Every July 9th, Nunavut celebrates its anniversary as Canada’s youngest territory.
In honour of Nunavut Day, here is a list of 15 Inuktitut words travellers or newcomers should know before coming to Iqaluit.
Nunavut has four official languages: English, French, Inuktitut, and Inuinnaqtun. The latter two are Inuit languages. Inuktitut is spoken in more communities, but each has several regional dialects. Interestingly, Nunavut is the only province or territory in Canada that has a dominant language that is neither English nor French, as you can see in the infographic below:
English speakers often have difficulty learning Inuktitut, as its roots and grammar are very, very different. I was lucky to learn Inuktitut from the excellent teaching team at the Pirurvik Centre. They offer language classes all over Nunavut and via their website and app, both of which are called Tusaalanga.
Inuit languages were for many years passed on orally and have only relatively recently been recorded in written form, which can be written in English characters or syllabics. For these reasons, there is no single accepted written language, and spelling varies between regions, communities, and people.
Since this list is for people moving to or visiting Iqaluit, I will reference Tusaalanga’s South Baffin Inuktitut dictionary when possible. Click on the titles to hear how the words should be pronounced (when available)!
You should note that almost everyone in Iqaluit speaks English. However, residents, both Inuit and non-Inuit alike, are very likely to mix the following words into their day-to-day speech, such that for most Iqalummiut, these Inuktitut words are as commonplace as hello and thank you.
15 Must-Know Inuktitut Words
1. Nunavut; noo-nah-voot
If you’re coming all the way up here, then you might as well learn how to pronounce “Nunavut” properly. A related word is Nunavummiut (noo-nah-voo-mee-yoot), which is the term used for people who live in Nunavut.
This one’s a little harder to pronounce. If you can’t make the kha sound, then just try to say “ee-ka-loo-eet.” Please, please, do not call the city “Ick-wa-lit,” for the love of frozen beards and eyelashes.
This phrase roughly translates to “Inuit traditional knowledge,” and it is supposed to inform all governmental decision-making and processes in the territory. To be honest, most people just call it “IQ,” but if you want bonus points from Iqalummiut, practice this saying and more importantly, learn more about what it really means.
Think you can pronounce these 15 Inuktitut words? Give them a try and let me know via a tweet!