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Learning Inuktitut through Foreign Language and Area Studies

Valerie Cleland Snow

August 16, 2018

Learning Inuktitut through the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship from the Canadian Studies Center has given me a window into Inuit language, culture, and history. And I’ve had the incredible opportunity to study with Mick Mallon, Canadian linguist and Alexina Kublu, former Language Commissioner for Nunavut, Canada.

Mick and Kublu taught us how Inuktitut varies across dialects, and we had the pleasure of listening to their personal stories throughout the year. In the class we used a story called “aiviq tuluartigijavuk,” which means “the walrus that gored us,” to help us understand both grammar and new vocabulary. The FLAS has allowed me to learn about Arctic Indigenous people in Canada and to expand my understanding of communities that rely on marine systems. Further, my understanding and appreciation of Canada as a player in the Arctic has grown tremendously and I can engage with issues that impact Arctic peoples. It’s been an adventure getting to know Mick and work with the other students as we navigate a difficult language and learn about Canada in the process.

In Inuktitut, there are specific and short words for identifying the location of something, which is very important in a hunting culture. This intersection between language and people is incredible. Learning about different dialects taught me about the similarities and differences between different Inuit peoples, who live across the Arctic.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this opportunity and know that I will carry the lessons I’ve learned through this language as I focus my career on science, policy, and the people in the Arctic who are impacted by policies outside the region. I have no doubt that the Inuit language will play a continued role in my future work.