The solution is in technology, not common orthography


I read with interest in your Aug 23 editorial that the Inuit Circumpolar Conference language commission still believes that a common writing system for Inuktitut is the only solution for pan-Arctic communication.

With modern computer technology this should be a dead issue by now, as computers are capable of converting between orthographies and even dialects.

So why does the common orthography debate keep resurfacing? Simply, it is a prejudice based on the contortions we go through to use syllabics on computers. It is an example of how technology makes us throw up our arms in frustration to the point we give up.

As the developer of the AiPaiNunavik font and a graphic designer with more than 10 years experience setting type in syllabics, I am acutely aware of the problems of the writing system. But there are just as many problems with Roman or Cyrillic orthography, especially if you want to sort or do any kind of manipulation to text that actually makes sense in Inuktitut.

But this is really not about the relative merits of two different writing systems. My work has led me to believe that we have decided to let the dogs drive the sled when it comes to using syllabics on computers, and it does not have to be so.

Currently there is a movement to make syllabics more relevant to the Inuktitut language, and this began with the return of the “ai-pai-tai” column (which was erroneously attributed to Avataq Cultural Institute in your editorial).

The AiPaiNunavik font project was initiated by elders and overseen by a committee of the major organizations in Nunavik. The new syllabic system more accurately represents the syllabic ordering of Inuktitut, and is in wide use in the region. Many projects are under development based on this technology, including the AiPai Typing Tutor software by the Kativik School Board.

We must never forget that it was the limitations of technology that caused the ai-pai-tai column to be dropped – there was not enough room on the IBM Selectric golf ball.

The next stage of the project will see the development of standards for the Inuktitut language, not just the syllabic writing system. Among the standards will be rules for text manipulation and the transcoding of writing systems and dialects. We also intend to actually follow through with the technology to make it suitable for everyday use. This makes far more sense than trying to adopt a common orthography.

What it comes down to is making communication technology work to the advantage of Inuit culture, and not the other way around if a common orthography is adopted. This is simply taking control of the reins, because if we don’t, we may not like where the dogs decide to take us.

Ray Taylor
Acorda Design Integration Inc.
Lead developer, AiPaiNunavik Project

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