Conference mulls language revitalization in Nunavut

“Eating, sewing and talking: these are the best ways you can maintain your language”

If you want to keep Inuktut alive, it’s important to use it. “Eating, sewing and talking: these are the best ways you can maintain your language,” elder Alacie Joamie told the Inuugatta Inuktuuqta language conference in Iqaluit. The event, which got underway on Tuesday, continues to Thursday evening. (Photo by Jane George)

By Jane George

The Government of Nunavut’s goal is now to see the territory and its public service become Inuktut-speaking by 2040—although that’s 20 years later than the target date set back in 1999 by the Bathurst Mandate.

“If we dare, by working all together, we could aim to have a 100 per cent of all Inuit in Nunavut to be able to speak Inuktut by 2040, with an increased ability for all Nunavummiut to speak it,” David Joanasie, Nunavut’s minister of culture and heritage said.

But to power up a language like Inuktut, which faces some serious challenges, official policies aren’t everything: you have to be passionate, a risk taker and almost “God”-like.

Those are some of the words of Katarina Edmunds, a Maori educator from New Zealand, who participated in a Tuesday session on language leaders at the Inuugatta Inuktuuqta language conference in Iqaluit.

From Nunavut participants at the conference also came practical sharing on how to keep Inuktut vital: Iqaluit elder Alacie Joamie said that “eating, sewing and talking: these are the best ways you can maintain your language.”

“If we continue to practise our language our mother tongue will be strong.”

Julia Ogina of Cambridge Bay, who works with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, relates how her experiences in western Nunavut show that songs, drumming and cultural activities can enhance Inuinnaqtun, Nunavut’s most-endangered dialect of Inuktut. (Photo by Jane George)

Julia Ogina of Cambridge Bay, who works with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, told how her experiences in western Nunavut show that songs, drumming and cultural activities can enhance language learning and use.

But a Statistics Canada report on language use in Nunavut between 2001 and 2016 shows the large task facing the GN and dedicated language champions like Ogina.

Highlights of the 123-page report were presented on Tuesday at the conference by Statistics Canada’s Jean-Francois Lepage in advance of the report’s public release this summer, in English, French and, for the first time, Inuktitut.

Its findings show that while the percentage of Inuit in Nunavut has remained stable, the percentage of those who speak Inuktut at home—where it counts—has decreased.

And this non-transmission of Inuktut seems to be the biggest factor that negatively affects the vitality of the language in Nunavut, Lepage said.

When both parents speak Inuktut, the children learn the language: Inuktut is transmitted as a mother tongue to about nine in 10 children who live in a two-parent household where both parents have Inuktut as their mother tongue.

But it’s not the same when only one—or neither of the parents—speaks Inuktut: only about three in 10 children of linguistically mixed couples and fewer than two in 10 children of couples where neither parent has Inuktut as a mother tongue.

Overall in Nunavut, the transmission rates of Inuktut as a mother tongue to Inuit children up to 14 years of age have fallen, Lepage said.

In 2016, fewer than seven in 10 Inuit children up to four years old spoke Inuktut as their mother tongue, down from eight in 10 children in 2001.

Knowledge of Inuktut among Inuit up to the age of 34 was much lower in the western Kitikmeot region than elsewhere in Nunavut in 2016.

Overall, 26,270 people in Nunavut still reported speaking Inuktut at home on at least a regular basis in 2016—an increase since 2001.

But while Inuktut is being increasingly used in the home, for many it has shifted from being the main language to the secondary language, Statistics Canada found.

In 2016, 21 per cent of Inuit with Inuktut as a mother tongue spoke it at home as a secondary language and another language as their main home language. That’s much more than the 15.1 per cent who spoke it as a secondary language in 2001.

Meanwhile, Nunavummiut with a knowledge of English have grown in both number and proportion: in 2016, 94.1 per cent of Nunavut’s population, or 33,485 people, were able to conduct a conversation in English. That’s up from 86.7 per cent of the Nunavut population, or roughly 23,000 people, in 2001.

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Evano aggark on

    If you want to keep inuktut alive or was it inuktitut, which is t?

  2. Posted by Peter on

    Inuktut represents Inuktitut and Inuinaqtun, we want to keep all of them alive.

  3. Posted by Inuktut Learner on

    Inuktut is the term coined to encompass ALL dialects including Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, Kalaallit (Greenlandic), Inuvialiktun, etc. Whereas Inuktitut is the main dialect used within the central and eastern arctic. Hope that helps!

    Being an Inuk but speaking English as my first language while trying to relearn my Inuktitut is both a curse and a blessing.

    Education is a huge asset to us in Nunavut, however it is exclusively taught in schools that help to educate our growing population in modern and scientifically proven methods in all departments.

    As an English speaker it’s much easier for me to graso3 concepts that are taught in a generalized sense than if it had been in Inuktut, which, unfortunately is due to the fact that Inuktut keeps needing to evolve and include these foreign concepts in a way that makes sense and is relevant.

    On the other hand, relearning Inuktut is increasingly difficult due to the snide remarks and prejudice that I receive from the older generation.

    Not giving up, though!

    • Posted by Glide & snide on

      I understand what you mean, when I try to speak Inuktitut some, not all, native speakers mock and snide too. I just giggle back, knowing they are digging their own grave.

  4. Posted by Kangirjuaq on

    Semantically, there is no difference between Inuktut and Inuktitut, both mean “like an Eskimo”. The delineation referred to here in these comments is a recent one, that is, inuktut encompasses all dialects, while inuktitut refers only to the Kivalliq and other eastern regions? Also one could infer, because it seems to be the implicit message, that it is now correct only to use inuktut and not inuktitut. Ridiculous. A poster here says that its been difficult to learn because of the ridicule, snide comments and prejudice from older generations. That is absolutely true, and is just about the biggest cause of kids, young people, from attempting to learn the language. Inuit have done it to themselves, and should stop blaming elsewhere for losing the language.

    • Posted by Puzzled on

      You say there is no semantic difference between Inuktitut and Inuktut, then proceed to delineate the differences in meaning (the differences are semantic).

      Funny stuff!

      • Posted by Monica Connolly on

        “Inuktut” and “Inuktitut” are not the equivalent of English nouns; they are the equivalent of English phrases, meaning respectively “like an Inuk” and “like Inuit”. In the last few years, various authoritative bodies have started to use the singular for the whole body of dialects of the language, and the plural specifically for the Baffin, Kivalliq and Nunavik dialects.

      • Posted by Kangirjuaq on

        Say what!? And what exactly do you mean by that, Puzzled? Stupid. I say there is no semantic difference, and Monica is not correct in the English singular/plural difference, there is none. So, Puzzled, proceed to delineate the difference, please, educate us.

        • Posted by Puzzled on

          The term you might be looking for is etymological, clearly both terms have different referents and therefore can not be said to be the same semantically. I hope that helps you understand my point.

  5. Posted by Will Shortz on

    Semantics refers to the meaning or interpretation of words. The way Inuktut and Inuktitut are presently used in conversations, there is a semantic difference in their usage, as Kangirjuaq shows by providing two delineations. So, they do have different meanings for people.

    Linguistically, breaking the words down into their morphemes (‘smallest units of meaning’), you have inuk + tut and inuk + titut. Inuk is morpheme meaning “person”. Inuktitut Ilinniaqta’s webpage on noun endings ( shows that -tut is the singular form of the noun ending implying likeness and -titut is the plural (3+) form of the noun ending implying likeness. These noun endings are added to the singular form of the root noun, so inuktut is “like a person” and inuktitut is “like 3 or more people”.

    I believe that inuittut or inuittitut would be grammatically incorrect combinations but am no expert.

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