[lg policy] Too much English, not enough Inuktitut in Iqaluit, Nunavut MLA says

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Jun 7 11:19:11 EDT 2019

Too much English, not enough Inuktitut in Iqaluit, Nunavut MLA says

Minister says languages commissioner can impose fines on private businesses

For visitors to Iqaluit like Pangnirtung MLA Margaret Nakashuk, the English
language enjoys widespread predominance over Inuktitut. (File photo)

By Jim Bell <https://nunatsiaq.com/author/jimbell/>

An apparent lack of Inuktitut-language service and signage in Iqaluit is a
continuing “source of consternation,” Pangnirtung MLA Margaret Nakashuk
said in the legislative assembly last week.

“This is visible everywhere, when you arrive to Iqaluit or even in an
airplane, we rarely hear Inuktitut being spoken or have bilingual workers.
When I enter the terminal building, the first language I hear is English,
although I feel Inuktitut should be the first language spoken,” Nakashuk

She said this is her experience with many private businesses in Iqaluit
that serve the public.

“If I enter a taxi, most drivers can’t speak Inuktitut, and when I go to a
hotel, there is no Inuk receptionist,” she said.

She also said many Inuktitut signs contain spelling errors and that the
“government is helping to deteriorate the language, as there seems to be no
commitment to providing services in the Inuit language.”

After being delayed twice, the sections of the Inuit Language Protection
Act and the Official Languages Act that mandate the use of Inuktut for
private sector organizations that serve the public came into force on July
9, 2017

To correct the situation, Nakashuk asked if non-compliant businesses can be

“Inuktitut should be first, and private businesses that can’t provide
services in Inuktitut, can’t the government charge them a fine?” she said.

David Joanasie, the minister of culture and heritage, said people in
Nunavut may bring concerns to the Nunavut languages commissioner, who has
the power to investigate complaints.

“If they don’t follow the legislation, the languages commissioner can
investigate as long as you inform the languages commissioner,” Joanasie

In response to another question, Joanasie confirmed that the Government of
Nunavut’s Department of Culture and Heritage operates a program that offers
grants of up to $5,000 to help private businesses
with their obligations under the Inuit Language Protection Act.

That money is to help cover the cost of signage, translation and
proofreading, and language training courses for employees.

And in 2017, the GN also announced it would spend $1 million over five
years to help organizations make the transition.

Aggu MLA Paul Quassa also pressed Joanasie for answers on language policy,
especially the relative prominence of Inuktitut compared with English.

In public signs, Inuktitut should come first, but that doesn’t always
happen, Quassa said.

“I imagine the minister knows that within the majority of government
offices, although I already spoke to this matter, the signage always has
the English first, and then Inuktitut or French comes next, as if these
buildings weren’t even in Nunavut,” Quassa said.

He went on to say that Nunavut’s signage policies should be like those in
Quebec, where French words are placed first and are larger than the English

“That is what we need to do here in Nunavut because Inuit fought for
Nunavut through their land claim. This is what Inuit wanted,” Quassa said.

He also suggested that he’s getting impatient with the slow pace of
linguistic change in Nunavut.

“The government has to adhere to its own legislation and has to follow
these requirements. When can we expect to see this? We’ve had Nunavut now
for 20 years. When can we see this?” Quassa said.

Joanasie replied by saying that the government would “look into the Quebec
signage the member referenced and how they operate their linguistic


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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