Roman Orthography (Qaliujaaqpait)

When most people think about writing in Inuktut, syllabics come immediately to mind. Nonetheless, roman orthography (the Latin alphabet used to write English and French) has an even longer history among Inuit.

Roman orthography was first used to write the Inuit Language almost a century before syllabics were developed. Today, even in communities that normally write in syllabics, roman orthography is frequently used. This is especially true with computer technology, e-mail and text messaging and among younger generations who are less confident reading and writing syllabics.

Most material for people learning Inuktut as a Second Language also appears in roman orthography to make it easier for English and French speakers to use. Learning to write Inuktut well in roman orthography has a number of advantages:

  • you will begin writing Inuktitut more quickly by using a writing system that is more familiar to you;
  • you will see the patterns in the language more easily than if you are trying to decipher syllabic characters;
  • it will be much easier to master syllabics later on.

There are a couple of important differences in how Inuktitut and English use roman letters.

Difference 1:  Inuktut has a simpler writing system

In Inuktut,each letter represents a distinct sound.  And each sound made in the language generally has only one corresponding letter used to write it.

In English, depending on the word, the same sound may be written with different letters:  

calf

cough

or the same letter can make different sounds:

girl

giraffe

For this reason, English speakers have to learn and memorize the spelling of each word in their language, where as an Inuktut speaker is able to just 'sound it out' when writing.

Difference 2: Inuktitut words match their pronunciation.

In English, pronunciation has evolved over the centuries and, in many cases, old spellings of words have not kept up with these changes. So, we end up with written words that no longer reflect how they are pronounced today:  

tomb

knight

Inuktut words, on the other hand, are almost always written to reflect accurate pronunciation.

VOWELS

ICI roman orthography has just three vowels: a, i, and u.

There can be some slight variations in how these vowels are pronounced. For example, i and u make a softer sound when they appear before the letters q or r. You will become more comfortable with these variations as you learn how to pronounce each word.

Vowels can also be combined:

au aullaqtuq
ai aiviq
ia niaquq
iu niuvirvik
ui  tui

                    

The letters e and o are never used in standardized roman orthography, except to write names borrowed from other languages.

CONSONANTS

There are 18 consonants in ICI roman orthography. These consonants in Inuktitut are pronounced similarly to English:

b f g h k l m n p s t v

 

The following consonants are pronounced differently than in English:

j is pronounced like the English y in the word yak  

r This sound is not made in English but is similar to the way r is pronounced in French or the j in Spanish. It sounds like a slight gargle at the back of the throat.

q Another sound produced at the back of the throat. To begin, close your throat with the very back of your tongue, as if you were about to pronounce a g. Release air as if you were pronouncing a k.

ł Put your tongue in the same position as you would to pronounce an l. Without using your vocal cords, breathe out, as if you were pronouncing an sh. This sound is not made in the South Baffin dialect.

jj Sounds like a d + j

The apostrophe represents a glottal stop, which is a little catch in the back of the throat that temporarily stops the flow of air coming from the lungs. An example where English speakers make this sound is between the syllables in the expression « uh-oh ». It appears in words from the Kivalliq and Nattilik regions, such as ma’na (thank you in Paallirmiutut).

DIALECT NOTES

  • The letter b is used in Kivalliq and Qitirmiut (Kitikmeot). It is not used in the Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin) region.
  • The glottal stop is used by speakers of Paallirmiutut and Nattingmiutut.
  • The f is used only in Inuinnaqtun.
  • Inuinnaqtun speakers prefer using the letter y where the standardized writing system uses j
  • Inuinnaqtun speakers also tend to prefer dj or tj where other dialects will use jj.

DOUBLE VOWELS AND DOUBLE CONSONANTS

Double vowels and double consonants are used to reflect correct pronunciation in Inuktut. It is very important to learn to write words correctly using double vowels and consonants.

Long vowels are pronounced as above, except that the sound is drawn out so that it is twice as long:

ii nakurmiik
uu uujuq
aa ataata

For double consonants, the sound that is made is also held twice as long as a single consonant:

qujannamiik

Kimmirut

As a general rule in Inuktut, no more than two vowels or two consonants can appear in a row.

WARNING

Keep in mind that much of what appears in roman orthography in Nunavut is not in written using the standardized ICI writing system.

Many Inuinnaqtun speakers have been reluctant to abandon older forms of writing used by Elders. Also, many Inuktitut names and words are written in roman letters using spellings that were made up by English speakers and do not reflect how they are pronounced by Inuit.

ICI standardized orthography unstandardized roman orthography
qamutiik kamotik
iglu igloo
qajaq kayak
Qitirmiut Kitikmeot
Panniqtuuq Pangnirtung
Qurluqtuq Kugluktuk
Qilavvaq (personal or family name) Kilabuk
ijitsiaq (personal or family name) Eegeesiak