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Inuvialuktun Language to get ‘Update’

The reports on a meeting of Inuvialuit elders and teachers in Inuvik, Northwest Territories (western Canadian arctic) to update the Inuvialuktun language. The article suggests concern for the state of the language because “has not had a major update in more than 20 years, and speakers say it needs to keep up with the times.” They hope to develop words for microwave and the internet.

Inuvialuktun speaker Lillian Elias says this about the problems facing the Inuvialuktun language:

Most of the approximately 700 Inuvialuktun speakers simply use the English terms for modern inventions — something Elias said is not good for the language.

“It’s just making our language weaker because of all the English words we have to use,” she said.

“We’re trying to say words that we’ve never had to use. Just like ‘cabee,’ you know? For ‘coffee’ we say ‘cabee,’ because we didn’t have any Inuvialuktun word for it.”

She continues, suggesting that the language has not “evolved” in a long time — particularly since people started spending less time on the land.

(Surely, though, the use of the word evolved in this context reflects something of popular notions about how languages change — or don’t. Presumably Inuvialuktun has never stopped changing. But, in the situation of contact and, perhaps, language shift, English and its vocabulary are the preferred choice for contemporary objects. It seems like this workshop is meant to curtail such English borrowings.)

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