Friday, February 10, 2006

Inuktitut for dummies...

...the dummy in question being me, of course.

For obvious reasons, I haven't talked much about work. But just in case people missed it, here's why: enough people have been fired because they talked about their job (normally in a negative or indiscreet way) while blogging so that it has become perfectly obvious that it is a remarkably stupid thing to do.

So, just for the record, I really like my job. If for no other reason than it's the first time in eight years I've worked something resembling regular hours. The concept of not having about eight hours of work to do on the weekends is so radical that I'm still not use to it.

One of the other nice things is that for an hour a week we have people coming into our office teaching us Inuktitut. One week we have an Inuit woman come in and teach us conversational Inuktitut, the other week we have a lovely kind of crazy Irish fellow come in and explain the linguistic aspects of it. He taught us the word for "He ate the nurse" in Inuktitut while relating a story of northern canibalism in our first class. Don't ask me what it is; I forget because I'm crap with vocabulary. Plus, I was laughing my ass off.

One of the goals of the government here is to have Inuktitut to be the primary language spoken in the workspace by 2020. I don't know if they'll succeed. In some other parts of Nunavut, where most of the government employees are Inuit, sure. No problem. In Iqaluit, where many of the employees are still qallunaaq (white people, although there are most skin pigmentations than white kicking around Iqaluit) it might be more of a challenge.

Anyway, I think it's great that this is happening. I've heard a lot of people when in Southern Canada complain when foreigners can't speak either English or French. There is the expectation than if you're in Canada, learn to speak one of the languages.

So really, if I'm going to be in Iqaluit for several years, then the only polite thing to do is at least pick up some of the language. It's kind of rude to not at least try. I am a visitor in their land, after all.

However, there are a couple of problems with this plan:

1. I suck at picking up new languages. There are all sorts of studies that say if you don't start learning a new language when you're young, you're going to have a lot more problems trying to learn them when you get older. Learn the language when the brain is still growing and soaking up stuff.

That didn't happen with me. So I spent eight fruitless years, between grade 4 and 11, trying to learn French. In Grade 11 I was so bad that I actually failed every test that year, but because it was graded on a curve, I got a 58. That was pretty much my sign to get out. I didn't care if there was a school trip to St. Pierre the next year, which was the annual excuse to go to a place with a lower drinking age and get legally hammered. I needed to get out of that class. So my French is appalling.

Personally, I blame it on the annoying habit the French have of every Goddamn object having to be either male or female. But I digress.

I also spent two semesters trying to learn German while at MUN. Not such a great idea.

I spent nine months in Korea and despite being assured that Hangul is a very elegant and easy language to learn, I didn't get very far. I picked up a few curse words, though, which is always useful.

And now I'm trying to learn Inuktitut. It's likely a doomed attempt, but I take some comfort that some of my co-workers, who have been in the territory longer than me, are clearly more lost than I am.

"It is a comfort in wretchedness to have companions in woe." I always liked that quote. Not that it's wretched trying to learn Inuktitut; it's just that most of the people in my class are hopeless. We're talking some smart people and they're having a bitch of a time with the language because....

2. Inuktitut is hard. The linguist they brought it explained it roughly this way. Most languages are beads on a string...subject-verb-object, for example. Inuktitut is more like lego blocks. So they take a word and keep adding to it until it can occasionally reach ridiculous lengths.

For example, Nuna means "land." Nunavut means "Our land." Nunatsiavut means "Our beautiful land". And so on, and so forth. You can hit some real beauties up here.

Plus, there are different sounds to learn. You're also dealing with a language that's trying to find ways to describe things. I think the word for airplane (which I forget, ooops) literally means "thing that hangs in the sky."

So yeah, this will be fun. My poor brain is likely to explode. But hey, I'm learning new things every day. That's always good...

If you're curious about the language, there is this site. It appears to be the best one I can find online, although I find it a little clunky and some of the vocabulary is the not what I learned today (oh joy), but it gives you an idea of the language.

Currently Playing
American Idiot - Green Day


jason bartlett said...

Sounds interesting Craig, in Labardor they didn't have language classes so you had to pick stuff up from students and everyone else. The national anthem was played in Inuktitut, for a long time I could sing it in Inuktitut. Now I need my wife to help. How is your wife at languages, my wife is better then me, even now she picks up arabic much better then me. In Arabic, I can stay hello, be quiet, finished, and god be willing.

dead dog said...

Inuqtitut sounds like fun Craig!

My favourite colloquial arabic (excuse the dire transliterations): shwaya-shwaya (little-little), alatool (straight ahead), mishmamool (unreasonable!) - preferably 'mishmaool kidde' or 'yanni mishmaool'. All very useful in navigating the mean streets of Cairo, but don't know if they'd work in the Gulf. My next language gaol is Swahili, which is supposed to be easy, especially with some arabic grammar under your belt.

Brian said...

Atelihai Nunatsiavumummiunit Labradorimi. SilakKisuKattalikKuli maane.
Translation courtesy of my wife.

John Mutford said...

I took Inuktitut lessons one year, and no I can't speak it. Not even remotely. But I did enjoy the experience. One of the first words I learned was tukiisingnatunaat (sic) which meant "I don't understand." It came in handy. I'm not sure if they do this in Iqaluit or not but in Rankin they raise their eyebrows for "yes" and scrunch their nose for "no". That one stuck and still happens out of habit from time to time to the bewilderment of the classes that I teach in Newfoundland.

towniebastard said...

Cathy's grasp of the language is much better than mine, but for several reasons. She has been in Nunavut a year longer than me. Plus, she's in a school, which means she tends to hear Inuktitut a lot more.

Also, she's just better at languages than me. A younger brain and all, I guess. She can acutally sing the national anthem in English, French and Inuktitut.

Oh, and the bit with the raised eyebrows and scrunched nose also works up here, apparently.

From the sounds and looks of it, Arabic might be easier. I'm just having a hard time getting my mouth around Inuktitut so far. Then again, it's only been three classes so far.

Blankers said...

Hi! Don't mind me, I'm just a random stranger. By chance, I found your blog... I hope you had fun learning Inuktitut. I guess you're not just a qallunaat anymore, after all those lessons. =]
I also happen to be learning Inuktitut, so I'm glad I'm normal lol. Plus, you sound like you're doing better than me, and I'm still only a teenager! Well, thanks for taking your time to read this comment. Take care.

Bryce said...

Interesting comments on Inuktitut, I hope you can learn it easily enough.

Here's a great resource on Inuktitut that you might find helpful:

Inuktitut wiki browser

Anonymous said...

Great Blog!

I'm myself working for the federal govt. in Nunavik for the last 2 years and I've found this site, wich is designed as a real free online Inuktitut course. Not to say that it helped me get a master in but it's always usefull as a reference tool... Check it out!