Language of Inuvialuit goes in for update

Words like 'coffee' and 'internet' could soon have equivalents in the Inuvialuktun language, as elders and teachers meet this week in Inuvik to update their vocabulary.

Words like "coffee" and "internet" could soon have equivalents in the Inuvialuktun language, as Inuvialuit elders and teachers meet this week in Inuvik, N.W.T., to update their native vocabulary.

Inuvialuktun, the language of the Inuvialuit peoplein the western Canadian Arctic, has not had a major update in more than 20 years, and speakers say it needs to keep up with the times.

"There's no word for 'microwave.' You call it 'macrowave,' " Inuvik teacher and native Inuvialuktun speaker Lillian Elias said with a laugh.

She is among 15 elders and teachers attending a language conference this week in Inuvik, organized by the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre.

Conference delegates hope to develop Inuvialuktun words for "gasoline," "wheelchair" and "internet" by the end of this week, organizer Marie Jacobson said Tuesday.

"You look around the home and you know that there are so many new things, especially in regards to technology," Jacobson said.

"We would like to teach the children, especially if they are going to be using a computer or printer, an Inuvialuktun word."

Most of the approximately 700 Inuvialuktun speakers simply use the English terms for modern inventions— something Elias said is not good for the language.

"It's just making our language weaker because of all the English words we have to use," she said.

"We're trying to say words that we've never had to use. Just like 'cabee,' you know? For 'coffee' we say 'cabee,' because we didn't have any Inuvialuktun word for it."

Part of the problem, she said, is that the language hasn't evolved in so long, since the timewhen most speakers were living off the land.

"Everything that we see now is different than when we were out on the land," she said.

"When we come into a house with all these cupboards and whatever and, you know, everything here that I see right now, sitting here, is just not what I had when I was out there."