The Inuinnaqtun language—the foundation of Inuinnait culture—has less than 600 fluent speakers remaining. By most estimates, it is a language that will be extinct in less than two generations.
Inuinnaqtun has been listed as endangered by UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. To be fluent in Inuinnaqtun is to fully take part in a worldview deeply rooted in the Arctic environment and the experience of countless Inuinnait generations.
As part of our five-year Strategic Plan, the Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq / Kitikmeot Heritage Society is leading a coordinated and transformational effort to reverse the loss of Inuinnaqtun in our communities by partnering with Elders, language specialists, competent speakers, and academic linguists to create multiple, parallel programs to document the language, mentor the next generation of competent speakers, and develop digital tools for knowledge sharing. The recovery and revitalization of Inuit culture and language relies heavily on our ability to teach the next generation of fluent speakers and then encourage and foster the transmission of Inuinnaqtun with each new generation. We must invest in establishing language carriers now, or, we will not be able to teach Inuinnaqtun to current and future generations.
As part of our efforts to ensure linguistic survival, we launched an intensive language revitalization program called Uqarluta / Let's Speak Inuinnaqtun at the start of 2019.
We're leading innovative language documentation and revitalization projects and initiatives over the next five years. Learn more about what we have been doing recently.
BUILDING A MENTOR-APPRENTICE PROGRAM
The recovery and revitalization of Inuinnaqtun relies on our ability teach the next generation of fluent speakers and then encourage and foster the transmission of Inuinnaqtun with each new generation. We’re initiating a Mentor-Apprentice Program, and working with partners at the University of Victoria for guidance and advice on the development of an Inuit-led Mentor-Apprentice Program and the implementation of a pilot program that will pair fluent speakers with future language carriers for one-on-one immersion.
Due to the rapid changes in Inuinnait lifeways since settling in communities we are in a position where many domains of language related to traditional life are rarely used or ‘sleeping’. We run annual language documentation workshops and work with Elders, fluent speakers and language specialists to record vocabulary in traditional domains for which only our oldest generations have personal experience.
COLLABORATING ON AN INUINNAQTUN
It is going to take a collaboration of available human resources to tackle Inuinnaqtun revitalization and a comprehensive documentation of the language is one key activity. In partnership with Dr. Kumiko Murasugi, School of Linguistics and Language Studies, Carleton University, the PI/KHS has developed an online too where specialists can collaborate by entering vocabulary as well as related multimedia.
CREATING LANGUAGE RESOURCES
Last year, we transcribed, formatted, and made publicly accessible two Inuit language resources from ethnographic material documented by the Danish Fifth Thule Expedition (1921-24). Through the work of trained Language Specialists, these original texts were transcribed from the Danish orthography used to represent Inuinnaqtun, to an accessible modern language standard.
TRAINING IN THE USE OF STANDARD INUINNAQTUN ORTHOGRAPHY
We facilitated a workshop for Elders through Nunavut Arctic College on the use of standard Inuinnaqtun orthography, since their understanding of these standards is critical to revitalization efforts and the ability to teach and transmit Inuinnaqtun.
FOSTERING AN IMMERSIVE LANGUAGE NEST
Our Elders-in-Residence Program has been running annually for over ten years, and we are incredibly grateful to offer an immersive Inuinnaqtun environment at the May Hakongak Comunity Library & Cultural Centre. The Elders provide a language nest to many generations of Inuinnait, from teaching Inuinnaqtun words and reading to the children who attend our After School Program, to providing guidance and support to our staff.