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The Inuit language is a crucial link to preserving the Inuit culture. You might wonder how widespread Inuktitut is still spoken across the Canadian Arctic.
In this blog post, we’ll look at the Inuit language in more detail, exploring where it’s spoken and its history.
The Inuit Language
Inuktitut is spoken by many of the Inuit and is one of the official languages of the Canadian Arctic’s territories, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
The word Inuktitut ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ is a combination of the words inuk, ‘person,’ and titut, ‘like’ or ‘in the manner of.’ It’s the most recognized Inuit language but is generally spoken in the Eastern Canadian Arctic.
Often, Inuktitut is used broadly to include nearly all of the Inuit dialects of Canada, but there are different regional dialects. This means it’s more accurate to refer to Inuktut ᐃᓄᒃᑐᑦ, which means ‘Inuit language’ and includes both Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun to describe the broader language.
According to a 2016 Canadian Census, there are 65,030 Inuit in the country, and 36,545 of those speak an Inuktut dialect as their mother tongue.
Inuktut is spoken in all parts north of the tree line, the traditional home of the Inuit. This includes Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun are two of the three official languages of Nunavut. Inuktitut is also one of the eight official languages in the Northwest Territories, and in the autonomous area of Labrador called Nunatsiavut, it was made the official government language. In the northern third of Quebec, the area called Nunavik, Inuktut is incorporated into the education system.
The language of Inuktut is generally written based on the Canadian Aboriginal syllabics but uses the Inuktitut syllabics and is called Qaniujaagpait. This is a writing system where symbols are used to represent consonant-vowel pairs.
However, in the Northwest Territories and western Nunavut, the language is written in the Latin alphabet. Rather than being referred to as the Latin alphabet in these parts, it’s called Inuinnaqtun or Qaliujaaqpait.
This territory is home to 24,000 Inuit, and over 80% speak Inuktitut, but most are bilingual, speaking English or French. Roughly 3,500 people are monolingual, speaking only Inuktitut.
The diversity of Baffin alone is seen in the south of the island, having a separate dialect from the north. The South Baffin dialect is called Qikiqtaaluk nigiani, ᕿᑭᖅᑖᓗᒃ ᓂᒋᐊᓂ, while the North Baffin dialect is called Qikiqtaaluk uannangani.
There are 12,000 Inuit who live in this province and nearly all of them live in the northern region of Nunavik, with 90% speaking their dialect of Inuktitut. The Nunavik dialect is called ᐃᓄᑦᑎᑐᑦ and is sometimes referred to as Tarramiutut ᑕᕐᕋᒥᐅᑐᑦ or Tagramiutut ᑕᖅᕐᕋᒥᐅᑐᑦ.
The autonomous Inuit region of Labrador is called Nunatsiavut and is the northwestern portion bordering Quebec and the Labrador Sea. Their dialect is called Nunatsiaivummiutut ᓄᓇᑦᓯᐊᕗᒻᒥᐅᑐᑦ and because it followed a separate literary tradition developed in Greenland, they call their language Inuttut ᐃᓄᑦᑐᑦ.
Visit the Home of the Inuit
While the Northwest Territories is home to several Aboriginal groups, Nunavut is distinctly Inuit in its culture and population.
Traditional hubs like Iqaluit and artistic hubs like Kinngait are incredible places to visit and experience Inuit culture. Get the chance to talk with Inuit, hear their perspectives and learn their beliefs.
If you're interested in cultural tours, discover our Getaways, where you can visit cultural and historic locations while exploring Nunavut's capital.
By: Mat Whitelaw