Inuk woman creates language book to showcase fading Inuktitut dialect

·3 min read
Ocean Pottle-Shiwak is an Inuk woman from Rigolet, Labrador, who was inspired by her great-grandfather to embrace her Inuit culture and heritage.  (Submitted by Ocean Pottle-Shiwak - image credit)
Ocean Pottle-Shiwak is an Inuk woman from Rigolet, Labrador, who was inspired by her great-grandfather to embrace her Inuit culture and heritage. (Submitted by Ocean Pottle-Shiwak - image credit)

A young Labrador woman has created a Inuktitut dialect book in hopes of preserving the unique pronunciations of her hometown before they are lost.

Ocean Pottle-Shiwak, 18, of Rigolet took part this year in annual summer literacy programming meant to combat the "summer slide," in which students forget some of what they learned at school the previous year.

However, Pottle-Shiwak took it a step further and created her own book, Ilinniasonguvutit: Inuktitut, which captures the local Rigolet Inuktitut dialect.

"The Rigolet dialect kind of died with my great-grandfather, so I kind of wanted to bring that back," Pottle-Shiwak said. "He was a really good mentor for me.… I always looked up to him."

Submitted by Ocean Pottle-Shiwak
Submitted by Ocean Pottle-Shiwak

Pottle-Shiwak said he was always out on the land and made sure she and her family knew their Inuit culture. But while going through the resources her Inuktitut teacher had, she noticed there were other dictionaries and handbooks available, but none with the Rigolet dialect.

"There are a lot of different dialects in Inuktitut," Pottle-Shiwak said. "We can understand if we were to talk to each other but a lot of the differences in the dialects is very minor spelling and pronunciation."

It's subtle, but the pronunciations for "red" or "thank you," for example, are slightly different in the Rigolet dialect than in other communities, she said. In the past, other Inuktitut speakers in different communities were concerned Pottle-Shiwak was mispronouncing words at competitions, she said.

"It's not only good for us here, but to educate others on the dialect too," Pottle-Shiwak said.

For Roberta Baikie-Andersen, the assistant director of the Nunatsiavut government's Department of Education, it's a great resource. Originally from Rigolet herself, she said Pottle-Shiwak's book is an important document.

"Where it is a written documentation of the Rigolet dialect, it's really important and good to have that resource available to people, especially for the Rigolet dialect to have some of it captured and preserved for the future," Baikie-Andersen said.

Submitted by Brenna McIntyre
Submitted by Brenna McIntyre

There are some community programs working to teach it and preserve it but there's not many people left who speak it, she said, so it's an important step. It's also a resource beyond Rigolet's town limits for anyone interested in the Rigolet Inuktitut dialect, she said.

"This [is] a resource to compare with some of the other resources that's out there that say the what my kids are learning in school and then they can be able to compare the two and know that there is some differences and the importance of preserving all of them," said Baikie-Andersen, a mother of three.

The book won't be the last of its kind. Baikie-Andersen said the Nunatsiavut government has also published two cultural books and is working on a third. Anyone interested in sharing stories or languages should also put their ideas on paper, she said.

Submitted by Ocean Pottle-Shiwak
Submitted by Ocean Pottle-Shiwak

"The more that we get out there, the more that is available for people in their daily lives," she said. "And hopefully more people, especially the younger kids, will start becoming more familiar with it and use it more regularly."

Pottle-Shiwak said she also hopes it's a positive influence on other young community members in Rigolet and beyond.

"I hope that it inspires a lot of younger people to know that you're not too young to help preserve your culture and advocate for your language and your people."

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