Philip Newton (pne) wrote,
Philip Newton

Inuktitut Essentials: A Phrasebook

I've finished reading through Inuktitut Essentials: A Phrasebook now. (I haven't committed it to memory, of course, but I think I've read every example sentence and every page except for the glossary at the end.)

I have mixed feelings about it. I could probably sum them up something like this: if you want to say something that has a phrase for it, you're fine; if you want to say anything not explicitly mentioned, you may be stuck.

Granted, Inuktitut grammar is rather different from English and fairly complex, with a multitude of suffixes for various things, and even the "basic" possession-number-case inflections are pretty many. (Thank goodness you don't have gender or different declensions, at least! Unless you count "nouns ending in a vowel / -k / -t / -q" as separate declensions.) Also, the high average number of morphemes per word makes it hard to take a given example and adapt it to other situations without knowing which bit means what.

Still. It seems as if some of the sentences are overly precise: they'll let you say exactly that, but are not necessarily friendly to expressing other things.

You have "My tent site has many spiders" (but no way of saying "your tent site", let alone, "Where is your tent site?"), "Where are the band from?" (but no way of saying, "From Igloolik/Iqaluit/Cambridge Bay/Ottawa/...."), "I would like butter" (but there's no plain "butter" in the glossary), ᖃᖓᑦᑕᐅᑎᒐ ᐊᑭᖃᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ $1,200-ᓂᒃ Qangattautiga akiqalauqtuq $1,200-nik "My airplane ticket cost $1,200" (without having any idea how to pronounce "$1,200-nik"; I'm guessing something along the lines of ᐅᐊᓐ ᑕᐅᓴᓐ ᑑ ᓴᓐᓂᑦ ᑖᓚᓂᒃ uan tausan tuu hannit taalanik) and so on. There's also no mention of "nasal r": r stands for two different sounds, depending on its environment, and this text, like many others, only talks about the "default", stand-alone sound.

Also, I think there's at least one typo (ᐱᙳᐊᕕᒻᒥᙶᖅᑐᒍᑦ Pinnguavimminngaaqtugut "We are coming from the rec centre" should be, I think, ᐱᙳᐊᕕᒻᒥᙶᖅᑐᒍᑦ Pinnguarvimminngaaqtugut, given ᐱᙳᐊᕐᕕᒃ pinnguarvik "recreational centre"). No other ones that were immediately obvious to me, which is good, though I think I was suspicious a couple more times. Though I suppose that given the number of pages in the book, one (or three) typos is not that bad.

Basically, I think it could have benefitted from having a much more extensive section on grammar and inflection, and a bit more breakdown of how the bits combine to reach the meaning in the smooth/idiomatic translation.

Essentially, I guess I wanted a Kauderwelsch Sprachführer: Inuktitut Wort für Wort :) (Unfortunately, their section on Canada has English, French, [Anglo-]Canadian Slang, Québécois Slang, and Sioux/Lakota, but no Inuktitut. They do have one for West Greenlandic, though. Oddly enough, it's not listed under "Denmark" [though Faroese is, for example], and "Greenland" isn't on their list of countries.)

Also, I'm beginning to understand why Mick Mallon wrote in Elementary Inuktitut Dialogues:

We get lots of requests for "conversational" courses in Inuktitut, courses that are not as demanding or rigorously logical as our normal ones, which require a lot of patient plodding and analytical thinking on the part of students. People say, "Can't you just give me a few phrases to use in common situations around town? That's all I need."

Let us try to explain why we have resisted these pleas until now. Inuktitut is not like most European languages that you can "pick up" bit by bit, such as Spanish or Italian. Those languages have an underlying structure similar to English, so that you can slot in the words you learn into the familiar patterns of your own speech, and get away with it most of the time. That won't work in Inuktitut, where the structure is completely different.

There is probably something to be said for learning grammar before (or along with) phrases, if you want to be able to vary the phrases at all.

(For what it's worth, the Elementary Inuktitut Dialogues seem to do more taking-things-apart-into-chunks and explaining. On the other hand, they also cover less ground than Inuktitut Essentials; it's a trade-off.)

Tags: inuktitut
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