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What's so funny about Qikiqtarjuaq?
BBC show pokes fun at English inability to say the name

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, September 21, 2011

There aren't many hamlets in Nunavut with names familiar to the average British person, but if there is one, it would be Qikiqtarjuaq. The hamlet was used this summer as the name of an episode of the British Broadcasting Corportation's Radio 4 comedy series, Cabin Pressure, and a quick internet search proves there has been a fair bit of buzz.

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The "masterplan" for the Qikiqtarjuaq episode of the BBC radio comedy program Cabin Pressure doesn't say much about the hamlet, but the show brought the hamlet's name into the spotlight for three-to-four million British listeners. - photo courtesy of John Finnemore

"Qikiqtarjuaq is a favourite episode with people because a few days after, there was some interference with the Wikipedia page for the town," series creator and writer John Finnemore said, apologetically, noting the perpetrator used quotes from the show, "portraying events in the show as if they were real."

The show follows MJN Air, a charter airline with one plane and a crew of oddballs. For the Qikiqtarjuaq episode, the crew flies a group of tourists hoping to see polar bears to the hamlet. At one point after the broadcast of the show, which drew between three and four millions listeners, the Wikipedia entry read that "there has been a sharp sharp decline in the population of polar bears in the area ... due to MJN's First Officer Douglas Richardson's slightly over-zealous strafing of the polar bears, leading to serious casualties for bears Paddington, Winnie and Baloo."

Confirming that polar bears as well as icebergs and narwhal are a draw for tourists to the community, economic development officer Leelee Kakkee wasn't aware of the show or the changes to the Wikipedia page, but welcomed the idea of more people becoming aware of the hamlet.

"It would be a very good idea for tourists to come," Kakkee said, noting the small community does not rely heavily on tourism. He recommends visitors learn about the culture so they can enjoy their visit.

In his research, Finnemore learned the hamlet plays an important role in European aviation. Europeans buying aircraft from North America often city-hop to fuel up en route to London or Paris.

"Someone has to go over and physically fly it over," he said. "They don't have large fuel tanks, so they have to stop over in small places on the way, and one of those places is Qikiqtarjuaq."

The name choice was a challenge for the English cast. In the first segment of the episode, one character questions why there is no 'u' after the 'q', and then is surprised by the fact that there could be a 't' after a 'q'.

"The letter 'u' is used as a vowel," says Inuktitut language instructor Leena Evic, who runs the Pirurvik Centre in Iqaluit, saying it is not required after a 'q', "because 'q' is a sound on its own. The 'q' is in your throat, and the 'k' is a regular 'k'. What we write in Roman is exactly how we pronounce it."

Evic notes non-native speakers often struggle with pronunciation.

"We have a couple of sounds that are challenging for non-Inuit learners," she said, noting Pirurvik Centre has a phrase book to help new speakers learn how to use the language and how to make the sounds. The centre also has a website to learn the language, which would have come in handy for the show's cast.

"The actors had great difficulty learning where to hit the stress," Finnemore said. "The emphasis comes on the 'tar', and we're so used to putting it somewhere else. I had to warm up the live audience, and on this occasion, I divided the audience into five and gave them all a syllable to say 'Qik-iq-tar-ju-aq' -- partly to warm up the audience and partly so the actors could all hear it 10 or 15 times before they went on."

"If you take the 'r' out, you pronounce it better," Leelee Kakkee said. The pronunciation is one the actors will need to practice if one of them, who suggested visiting all of the series' title locations, gets his way.

Finnemore said Qikiqtarjuaq would probably be the hardest location to get to out of those the show has named episodes after, but he said it would be a good experience.

"I looked at it on the internet, and it certainly looks like a beautiful place."

Kakkee agrees.

"It's very clean," he said, encouraging Finnemore and friends to come. "The people in town are very friendly, and have a good sense of humour."

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