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French in Nunavut

Mylène Bellerose
Official Languages and Services
Government of Nunavut


Established in 1999, Nunavut is the most recent Canadian territory. The majority of its inhabitants are Inuit and speak the Inuit language (Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun). Formerly part of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut has a linguistic makeup unparalleled in Canada with its three official languages: the Inuit language, English and French. Because of its proximity to Inuit language and culture, French in Nunavut has some unique characteristics. Here is an overview.

First, the word Nunavut contains the roots nuna, meaning "land," and vut, meaning "our." Nunavut therefore means "our land." When referring to the people of Nunavut in French, we say Nunavummiut in the plural, Nunavummiuq in the singular and Nunavummiuk for two people. Inuit say uiviit or "oui oui" when referring to the Francophones of Nunavut because they often reply to questions with "Oui, oui!" In French, however, the Francophones of Nunavut are called Franco‑Nunavois. The name of the Francophone community newspaper—Le Nunavoix—reflects this designation.

Agreement of the word inuit is a controversial subject. The Government of Canada's Translation Bureau and the Office québécois de la langue française recommend that the adjective inuit agree in both gender and number with the noun it modifies (e.g., l'homme inuit, les enfants inuits, la femme inuite). In their view, a foreign language word used in French should follow the grammatical rules of the French language. However, the Government of Nunavut has taken the opposite position: in French‑language communications, the adjective inuit does not agree in gender or number. In this way, the Government of Nunavut respects the rules of the Inuit language. In fact, in the Inuit language, the word inuit is already plural (it means "the people"), while inuk is the singular form of inuit and inuuk means two people. Out of respect for the Inuit language and the Inuit people, who make up the majority of the population, inuk is used in the singular, and the adjective inuit never agrees in gender or number with the noun it modifies (e.g., une Inuk, des Inuit, une sculpture inuit).

The French language already includes several Inuit language words that are used in everyday language. For example, iglou (illu) means "house" in Inuktitut. In the collective psyche, the word iglou evokes the traditional winter dwelling built of blocks of snow. The word anorak (a jacket) comes from annuraaq, meaning "a piece of clothing." As well, the word kayak comes from the Inuktitut qajaq. French in Nunavut continues to be influenced by Inuit culture. It is not unusual to hear other Inuit language words in French sentences, such as ulu (a half-moon-shaped knife used by women), amauti (a baby carrier) and kamiik (fur boots). In short, French adapts to the environment and takes on a special flavour in Nunavut!