Nunavik switches to English numbers in early grades

Inuktitut numbers to be used where calculations not required


Nunavik’s Kativik School Board has decided to introduce English numbers to children in Grades 1 to 3 who study in Inuktitut for those first three grades.

KSB commissioners passed a resolution in April to support the introduction of what they called “number names.”

The goal is for students at the end of Grade 2 to know how to count up to 999 — just like other kids in Quebec — and make learning mathematics in the higher grades easier for them.

Until now, KSB students have learned how to count up to the number 20 in Grade 1, past the number 59 in Grade 2, and above the number 100 in Grade 3 — all in Inuktitut.

Inuktitut number names will still be learned in those lower grades, but they won’t be used when students work on math-related activities such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Math teaching will continue in Inuktitut, the commissioners said.

And “the program will continually be monitored to make sure that it does not affect negatively the student’s learning in Inuktitut,” says their resolution.

The idea behind the resolution isn’t to stop teaching the Inuktitut numbers, says pedagogical math counsellor, Graziella Forbes, from Ulluriaq School in Kangiqsualujjuaq.

The idea is to use English numerals, because Inuktitut numbers don’t lend themselves to calculations, she said.

The move also wants to “create continuity between school and society” because English numbers are routinely used by Nunavimmiut to talk about dates, time, prices and whenever they’re using math in daily life or at work.

Students will continue to learn the Inuktitut numbers and use them, for example, when talking about situations where the numbers don’t need to be added, subtracted or divided — such as “the woman had three children” or “today is June 21.”

The hope is that students will not longer have to learn how to switch systems as they use math, Forbes said.

And they’ll be better able to visualize large numbers.

“It’s not like we changing over completely,” Forbes said. “Because we are still using the Inuktitut numbers in the context they would be used in.”

A discussion on a website called UniLang discusses how Inuktitut numbers also vary from dialect to dialect and they can be long to say and write in roman orthography: 567 is “tallimat aggaillu arvinillit aggaillu marruungnik arvinillit,” or, “tallimanik hannalan arvinillit aggaillu marruungnik arvinilik.”

Or very long: 1,234,567,891 is “vilian marruungnik avatit tallimat pingasunik aggaillu pingasunik arvinilik avatit tallimat sitamanik arvinillit aggaillu atausirlu.”

Some of the words used for those larger numbers are borrowed from English, such as hannalan (100), tausat (1,000) and milian or vilian (1,000,000).

There’s no word for “zero” but jiulu, borrowed from English, can be used or else “there is nothing” sutaqanngittuq or hutaqanngittuq.

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