Thursday, April 27, 2006

Inuttitut Language Lesson #1 - Swearing

We begin our introduction to Inuttitut with swear words because this is an easy lesson to learn: there is no profanity in Inuttitut.

Individual words in Inuttitut in and of themselves are all respectable. Inuit do not blush when hearing body parts being named. Excreta in all forms is part of the daily dialogue, and the one of the words for wife has the same root as the sex act itself.

This doesn't mean that Inuit don't curse, and invectives are voiced daily around my household with a flourish of words honed to flense the skin off the object of scorn and coloured with a tone capable of delivering a vocal slap in the face. But unlike in western cultures, no single individual word is considered as obscene and a forbidden part of the Inuit vocabulary.

My mother tongue, however, is making in-roads in the Arctic as in most other parts of the globe. My children speak to each other almost exclusively in Inuttitut, but when push comes to shove, as it often does with five children, English creeps insidiously into their conversation as an effective insult-delivery option. With my younger kids, it's nerd and the dreaded wannabe. The latter has me scratching my head because it has morphed into something roughly equivalent of asshole rather than meaning cheap imitation. The older children are now getting their toes wet in hardcore English profanity with bitch, but then this word is almost mainstream now and used unabashedly in sitcoms and night-time dramas on television.

Older youth and adults will use fuck you and fuck off from time to time, either as a standalone phrase or the closing verbal punctuation of a sentence. On the other hand you'll rarely hear elders swear, even those whose command of English is pretty good. The reason for this is neither propriety nor politeness: they know that single words by themselves cannot adequately convey meaning.

But then, Inuttitut has no words at all, at least in the western sense of "word". However we'll leave that subject for a future posting.


Anonymous Nunya said...

Shit. I couldn't fucking deal with that language. Oops, pardon my "French"!

6:08 AM  
Blogger Mr. Fabulous said...

I'm with Nunya. Fuck that!

6:43 AM  
Blogger Fuff said...

Good for them.

10:41 AM  
Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

English words have been plundered by disaffected teens and subcultures to the point you can't even use words like mother or beaver without evoking some obscene meaning. Hope the Inuit manage to keep their language pure.

1:52 PM  
Blogger nanuk said...

Nunya and Fab: Inuttitut doesn't prevent you from saying salacious, derogatory, vitriolic, or disgusting things. It's just that you have to use the regular vocabulary for it. I'm no expert, but varying degrees of meaning or intensity are usually conveyed by tone of voice.

fuff: I like the concept of no word being intrinsically dirty or shocking. Makes you really have to think to say something dirty or shocking.

TPK - You know which two words I want to repatriate? Queer and gay, especially queer. I cannot say "I'm feeling queer" without 90% of people totally misconstruing what I mean. And just hear the snickering when you say you're in a gay mood today.

3:38 PM  
Blogger merlinprincesse said...

Very interresting indeed! I'm sure I would like to learn that language. And would love to sing "les chants de gorge" WOW! You know that in French, at least here in Quebec (South I mean) we often the worlds wannabe or fuck you or shit! Even the young people (like the girls, they are only 12) use those.. My! English.... But on another hand, I've heard some English from Quebec use tabarnak and crisse in their sentences while speaking English... AWWWWWW! Universality! :)

5:37 PM  
Blogger Eternally Curious said...

Although I can certainly cuss with the best (or worst?) of them, I have to admit that when I find myself cornered or in other ways sorely vexed, I get much, much greater satisfaction from ripping the offender to shreds with nary a cuss word or vulgarity ever used. Someone once said of me, "Given the right provocation her words can draw blood."

7:32 PM  
Blogger nanuk said...

MerlinPricesse: I know a number of throat singers, and in Kuujjuaq they have a whole throat singing group of young-to-teenage girls. Really bizarre music.

Eeternal Curious: you mean "rip to shreds" with words, eh? I hope? eh? ;-)

9:06 PM  
Blogger Eternally Curious said...

Ooops - tee hee! Sorry 'bout dat nanuk! Yes - with words!

The only physical ripping or 'shredding' I've been known to do is to beef or chicken to make fajitas, or to pork to make green chile!

9:25 PM  
Blogger Tea and Books, etc said...

Hmm. I have often reflected on how simple words become corrupted to their present-day uses.

And the word I always think of first is 'gay'. Hadn't thought about 'queer', but you're right. So is 'fag'... and isn't it terrible that these all have become negatively associated with homosexuals, and usually homosexual men.

2:00 PM  
Blogger SC said...

Nicely written Nanuk. Expletives were always the first thing I wanted to learn about a new language. Can you give us a few pronunciation lessons as well please? Is Inuttitut pronounced 'Inn-oo-ti-tut'?

I read another funny post about a new style of punishment for kids that you may like...

7:39 PM  
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5:56 PM  
Blogger animalmother said...

Very nice article. I worked with some guys from the tandanusix / pribolof island tribe/corporation and they taught us a few bad words. What dialect or language do they speak?


12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’m building a model of a whaling operation in a modern Inuit village on my model train layout (a 2’gauge line transports the whale meat and other seafood caught by the Inuit to a cannery for processing) and have been toying with the idea of putting a sunken/grounded and burned out Sea Sheppard vessel in the harbor with Inuit curses scrawled on the rusting hull.

What curses would Inuit whalers employ against their enemies (lazy, hippie-esque, Enviro-Socialists who are attempting to stop them from making a living) and use as a warning against others who would seek to interfere with their business?

Could you e-mail me the answer (I don't know if I'll be able to find this blog again)

9:30 AM  

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