Philip Newton (pne) wrote,
Philip Newton

Inuktitut : Nunavut :: Romansh : Graubünden?

I was reading a web page somewhere (probably an article on Nunatsiaq News Online) when an advertisement in syllabics caught my eye.

I had a closer look and saw that it was a quadrilingual (English—French—Inuktitut—Inuinnaqtun) advertisement asking for comments on the Proposed Uqausivut Comprehensive Plan.

I had a bit of a look through the materials there and the strategies and rationales outlined in the plan, and parallels struck me between Inuktitut and Romansh.

The strongest was definitely the bit where they said that one challenge was the fact that different communities spoke different dialects and that they wanted to work towards a written standard to enable Inuit to communicate more easily with one another. I suppose that’s one area where Graubünden is about 25 years ahead of them: they already had people working on standardised written forms and are introducing one in more and more spheres.

But there are other parallels:

  • Both languages are spoken in an area where the traditional language is under strong attack from a foreign language, due not only to amount of media available but also because it is the language of education and work (English in Canada, German in Switzerland)
  • Especially if you only consider Graubünden north of the mountain range: both languages are spoken in an area where there are two predominant languages, yet three official languages; all three are equal according to the law, but two of them are more equal than the others (the third being French in Nunavut, Italian in Graubünden)
  • Both languages are spoken in the high Arctic by a people traditionally relying on hunting… oh, wait. Though Graubünden was predominantly agrarian, I suppose, and the move to an industrial or service-oriented society (with the societal and linguistic changes that entails) probably comes with challenges.

One area where Graubünden has a huge advantage, though, in my opinion: when it comes to new technology, it has the common European stock of Greek and Latin to draw on. And not only that, it has models to follow: for example, French and Italian are not only both Ausbausprachen with highly-developed vocabulary, but are also linguistically fairly closely related to Romansh, making it easire to use them as models, and German, the other Ausbausprache relevant, tends to draw word stock for “advanced” vocabulary from the same sources.

So if you want to translate, say, “market capitalisation”, then you just twiddle the endings a bit and come up with chapitalisaziun dal martgà: essentially what happens if you take CAPITALISATIONEM and MERCATUM and apply the appropriate sound changes.

Inuktitut doesn’t have this readily available: not only is there no classical language that plays the role of Latin for French (or Sanskrit for Hindi, etc.), but cognate languages have similar situations, so you can’t generally just look to (say) Aleut or Iñupiaq to see how they word this or that new concept.

True, Inuktitut has a wide array of suffixes letting it express many new concepts, but for a combination of precision and concision, it’s surely hard to beat borrowings: especially since you can borrow what’s essentially a synonym and use it in only one of its senses. (The first that came to me was English sheath vs Latin vagina: which has the same array of meanings in Latin as the English word does in English AFAIK, but as a loan word in English is used for a restricted subset, leading to more precision with a good measure of consision. FWIW, German uses the same word for both.)


Other things also rang bells, such as Inuktitut/Romansh education in the lower grades (scheduled to be extended to K–12 in Nunavut by 2019).

In some ways, Nunavut has a leg up on Graubünden by the fact that a higher percentage speaks Inuktitut compared to Romansh, and that you have ethnic differences that make it easier to combine “being an Inuk” with “being able to speak Inuktitut” which is harder in Graubünden: I don’t think there’s any such thing as an “ethnic Romansh speaker”.

(I also wonder whether a bigger push for Inuktitut will lead to the equivalent of Rumantschuns: something like “professional Inuktitut speakers” who speak it because it gives them certain privileges or access to funding or something due to the status of “speaker of endangered language”, rather than because they feel a deep relationship to the language. Though I’m not quite sure of the exact sphere of meaning of Rumantschun so I might be missing the point.)

And finally, I was amused to read that the French-speaking radio station in Iqaluit is CFRT-FM, which apparently (cf. page 52 of the Uqausivut plan document) stands for cé frette! :)

Tags: inuktitut, romansh
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