Why does Nattiliŋmiut have special letters?
In the 1970s, Inuit from throughout Canada developed a standardized orthography to write all dialects. One of the advantages of the standardized writing system is that it enables Inuktitut speakers to write words accurately according to how they are pronounced.
When standardized orthography was developed, some smaller dialects, like Nattiŋmiutut did not have much of a history as a written language. The dialects existed as an oral language and any written texts that were read came from other communities written in different dialects.
Since that time, much work has happened to preserve Nattiliŋmiut in writing, through the researching of dictionaries and grammars. It has become clear that the standardized writing system is not equipped to represent some unique sounds that are made in Nattiliŋmiut but not in other dialects.
š – sounds like ‘shr’ and is distinct from both the s sound that is used in words borrowed from English and the more common h sound. This š sound appears in the words:
|Uqšuqtuuq ||Gjoa Haven|
ř – sounds like an English (retroflex) r. It is distinct from the r sound used by other dialects, which is closer to the r sound made in French at the back of the throat. The ř sound is often used in place of the j/y sound that occurs in other dialects:
ŋ A small number of Inuktitut speakers use this character instead of ng. The use of ng is a little deceiving because it makes use of two letters to represent what is actually a single sound. In syllabics this sound is represented by a single character ᖕ.
A problem arises when this sound is doubled. When the writing system was standardized, it was decided that writing ngng to represent this double consonant looked too awkward. Instead, it was decided, to write nng:
|qanuinngittuq.||He/she is fine.|
The problem in Nattiliŋmiutut is that there are words that make the double ng sound and others that make the sound n+ng. These are two distinct sounds that in standardized Inuktitut would both be written the same way: nng. This is not acceptable to Nattiliŋmiut speakers who are anxious to ensure that the written language reflects how the spoken language is pronounced.
The use of ŋ offers a solution in that these two distinct sounds are represented differently in writing:
These special characters are used by some Nattiliŋmiut speakers to document their dialect.
Because the use of roman orthography is still limited in Nunavut this change has not attracted much controversy. However, to reflect these sounds in syllabics will require the creation of new characters. This is an issue that the new language authority in Nunavut, Taiguusiliuqtiit, will have to take under consideration.
Until the issue has been resolved, we have decided not to include syllabics in the Nattiliŋmiut version of Tusaalanga.