Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait

ITK Board Of Directors Adopts Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait As Unified Orthography For Inuktut

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Unification of the writing system

Since the 1970s the discussion around promoting and supporting the continued use of Inuktut (the Inuit language) in schools across Canada’s four Inuit regions has included a deeply rooted debate about introducing a unified Inuit writing system to promote communication across dialects and the development of common learning materials.

We can take ownership of our written language. Our current writing systems were introduced through the process of colonization. The unified Inuktut writing system will be the first writing system created by Inuit for Inuit in Canada.

Why Create a Unified System?

The key to a new era in bilingual education is the ability to produce, publish and distribute common Inuktut materials. A unified writing system for Inuktut with common grammar, spelling and terminology, would facilitate the production of these materials and strengthen Inuktut. It would improve mobility and foster consistency in the education system for students, leading to improved literacy and education outcomes across Inuit Nunangat.

A unified writing system will also strengthen Inuit unity and culture in Canada, as it is part of Inuit self-determination.

What is Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait?

Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait is a unified orthography for Inuktut that is representative of sounds across all dialects. Speakers of any Inuktut dialect can use Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait following the pronunciation specific to their dialect.

A unified Inuktut orthography was a recommendation of the National Strategy on Inuit Education (2011), to improve the sharing of educational resources across Inuit Nunangat, facilitate communication across regions and improve teacher and student mobility.

It was developed through eight years of work by Inuit language experts and is the only written form of Inuktut that was developed by Inuit.

How to use Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait

  • For long vowels, double the a/i/u (aa, ii, uu)
  • When an apostrophe is used after a vowel (i, u, or a), it marks a glottal stop, the “catch in the throat” sound heard in some dialects in words like ma’na, a’aa or Qamani’tuaq
  • When an apostrophe is used after an n, it means pronounce the n separately from the following ng sound (as in avin’ngaq in some dialects)
  • When an apostrophe is used after an r, it means pronounce the r separately from the following rh sound (as in qar’rhuk in some dialects)

Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiq

The Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiq (AIT) Task Group includes language specialists from each Inuit region. It is mandated to research and identify the speech components of Inuktut and the current Inuktut orthographies in use, and recommend an Inuktut orthography that has the best chance of advancing Inuktut far into the future.

History of Inuit Writing Systems

Inuktut was a spoken language across the Arctic for thousands of years before writing systems began to be used. The different writing systems Inuit use now were mostly introduced by European missionaries, but many Inuit learned to write from Inuit who were visiting from other regions and writing spread quickly. Inuit improved and adapted the writing systems that missionaries developed in order to spread Christianity throughout the Arctic.

  • Early 1700s: Greenlandic begins to be written down by Danish missionaries using roman orthography (1750: first Greenlandic dictionary; 1760: first Greenlandic grammar).
  • 1790s: Labrador Inuktitut begins to be written and taught in schools using a roman orthography developed by Moravian missionaries.
  • 1850s: Missionaries John Horden and Edwin Watkins adapt Cree syllabics for writing Inuktitut in the James Bay Area.
  • 1870s-1890s: Edmund Peck publishes Inuktitut translations of biblical materials in syllabics in the Nunavik and Baffin regions. Use of syllabics spreads among Inuit in those regions.
  • Late 1800s: Missionaries in the western Arctic introduce Roman orthography for Inuvialuktun and Inuinnaqtun.
  • 1900: Uyaquq, a Yup’ik from Alaska, develops a picture writing script for the Yugtun language; around the same time missionaries in Alaska introduce roman orthography for Yup’ik and Iñupiaq languages.
  • 1950s and 1960s: Gilles Lefebvre (1950s) and Raymond Gagné (1960s) are hired by the government of Canada to standardize Roman orthography.
  • 1973: A new standard roman orthography is introduced in Greenland.
  • 1976: The Inuit Cultural Institute (ICI) standard dual orthography is introduced in both a syllabic version and a roman version, and is ratified by Inuit Tapirisat of Canada.
  • 1980: Labrador Inuit Standardized Writing System is introduced as a reformed version of Labrador roman orthography.
  • 1980: Nunavik’s Avataq Cultural Institute is established.
  • 1984: The Committee for Original People’s Entitlement standardizes Roman orthography in the Inuvialuit region (different from ICI roman orthography).
  • 2000: The fourth column of the syllabic chart (ai-pai-tai) is reintroduced in Nunavik.
  • 2009: Some new syllabics are introduced in the Natsilik region to represent sounds that are used in Natsilik dialect but were not part of existing syllabics (for h, rh, shr sounds).
  • 2010: Nunavut establishes Inuit Uqausinginnik Tauguusiliuqtiit as a language authority to standardize Inuktut terminology and spelling in Nunavut.
  • 2011: ITK forms Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiq Task Group to work on developing a unified Inuit writing system for all Inuit in Canada.
  • 2019: ITK officially adopts the Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait orthography developed by the Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiq group.