Canada: Inuit move to unify writing system

A stop sign in Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, is written in English and the syllabary form of the Inuktitut language. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Signs in the mainly Inuit territory of Nunavut are written in the iconic Inuktitut syllabary as well as English

Fresh efforts are under way to finally give the Inuit people of Arctic Canada a common way to write their language.

A recently created task force is working on a plan to standardise the writing system for the Inuktitut language that'll be based on the Roman alphabet used in English, the National Post reports. Spoken by about 34,000 people across a vast area stretching from the Atlantic to Alaska, Inuktitut is currently written using two different scripts in Canada - a Latin-based version, and a script that uses symbols for Inuktitut syllables. There are also several regional variations for some words, the report points out. The word "moon" is written as tatqiq, takkik, tarqiq or a series of symbols, depending on location.

While attempts at standardisation have been in the works for decades, some Inuit leaders feel there is now a greater pressure to act, because young people are choosing English over Inuktitut. "With language erosion, we have to figure out a better way for young people to read and write in our language," Jeannie Arreak-Kullualik, a member of the task force, tells the National Post.

But any move away from a syllabic system may still be controversial, especially among Inuit people in the eastern Arctic. "They have a deep attachment to it," says James Eetoolook, who heads Nunavut Tunngavik, a legal body representing the Inuit. "Many associate syllabics with their Inuit identity."

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