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Learning Inuktitut in ᐃᒡᓗᓕᒃ (Igloolik)

August 5, 2016


Jason Young

Jason Young, a UW doctoral student in Geography, was awarded a Summer 2016 Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship by the Canadian Studies Center.  He is spending his summer studying Inuktitut in ᐃᒡᓗᓕᒃ (Igloolik), Nunavut Territory, Canada.

Arctic summer

“In June 2014, I first stepped foot in the Arctic, landing on the small island of Igloolik in the territory of Nunavut, Canada. I was there to begin learning the Inuktitut language, in the hopes that knowledge of the language would facilitate my PhD research on Inuit uses of Internet and social media. At the time I had no idea how deeply the experience, and the many other opportunities that it would open for me, would transform my life. Since that summer I have continued learning Inuktitut, thanks to the Canadian Studies Center, the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship, and incredible teachers Alexina Kublu and Mick Mallon; I have participated in University of Washington fellowships on both Arctic research and indigenous ways of knowing; I have received a National Science Foundation grant to carry out my dissertation research in Igloolik; and I even had the honor of participating in an Arctic policy workshop in Washington, DC as part of the Jackson School of International Studies’ International Policy Institute (IPI) Arctic Fellowship.


Igloolik, Nunavut Territory, Canada

This summer my graduate school experience has come full circle, as I find myself back in Igloolik for my final FLAS-funded course in the Inuktitut language. Quite happily, my return to the Arctic has been an even more incredible experience than the original trip (which had been pretty amazing itself!). Given the deep connection between the Inuktitut language and the Arctic landscape, I’ve gotten multiple opportunities to learn language out on the land, both during camping and hunting trips. In the process I have greatly improved my listening and conversational skills through immersion. As one might imagine, this immersive experience with an indigenous Arctic language is difficult to come by in Seattle, or anywhere outside of the Arctic itself! I have also had the incredible opportunity to listen and read elders’ interviews about Inuit history, both in Inuktitut and English, which has been an incredibly rich cultural experience.

Man and boy on boat, NunavutAs if all of that wasn’t enough to fit into one course, I also learned to read Inuktitut in syllabics. The language is written in two forms, using either the Roman alphabet that is familiar to English-readers or a set of symbols, called syllabics, which each represent a consonant-vowel pairing.  (ᐃᒡᓗᓕᒃ  actually spells out ‘Iglulik’, since the letter ‘o’ doesn’t really exist in Inuktitut).  Taken all together, the summer has offered me a very comprehensive look at all aspects of Inuktitut, from its cultural and natural context to its written and spoken dimensions. I could not be more grateful to the UW Canadian Studies Center, the FLAS Fellowship, and my teacher, Kublu, for offering me this unbelievable experience.”

Maktaaq (narwahl) for Nunavut Day

Maktaaq (Narwhal), for Nunavut Day festivities

Jason also reports looking forward to watching the upcoming bowhead whale hunt (the first in Igloolik in over a decade), watching a walrus hunt, and attending Nunavut Day festivities.

FLAS Fellowships are funded by the International and Foreign Language Education office of the U.S. Department of Education.  FLAS fellowships support undergraduate, graduate and professional students in acquiring modern foreign languages and area or international studies competencies.   Students from all UW departments and professional schools are encouraged to apply.  Find out more about the FLAS Fellowship here.

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.