Leadership needed on language
Next week, about 60 people will gather at Iqaluit’s cadet hall to engage in some belated public discussion on language policy for Nunavut.
The Nunavut Implementation Commission had recommended in its Footprints 2 report that such a conference be held some time in the second half of 1997. But none of the three parties to the Nunavut accord have shown much interest in sponsoring such a gathering, so the NIC has gone ahead to organize its own.
Their agenda is loaded with difficult issues. For example, the time has come for Nunavut residents to take a long hard look at which writing system would best ensure the survival of the Inuit language. Inuit now have a choice between two writing systems: syllabics and the Roman alphabet. Both were brought to the Arctic by Europeans, and neither can be called “traditional” in the real meaning of the term.
Many thoughtful people now believe that the syllabic system has outlived its usefulness. They believe that Roman orthography is easier to read and to teach. Some believe that the Inuit language may not survive in Nunavut if it continues to be written mainly in syllabics.
They’re probably right. But that doesn’t make it an easy question to resolve. Elders and those who have a vested interest in syllabics will likely object to any movement towards Roman orthography.
The Nunavut government faces a more practical issue: What writing system should be used to translate the Nunavut government’s statutes and other official materials? If these are to be accessible to people in Coppermine and Cambridge Bay, then the answer is obvious: use Roman orthography.
Another difficult issue is how a government whose work force is more than 50 per cent non-Inuit will provide services in the Inuit language.
If the Inuit language’s official status in Nunavut is to mean anything at all, these issues must be explained, discussed, and resolved. Next week is a good time to start. JB