Linguist and teacher 'gobsmacked' by honour

Mallon to be named to Order of Canada


Iqaluit resident Mick Mallon will receive an Order of Canada medal for "his contributions as a teacher and linguist who spent decades preserving and revitalizing the Inuktitut language."

Mallon, now 75, first learned Inuktitut in Puvurnituq, where he taught during the late 1950s.

In 1968, Mallon moved to Rankin Inlet where he set up the Eskimo Language School for the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, to provide second-language training in Inuktitut to federal and territorial employees.

Mallon says this school was an effort to deal with the effects of the language shift from Inuktitut to English, which resulted from the arrival of a massive southern bureaucracy into the Arctic.

The school also provided a casual form of apprenticeship in applied linguistics to the young Inuit who spent time there as instructors.

Later, as a teacher at Nunavut Arctic College, Mallon, along with his teaching partner and wife Alexina Kublu, developed a curriculum for Inuktitut, producing a number of courses for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners, featuring grammar, exercises and audio cassettes that are still widely used.

Mallon was skilled at breaking Inuktitut into "chunks" of meaning and, through this method, he was able to help beginners learn the basics of Inuktitut grammar.

Scores of newcomers to the North studied Inuktitut with Mallon through his three-week intensive Inuktitut courses offered through the college. Many future interpreter-translators also delved into Inuktitut with Mallon.

Mallon learned that he would receive the award a few weeks before the July 1 announcement by Governor-General Michaëlle Jean.

Mallon, reached at his houseboat in Victoria, B.C., says he was stunned – "gobsmacked" – by the news.

Mallon jokes that he now knows why Oscar speeches are so boring because he also wants to thank everyone who helped him throughout his career – "and, I have to go back 40 or more years, so this means a lot of people."

Mallon says he's thrilled because he will now have his moment – perhaps 30 seconds – with Jean, whom he calls "one of the most beautiful women in the world."

The Order of Canada follows Mallon's near-death accident in Iqaluit the winter of 2007, when he tripped and lay in below-freezing temperatures for hours, until searchers found him.

When Mallon was in an Ottawa hospital, recovering from severe frostbite, seven broken ribs, a punctured lung, two breaks in his collar bone, a broken shoulder blade, a badly bruised right arm, and nerve-damaged hands, he dreamt of receiving an Order of Canada – because "no Governor General, male or female, has ever kissed me."

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