What’s making me happy today: Inuktitut mining terminology

The big issues in the news in the US at the moment:

  • The shame of the Trump administration’s treatment of migrant children from Central America
  • Why reporters don’t use the word “lie” to describe the things that come frequently out of the mouth of the current president of our country

Depressing.  So depressing that the New York Times, the best-known newspaper in the United States and one of the most well-known newspapers in the world, has taken to publishing (to take to +present participle explained in the English notes below) a page of good news on Sundays.

I took a look at said good news this morning, and was underwhelmed–there’s just nothing there to remotely match the tragedy that I see unfolding around me here in the United States.  But, that doesn’t mean that I can’t find things to feel grateful for.  Other than my cat, the fact that my kid isn’t in a refugee camp in Syria, and the fact that I will have food available to eat for breakfast today (lots of people won’t), what’s making me happy this morning is this vocabulary of mining terminology in Inuktitut.

Inuktitut is an Inuit language spoken by a bit under 40,000 people in the north of Canada.  It is a polysynthetic language, meaning that words have many parts, to the point that it’s not clear whether you would want to say that they actually have words, versus sentences.  Here’s an Inuktitut word/sentence (from Wikipedia, citing an article on developing a screening tool for Inuktitut-language speech pathologists):

  • ᖃᖓᑕᓲᒃᑯᕕᒻᒨᕆᐊᖃᓛᖅᑐᖓ (in Inuktitut orthography)
  • qangatasuukkuvimmuuriaqalaaqtunga (transliteration)
  • “I’ll have to go to the airport” (English translation)

Illuminating points about Inuktitut: the language has three vowels–in the International Phonetic Alphabet, [i], [u], and [a].  Spoken languages have a minimum of three vowels (yes, my fellow linguists, I am leaving out one controversial case here–don’t hate on me), and if a language only has three vowels, they are [i], [u], and [a].  (Languages with four vowels add [e] or [o].  Languages with five vowels have [i], [u], [a], [e], or [o].)

How do you come up with new terminology for a language that doesn’t have it?  A workshop brought together a group consisting of:

  • Tribal elders
  • Inuktitut language specialists
  • A mining expert

…who spent three days hashing it all out.

So, what does mining terminology look like in Inuktitut?  Here are some examples from the glossary, maintained by the Department of Indigenous and Northern affairs:

imaginary lines that cross the surface of the Earth parallel to the equator used to determine location with longitude
(ᓄᓇᙳᐊᕐᒥ ᓴᓂᒧᐊᖓᓂᖓ)

the process by which a mineral is introduced into a rock, resulting in a valuable or potentially valuable deposit

a deposit of sand or gravel that contains particles of gold, gemstones, or other heavy minerals of value
(ᐃᒪᕐᒧᑦ ᓴᖅᑭᑕᐅᓂᑯ)

a layer or bed of rock

…and that’s what’s making me happy today.  Does seeking happiness in les bizarreries of human linguistic, social, and technological behavior that mean that I will ignore my citizenly duty to stay on top of the daily crimes of the crooks that are currently running my country?  No.  Does it mean that I actively and daily seek things to be grateful for?  Yes–and I recommend that you try it.  Can’t hurt, right?

Source of the picture at the top of the page: http://kiggavik.ca/tag/community-engagement/

English notes

to take to + present participle: to start a routine practice of doing something.  Examples:

How I used it in the post: The New York Times has taken to publishing a page of good news on Sundays.

to take to + noun or present particple: to become good at some activity, especially quickly. You can often differentiate this from the previous usage by the presence of an analogy along with it: like a…

to take to can also be used with a person as its object, or with a location, either physical (he took to the podium) or metaphorical (he took to Twitter to…) The meanings are different here–I’m too lazy to find a bunch of examples on this Sunday morning…

underwhelmed: not at all impressed. Note that underwhelmed is not the opposite of overwhelmed. (Lesson: do not look for “logic” in language.) Some examples:

(Love this one!)

How I used it in the post: I took a look at said good news this morning, and was underwhelmed–there’s just nothing there to remotely match the tragedy that I see unfolding around me here in the United States. 

3 thoughts on “What’s making me happy today: Inuktitut mining terminology”

    1. It can mean both. To differentiate between them, look for an adverb–if there’s an adverb, the intended meaning is probably the one having to do with becoming good at something. Some examples:

      – Students like Jose G. have really taken to photography
      – She is taking to mixed martial arts like a duck to water
      – These kids take to iPads so fast you wouldn’t believe it

      There are a bunch of other constructions with “to take to”–I’d never really thought about it before writing this post, and I’m surprised at just how many different ones I’ve been running across while looking for examples!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, whoops–I didn’t give you examples with present participles!

        – I can’t believe how quickly she took to running
        – He has really taken to swimming–I can’t believe how quickly he’s gotten good at it
        – If he takes to ironing as quickly as he took to cooking, he’ll be The Perfect Boyfriend

        Liked by 1 person

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