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how to say

September 17, 2015

This week I had the delicious experience of discussing ideas with a group of people from several cultures. As we shared ways of expressing similar concepts in our different languages, I felt sad that we don’t do that so much in Nunavut. There are often interpreters at public events, but that is not the same as a discussion. There are radio shows in Inuktitut, English or French, but I don’t remember hearing any multilingual programmes. Why not have language & culture education like CBC Radio’s C’est la Vie, with the languages and dialects spoken in NU?

It delights me to find Inuit language where I don’t expect it – like framed on a friend’s wall in the Netherlands. What does it mean that a non-Inuk (and non-Danish) person brings word-phrases to my attention which I did not learn while living among Inuit? Here’s “itinerant printmaker” and former Writer-in-Residence at Upernavik Museum, Nancy Campbell, speaking about How to Say I Love You in Greenlandic.

While I feel uncomfortable to learn from a non-Inuit artist without hearing the voices of the Inuit who presumably advised her, I find the simple presentation of text effective at catching my attention and making me want to hear more. One evocative phrase at a time leaves me with plenty of blank space around it, into which to cast my imagination. Am I able to absorb cadence and meaning more easily with so much space around each phrase?

That space is much like my impression of the land of Nunavut – many of its vast distances uninterrupted by anything tall. My predominant elemental relationship is with air, not water or ice or even the ground on which I walk. All that space and silence gives me plenty of room to think. As I write this, I begin thinking of gaps as rich grounds for imagination and potential understanding. I’d like to see images of Northern lives with blank spots to show how little we from North and South are connected, and overlapping or blended or concentrated spots for the places where we meet.

To close, here’s Drude Aviaja, of the Language Centre in Sisimiut, sharing an introduction to Kalaallisut, Inuit language spoken in Greenland.

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