Unifying Written Inuktitut: Choosing Standard Spelling to Support Language Retention


What does a 21st-century Indigenous language sound like? How does it use print to promote literacy and help sustain itself? These questions are the foundation of everything we do at the Cree Literacy Network. Who knew the Inuit have been asking all the same questions? 

You may already know that Inuktitut uses the same syllabic characters as Cree (with the addition of a few additional characters for sounds like NG and V that Cree doesn’t have). In fact, when the missionary Edmund Peck translated the Bible into Inuktitut in 1876, he adapted the characters directly from earlier Cree Bibles. 

You may not know that Inuktitut has struggled with competing spelling systems, that have prevented the language community from effectively developing and sharing the materials that everyone needs to strengthen their grasp on a language threatening to slip away. Just like Cree. 

Last week’s news about the Inuit approach to this problem is particularly fascinating: Through thoughtful consultation and cooperation, the Inuit community created a task group called Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiq to research and recommend an Inuktitut orthography that has the best chance of advancing Inuktitut far into the future. Scroll down to find links to national media news reports. 

One of my most exciting moments this fall came when the Iqaluit rock band the Jerry Cans came to Baker Lake, Nunavut to celebrate the expansion of a local mine. I got to sit in a jam-packed community hall, basking in the sound of hundreds of Inuit singing along in Inuktitut. This is what a 21st-century language can sound like. This is the vision that the Cree Literacy Network holds for Cree, knowing (like the AIT) standard spelling can’t do the job alone, but it’s one of the most powerful tools we have. 

Of course, while we cheer on the Inuktitut language, long may it thrive, the Cree Literacy Network also counts its blessings. We have a great head start. Our honorary founders began using Standard Roman Orthography fifty years ago, and the students they trained have never stopped producing and promoting language materials designed to promote and strengthen Cree. We can be proud of how our library of shareable resources continues to grow. 

Here’s the story as reported by CBC: 


This version is from Nunatsiaq News: 

National Inuit org approves new unified writing system



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