Iqaluit

I haven’t done proper nouns before, but this one’s by request, and there’s no reason not to, really. And this is a good one. I think Canadians generally take pride in having a language like Inuktitut bopping around as part of the cultural landscape, with its geometrical syllabary orthography, its three vowels, its agglutinating morphology, and its frequently percussive consonants – especially that q that keeps cropping up without a u, like a usually respectable married person who appears at nightclubs sans spouse and on the arm of some fleeting fancy.

But what do you do with that q? Well, if you don’t want to sound like some clueless Yank, you sure don’t say it as though it were qu. That’s fine for Qantas, which comes from Queensland and Northern Territories Air Service and so has a u hiding anyway, but you wouldn’t do it with al Qaeda, so why do it here? Especially when it stands for the same sound, a voiceless uvular stop. This isn’t the Q of Quebec, said just like [k] – well, it is for most Anglophones, because the experience of saying [q] can for the neophyte seem reminiscent of having a tongue depresser stuck well back in your mouth, and it is not an English phoneme. But if you want to be precise – and perhaps seem pretentious, if you’re a white person doing this in casual conversation in Therestavut (i.e., that of Canada that is not Nunavut)* – make the first i more like [e] (as in eh), stick the back of your tongue right back against the back of your throat for the [q], and then do the rest as three syllables with pure monophthongs: [a lu it]. And, again, whatever you do, don’t stick a u after the q. Iqaluit means “many fish.” Iqualuit, which would have an extra syllable, means “people with unwiped bums.” I am not in a position to dissect the morphology to make it clear how this happens to be.

The word also benefits in appearance from the q, which seems more reminiscent than the other letters of the forms of the Inuktitut syllabics (though in fact the syllabary has forms that look like b, d, and p but none like q). The u also resembles a syllabic a little (but, again, there are three other orientations for the shape but not that one). The remainder have their linear verticality in common, which in its transgression of the x-height is as un-Inuit as its treelike disruption of the horizon.

Anyway, this word sounds so – well, not exotic, since it’s from this land – shall I invent endotic, then. It’s that internal other, the one that belongs more than we do, the culture we want to claim by association. Witness the inukshuk that is the symbol of the Vancouver Olympics (now, why wouldn’t they have used some west coast Indian motif?) and the one that I run by a few times a week near Ontario Place. Iqaluit may have been called Frobisher Bay from 1942 to 1987, but why should it be named after a 16th-century European (yes, before the Mayflower) who thought the bay was a strait and, though he landed, didn’t stop in Iqaluit for some fish? Huh. The dirty bum. No wonder they wiped him off their town signs.

*That’s a pun, not a real Inuktitut word.

4 responses to “Iqaluit

  1. I said I haven’t done proper nouns before, but I forgot I had done Guinea.

  2. Nicolette Blase

    Nice work, James. I enjoyed that, and learned something too. Thanks! Will go make some tea and enjoy the day here in this part of Therestavut.

  3. I always wondered that about the Olympics, too. Well, not always, but since they unveiled the symbol.

  4. Pingback: uvula « Sesquiotica

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