don't try, the divide remains"
student Isabelle Dubois, left, and classmate Maryse Turcot
join Marc-Antoine Mahieu's Inuktitut class every Tuesday morning
by videoconference. The students can communicate with Mahieu,
who is pictured standing in his Paris classroom. (photo by
Johanne Morel considers herself a life-long learner of the Inuit
The Montreal-based doctor travels regularly throughout Nunavik
to work from community health centres that serve the local population.
As a francophone working in an Inuktitut-speaking milieu, Morel
and her patients communicate most often in English.
But Morel has worked for years to build her Inuktitut language
skills, learning basic conversation pieces and how to read syllabics.
She's done that in recent years in an unlikely placethrough
a language institute based in Paris, France, the Institut national
des langues et civilisations oriéntales, which offers the
only university-level Inuktitut language certificate in the world.
"[My Inuktitut] is still very limited," admits Morel, who's
now enrolled in Level 4, the last of four levels offered through
INALCO [Institut national des langues et civilisations oriéntales].
"But more and more, I understand sentences. And I can read syllabics
written on posters around town."
Morel acknowledges that she'll never be completely fluent but
the Inuktitut she has learned goes a long way toward helping ease
barriers with her patients.
"It's really to express respect to the people we serve," she
said. "There's a big cultural difference between Qallunaat and Inuit
and if we don't try, the divide remains."
Morel is on the phone with Nunatsiaq News from Kuujjuaraapik,
where she's working from the local health centre in late September.
From there, she can log onto the centre's videconferencing system
to take part in the class; thanks to her efforts, French-speakers
in Nunavik and Montreal connect with INALCO's program through Quebec's
From Paris, teacher Marc-Antoine Mahieu instructs a group of
local students while the classroom is also virtually linked into
classrooms in Kuujjuaq, Puvirnituq and Montreal.
Sometimes the bandwidth connection in Nunavik can be unstable,
but for the most part, Morel said it's enough to see, hear and communicate
One of Morel's virtual classmates, Isabelle Dubois, shows up
to a Kuujjuaq boardroom each Tuesday morning with a handful of other
local students to take part in the INALCO class.
Dubois started the course when it was first offered to Kuujjuamiut
in 2012. Today, she's reached the program's top class, Level 4.
In her most recent class, the students read a children's book
called Piita kigutiartaujuq, a story about a boy named Peter who
goes to the dentist.
Dubois, who has called Kuujjuaq home for 16 years, has an Inuktitut-speaking
partner and a nine-year-old daughter who is also learning Inuktitut
Her goal is to develop basic conversation skills, and she's
made good progress.
"That's what we're working on," said Dubois. "I had learned
the basics before to make very simple sentences.
"But was very hard for me to understand certain rules, like
why do certain words end with a q or a k?" she said.
"Many Inuit couldn't explain those rules, because it's an oral
language and they've always just spoken it that way."
But the instructor is a linguist, and a French-speaking one
at that, so the francophones taking Mahieu's class find that he's
able to break the language down into pieces to help students better
understand how it all fits together.
Mahieu himself learned Inuktitut over a series of research periods
spent in the Canadian Arctic. He's quick to note that he's not perfectly
fluent and owes much of the success of his class to help he's received
from fluent Inuktitut speakers.
"I cannot speak Inuktitut as naturally as an Inuk," Mahieu said.
"I don't think any non-native can."
Students of Inuktitut can listen and imitate native speakers
to a point, he said.
"Many people believe that adults can learn any language as children
do, by simple immersion. This is not true," he said. "You need a
linguist to explain how a language works."
Mahieu has had Nunavimmiut Inuktitut speakers record short phrases
to analyse in class, exercises which help native French-speakers
identify the root word in a phrase to which other suffixes are attached.
"I am aware of my debt to Inuit friends who agree to share their
language with me and the students," Mahieu said.
Over its four-year run, Mahieu believes the class has been of
benefit to everyone involved: to the institute, to broaden its over
100 language class offerings, to French and Québécois
students seeking instruction, and hopefully for Inuit, he added,
who can be proud that their language is taught on both sides of
"In the end, [Inuit] are probably better understood by those
who've made the effort to learn their language and taken the time
to close the cultural gap," Mahieu said.
For more information about taking one of INALCO's Inuktitut
courses from Quebec, write to firstname.lastname@example.org