Target Audience: Manager, Software Engineer, Systems Analyst, Marketer

Level of Session: Beginner, Intermediate

On April 1, 1999 the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut came into existence as a separate territory within the federation of 10 provinces and 2 other territories which make up Canada. The creation of this territory grew out of many years of negotiation of the aboriginal Inuit people's land claims. As part of this negotiation, it was decided to create a territory with its own democratically elected legislative assembly. The elected Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA's) do not belong to political parties and, in keeping with Inuit tradition, decisions of the body will be made by consensus. (The territory's population of 26,000 is 85 % Inuit and lives in 26 widely separated communities within the territory's vast expanse of 2 million square kilometers. Some of these communities show evidence of continuous habitation for over 4, 000 years. )

Systems being installed to support the infrastructure, government, and services of this new territory are expected to function in English and French (Canada's two national languages) as well as in two Inuit dialects: Inuinnaqtun which uses the Roman script and Inuktitut which uses "Canadian aboriginal syllabics".

This presentation will cover the requirements, challenges and technical difficulties in creating new systems with a script which itself is new and which is also new to Unicode. (Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics were accepted for inclusion in 1998 and will be published in Unicode 3.0.) Some coverage will also be given to dealing with the ad-hoc solutions which preceded Unicode, how they arose, their characteristics, and how the transition is being made to the Unicode standard in order to solve many of the problems which earlier implementations still face. Many dedicated individuals devoted enormous efforts to these ad-hoc solutions but the general lack of standardization is now itself an equally enormous difficulty. These efforts were often of a surprisingly global nature: for example, Michael Everson's Unicode standards work done from Ireland, a keyboard driver from Tasmania, Microsoft's participation from Redmond, and so on. As well of course, many Canadian individuals and organizations were similarly involved: Nortext, the communications agency, Dirk Vermeulen who chaired the CASEC Committee which directed the Unicode standardization effort, Normal Keenainak who developed Mac to PC conversion tables to mention only a few.

The linguistic characteristics of Inuktitut and how they affect the design of products and services will also be covered. Some discussion will be included on the difficulties of adapting technology to a language which has a rich oral history but a brief written history. For example, the technologists' urging for a standardization of spelling within a culture which has only relatively recently begun to use writing and whose culture avoids imposed rigidities is challenging indeed. The culture itself of course also has an relationship to the use of language: for example, surnames are a relatively recent phenomena and their use was of course largely imposed. A sorting order for the script was never an issue until technologists became involved. How can a sort order be arrived at that users will find acceptable when the concept of a sort order is not part of the culture? As one of the Deputy Ministers in the current government (Peter Ernerk) recently said, "Forty years ago I was living in an igloo; now I'm sending email".

The presentation will focus on this fascinating example of a conjunction of language, script, technology and culture.

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8 Jun 1999, Webmaster