Nunavut schools look at standardizing Inuktitut writing system

Minister of Education Paul Quassa announced yesterday that his department is examining the feasibility of standardizing Inuktitut instruction in Roman orthography, one of two commonly used writing systems across the territory.

Minister of Education Quassa says a single system will provide better environment for bilingual instruction

Two children read a book in Inuktitut. The writing on the book's cover is in syllabics, which the Nunavut government is looking at phasing out of the school system in favor of Roman orthography. (CBC)

Nunavut education minister Paul Quassa announced yesterday in the legislative assembly that the government is looking into using Roman orthography as the standard writing system for Inuktitut in schools across the territory.

Inuktitut is commonly written across Nunavut in two different systems: syllabics, which uses a system of symbols adopted from Cree script, and Roman orthography, which uses the roman alphabet used to write in English. Both systems enjoy official status in the territory, and are used more frequently depending on geographical location: syllabics in the east, orthography in the west.

In his statement to the assembly, Minister Quassa, said that a standard writing system "has the potential to build an environment where students would be better equipped for learning more than one language."

"Education being a priority, it's very clear to us that our mandate is to deliver bilingual education," he said, following his statement. "And in order to ensure that we are delivering a quality bilingual education, I believe, writing system is very important."

"It's something that is being talked about by other Inuit regions. I think the interest is out there."

According to Quassa, the first step towards implementing the standardized language system is to research the capability and capacity of schools to deliver Inuktitut instruction in Roman orthography. After research is complete, a field test would be commissioned — essentially a pilot program, of "6 to 10 schools," said Quassa. No timeline was given for the project, with Quassa instead saying he looked forward to reporting back in the spring sitting on the feasibility of the initiative.

Quassa did not explain in his statement why the government chose Roman orthography over syllabics.