Word of the day – iqqanaijaaqajjaagunniiqtutit

Today’s word appears in an article on CBC Canada News which discusses a new policy that will require all senior government officials in Nunavut to speak Inuktitut by 2008. The language requirement will eventually be extended to other staff as well. The word iqqanaijaaqajjaagunniiqtutit roughly translates as ‘you won’t have any work anymore’ – the fate that apparently awaits those who fail to learn the language.

Nunavut is a huge, sparsely populated territory in the far north of Canada where the majority of the inhabitants are Inuit. The majority of the population – some 85% – speak Inuktitut as their first language and some speak no other language. In this light, the policy makes a lot of sense. In Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, Mark Abley mentions that many of the officials in Nunavut spoke only English when he visited the territory, and that much of the administration of the region was undertaking in English. This new policy should help to raise the status of Inuktitut.

21 thoughts on “Word of the day – iqqanaijaaqajjaagunniiqtutit

  1. I really find it fascinating that they’re advocating the official use of Inuktitut in Nunavut. I think this is a good step to promote the language and keep it from falling into disuse, as has happened to numerous other North American languages. Of course the first step in this direction was the creation of the territory for the native peoples in that region (it was formerly part of the North West Territories).

    I’m not exactly sure how to pronounce Inuktitut, but I would think [inuktitut]. For the longest time I was mispronouncing Nunavut, which is [nunavut] I believe.

  2. Is Inuktitut similar to Swahili in the sense that whole phrases can be described in one word?

  3. Can someone give an example of a whole phrase being contained in one word? It seems like every language has at least some.

  4. The concept of “whole phrases being contained in one word” seems a bit squidgy to me. With Western (and many other) languages, we have the distinction between analytic and synthetic languages, conjugation/declension vs. periphrasis, particles, clitics, semi-clitics, etc. But it seems like one of the distinctions is whether there is a space between letters to determine whether something consists of one or more words.

    But what about Japanese? They don’t put spaces between their words. So who determines, then, extactly what constitutes a word? The particle “ni”, just as an example… is it attached to its antecedent or a separate word? There must be other languages like this. And what about languages without a written language (or at least a historical corpus). Who decides?

  5. The easiest way to describe a word, is where you are allowed to place a pause. In English, spaces mark a seperation between words, and if you were speaking, you could also add pauses between these. While Inuktitut does the same, but it’s words can be a whole line long that are continuously pronounced without pause; composed of a root word and many suffixes. — It’s sort of like saying “eating” is one word, but composed of the root “(to) eat” with a suffix “-ing”. Or “continuously” is “continue”+”-ous-“+”-ly”, it’s still 1 word, not 3, since “ly” and “ous” aren’t words on their own.

    I know my examples aren’t correct, but they give you a vague idea, as Inuktitut has many complexities. [url=http://www.nunavut.com/nunavut99/english/our.html]Nunavut 99[/url] explains quite well the basics and challenges of Inuktitut in comparison to European languages.

  6. Interesting way of looking at it. Of course I know how suffixes work, but again, in Japanese (the only other example I can use — sorry to keep harping on it), the particles are spoken right up against the antecedents. So what I would be curious about (I really don’t know, I’m musing here) is whether a native Japanese would think it ok to pause between a “word” and the following particle. Or do they treat the particle as we would treat a suffix? (When teaching to Americans, they treat them as separate words… but then again, they put spaces in for newbies, and take them out later… so is the wordizing of the particles a Western convenience or truly how the Japanese view it?)

    Not trying to be argumentative for argumentation’s sake, but as I’ve read about different languages, the convenient concepts we’ve grown up with seem to break down a bit…

  7. Is this anything like agglutination, e.g. Finnish? Or, if not, how is it different?

  8. Ben L. Says:

    The 16th of March, 2007 at 1:28 am

    Can someone give an example of a whole phrase being contained in one word? It seems like every language has at least some.

    This phenomenon is called incorporation and denotes the possibility of including a word into another word. A good example of such structure is e.g. the Nahuatl or Aztec language in Mexico. In this language one may say the sentence “I eat meat” in three words “ni nahkwa nakatl” – if the question is “What are you eating?”
    But if the question is “What are you doing?”, the answer can be in one word-sentence: ninakakwa, i.e. ni- (prefix “I”) + naka- (the root of “nakatl” = meat) + -kwa (the root of “eat”). This is incorporation.

  9. Maybe the definition of a word is a cultural take. Each culture may understand a single concept according to its traditional approach to writing. In Western languages, a scientific approach to a word’s value seems to reflect the interest in categorizing into the smallest denominations. In Turkish on the other hand, the boundaries of their long words are fairly clear. Through vowel harmony, there is a formula that carries through the word based on pronunciation. In these cases, you literally can’t split the word apart because the suffix for one word may be a ‘square’, and cannot be fit into a word that requires a ‘circle’. As for the Japanese. I don’t know what they’re doing. In most texts ‘words’ aren’t separated in a sentence, but then sometimes they are. And when this occurs, it’s not necessarily standard. It strikes me as being part of the multiple choice outlook prevalent in the language. Yet one more reason why Japanese is one of my favorite choices of study. I never tire of its scope to surprise and delight… or torment my best efforts. It’s interesting to see what people are writing. It makes me think that my subjective concept of words even in my own native language might be open to some afterthought.

  10. Polly – Inuktitut is the language and the Inuit are the people who speak it. Confusingly, the language is also known as Inuit.

  11. The concept of “word” is hard to define cross-linguistically, which is why linguists like to talk about morphemes and lexemes instead.

  12. @Simon
    Thanks for the clarification. I guess that’s why I kept thinking “Inuktitut” was pronounced “Inuit.”

    @Benjamin Bruce – Thanks for your feedback.
    So, I guess it’s pronounced just like it’s spelled.

    That would make sense. Only languages with a long history of writing seem to have an orthography that diverges significantly from pronounciation. Which makes sense with vowel shifts and other changes in speech that accumulate over the centuries. Writing stays the same because the written word from yesteryear persists. The speakers of any given era, and their voices, die out.

  13. Be careful about saying English only puts spaces between words, and therefore words are a Western idea. In fact due to compounding, English has many “words” or as John put it better “lexemes” (but be careful with that word too, because this tends to mean the set of all “words” that come from one root morpheme, i.e. big, bigger, biggest are all members of the same lexeme) that have spaces between them. For instance “high school” and “leap year” are compound words in English. They certainly can’t be analyzed as two separate words, since the proper meanings wouldn’t follow. So, our mind obviously analyses them as each being a “word”, or lexical entry. And yet we spell it as two words. Just goes to show orthography can NEVER be relied on for accurate analysis of linguistic properties. Of course it can give clues, but more that that, nothing.

    That being said, there’s some debate in the linguistic field as to whether every lexical entry is a bare morpheme, or if every lexical entry is each every possible “word,” which would kind of refute the existence of lexemes. Sorry this may be a bit confusing, but maybe an example would help. So, some might argue that “undesirable” is one lexical entry. Others would say that “un-,” “desire” and “-able” are all separate lexical entries, and the affixes carry with them “notes” that tell the mind what kinds of words they may attach to.

    With regards to languages that don’t mark any word boundaries at all, this is far from saying they don’t have “words.” Again a word has to be analyzed phonologically, not orthographically. So, in Japanese, it’s true that the particle is attached to the noun (it’s a bound morpheme by nature, so it can never stand on its own). And it would indeed be the case that a Japanese person would not pause before the particle separating it from the noun. That is the key to finding word boundaries, is looking at possible pauses. For instance, in English the word “undesirable.” One could say “un.de.si.ra.ble” in a sentence, emphasizing the syllables, but one would never say “un.desire.able” in a sentence. Same thing follows for Japanese, Khmer, Burmese, Chinese, Thai, etc. Phonology holds the key to word boundaries 🙂

    Wikipedia has a good article on agglutination.

  14. I’m from Canada and know a some about the Inuit. The word Inuktitut means “the way of the Inuk”, or “Like the Inuk” where “Inuk” means person. Inuk is the singular form of Inuit.

    Similarly, an inuksuk, sometimes spelled inukshuk, is a rock or stone landmark, often in the shape of a person (although this is specifically called an inunnguaq, forms its plural in inuksuit. We can see the -k/-it paradigm.

    Interesting, eh!

  15. @ John

    Inuinnaqtun : according http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inuktitut
    you can read :
    “Nunavut’s basic law lists four official languages: English, French, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun, but to what degree Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun can be thought of as separate languages is ambiguous in state policy. The word Inuktitut is often used to describe both.”

    and in other place at this page , they explain that Inuinnaqtun is writen with roman alphabet but Inuktitut is writen in the sillabary, they say also that Inuinnaqtun can be considered as a dialect of Inuktitut.

    I ve not try to see if the text you can read in Inuinnaqtun on the page http://www.gov.nu.ca/inuinnaqtun/ is the latin transcription of http://www.gov.nu.ca/inuktitut/ (i ve some trouble to see the inuktitu character on the computer I use now ;(( )

    greets from Paris!

  16. Interesting!!

    I was searching for one-word sentence in different languages

    when I reached this page 🙂

    I guess Philipino , Turkish, Japanese, and as I read here Mexican are languages that have one-word sentence.

    My lnguage has one-word sentences also which is Arabic

    e.g. ra’ ai’ tu’ hom it’s written like this “رأيتهم”

    and it means ” i saw them”

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