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Inuit languages in spotlight
Dedicated week focuses on activities to promote Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun

Myles Dolphin
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 10, 2014

Despite the slight decline in the usage of Inuit languages across Nunavut, Tocassie Burke is confident the current generation of speakers is equipped with the right tools to reverse the trend.

The manager of Inuktitut affairs with the Government of Nunavut's Culture and Heritage Department shared her thoughts on languages ahead of Uqausirmut Quviasutiqarniq - Inuit Language Week, being held from Feb. 17 to 28.

She said younger Nunavummiut are inclined to speak English because it is the predominant language of most entertainment mediums.

Coupled with Canada's youngest population - children aged 0 to 14 account for 33 per cent of Nunavummiut - it's no surprise that fewer people speak Inuit languages at home than before.

"I think it's a trend where people want to speak English and be 'cool'," she said.

"There aren't a lot of slang words in Inuktitut so those types of influences have really affected the language. But there are more people talking about it now."

According to the results of the 2011 Census of Population, the proportion of persons in Nunavut whose mother tongue was Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun was 68 per cent, down two per cent from 2006. The trend is worrisome, Burke said, but she's attended many meetings with youth where they've brainstormed ideas on how to increase usage of Inuit languages.

Nunavut's Official Languages Act, which came into force last April, reinforces the importance of preserving the languages.

"Youth have great ideas," she said, "and they want to see more resources, especially in high school, where more terminology needs to be developed.

"They say that, usually, if there are more cultural events in their community, it helps them focus on the language."

Elders who are unilingual are affected too, because they have a harder time communicating with the younger generation. Many communities around the territory have applied for funding to help them organize more language-oriented events, such as hunting and going out on the land, that would connect both ends of the population spectrum.

"In Nunavut the majority of parents are young, and a lot of young parents are not fluent speakers," Burke said. The statistics will show that usage of the languages is declining very much at home. Those were some of the concerns that were brought up when we did public consultations around the territory."

The proportion of Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun speakers who use the language at home declined two per cent, to 52 per cent from 54 per cent, in 2011.

This year, Burke said there are a number of activities planned for Inuit Language Week, many of which are aimed at youth in schools.

"We're launching a book by 10 authors that has Inuit humour," she said.

"We did a language contest in Inuit languages a few years ago and the humour theme was very popular. We're also launching a DVD called Millie's Dream: Revitalizing Inuinnaqtun, which is very inspiring."

The film focuses on Millie Kuliktana, a long-time educator and language advocate who has worked tirelessly to promote the revitalization of the Inuinnaqtun language.

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