut' refers to both Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun."

The word may have risen to prominence in 2015 when it was officially adopted by Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit as the word of choice to refer to Inuit languages. That decision stemmed from a 2007 standing committee discussion in the Nunavut Legislature on the Official Languages Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act.

The transcript of that discussion shows then Kugluktuk MLA Joe Evyagotailak proposing the word Inuktut be used to refer to both Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun.

"Inuktitut is the language of the Eastern Arctic and Inuinnaqtun is the language of the Coronation Gulf," Evyagotailak is recorded as saying. "I wonder if it would be possible to have one term, 'Inuktut,' to refer to both, rather than saying Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun."

It should be noted that not all are on board with the decision to use the word Inuktut in this way. Language cuts to the heart of culture: decisions to adopt one convention over another can be controversial.

One interpreter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because public criticism could hurt employability, said the use of the word Inuktut this way ignored nuances of Inuit language.

The interpreter said some will continue to use the word Inuktitut: "To them it means speaking in the way of the Inuk, which can also include Inuinnaqtun."

In any case, the word is now featured prominently in official Nunavut government documentation. Awa couldn't say exactly why Inuktitut has become the word of choice when describing Inuit languages, but he did say Inuktut is not simply a new word chosen to replace an old word.

"The word itself is not new. It's been used for many years," Awa said. "Inuktut Uqautilaunnga," he said, speaking in Inuktitut — "Talk to me in Inuktut."

CBC is doing a series of stories to recognize that the United Nations has declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The observance is meant to raise awareness about the consequences of losing endangered languages, and to establish a link between language, development, peace and reconciliation.