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Saving Inuit Languages: Nunavut’s Continuing Struggle

Inuit Du Nunavut
Saving Inuit Languages: Nunavut’s Continuing Struggle
on September, 10 2013
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There is a growing concern in Nunavut, Canada that Inuktikut, the most spoken aboriginal language in the country, is fast fading. Nowadays, only the older people speak the language mostly among themselves while the younger ones barely know how to talk in the dialect. Nunavut kids usually recite poems and sing songs in their native language but they do not completely grasp the meaning of the verses. Some of them may talk in Inuktikut, although they apparently use it only in conversations with their elders but never with members of their age groups.

Challenging mission

Despite the less promising future of Canada’s aboriginal languages, the Nunavut government is not about to give up on its mission of saving Inuit dialects. According to the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, there are six dialects across the north that the government is working on to preserve. The most commonly spoken among these dialects is Inuktikut, an oral language with no set writing system. It is commonly observed that Nunavut children sing songs and recite poems in the dialect, which have been passed through generations.

Modern technology vs. aboriginal language

With the main thrust of the government to save dying languages, Inuit music and verses are significantly made alive by younger Nunavut groups. This effort however is more often eclipsed by widespread use of technology and the so called pop culture in which most children are now immersed. Statistics in 2006 show that 69% could converse well in Inuit. This has dropped to 63% in 2011, a change that is mostly attributed to the gradual focus of the people in the use of their aboriginal tongue. Also contributory to this decline is the use of English in business and the influence of mass media on young Nunavut people.

Language preservation through legislation

Two legislations were passed in 2008 in an effort to save Inuit languages, namely: (1) the Official Languages Act and (2) the Inuit Language Protection Act. The first act grants French and English official status to the Inuit language when used in the Legislative Assembly as well as the Nunavut courts. At the same time, Nunavut people are granted services from their localities using French, English, and Inuit based on the nature of office and the significance of the services requested. On the other hand, the Inuit Language Protection Act makes the government responsible to take actions in promoting the use and preservation of Inuktut in all sectors of society. Furthermore, Inuktut is given priority in work, education and daily life of people in the territory.

The Answer: Education

The perpetuation of Inuit languages has been delegated to the classrooms when instruction in the dialects was implemented. Starting in 2009, classroom education in Inuktut was made available from Grade three. The target year is 2019, when the program shall have been available to all grade levels. Parents are also encouraged to help in educating their children in Inuit dialect alongside with the English language.

AUTHOR
Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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