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Aqqaluk Lynge is right

January 30, 2004

 

Aqqaluk Lynge, the Greenland vice-president for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, made yet another pitch last week for one of Greenland's long-cherished dreams - a common, pan-Arctic writing system for the Inuit language.

In an interview with CBC in Iqaluit, Lynge, in Iqaluit for a meeting of ICC's executive council, tried to reassure Canadian Inuit radio listeners that ICC does not want to replace the syllabic writing system - only supplement it.

Despite the clarity and sincerity of Lynge's proposal, it's likely to go nowhere, just as it always has. Inuit leaders in Canada and abroad have been banging their heads against the writing system issue since the late 1980s, when the ICC first raised it.

Some Inuit leaders, such as John Amagoalik and Jose Kusugak, have long advocated a common writing system, and even a move from syllabics to Roman orthography. But such enlightened suggestions are always smothered by the conservatism of Canada's eastern Arctic communities, where attachment to the syllabic system is deep.

As a poet and politician, Aqqaluk Lynge knows the power of the written word. He knows that a language without a common writing system will eventually sicken and die, as history has demonstrated repeatedly. He knows that different writing systems create barriers to communication and unity among people who otherwise have much in common.

In Nunavut, advocates for better Inuktitut programming within the schools are crying out for more curriculum material, and more things to read. In Greenland, a well-funded publishing system has produced books, magazines and newspapers in the Inuit language for more than 150 years.

But this vast storehouse of written material is not accessible to most readers of the Inuit language in Canada. Similarly, if Greenlanders want to communicate in writing with their Canadian cousins, they are usually obliged to do it in English, now standard for international communication everywhere on the planet.

It's impossible to believe that this is what ICC's founders had in mind when they created the organization in 1977.

The development of common language standards is always a difficult, lengthy process. But whenever it's raised in Nunavut, it's always put off until later. The danger is that it will be put off one time too often, when it will be too late to serve any useful purpose. JB

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