Monday, July 24, 2006

Language Policy in the Canadian North

My main research interests tend to centre on issues that are at least somewhat related to English-French relations in Canada, which has led me to research and write fairly extensively on language policy. All of my writing has focused on English-French official bilingualism, and to a lesser extent, on the multilingual education programs followed in provinces such as Alberta. In recent months though, there have been a number of fascinating developments in the language policies of Nunavut.

About a month ago, the Nunavut government announced a very assertive new policy that will require proficiency in Inuktitut among its senior civil servants. If they don't learn the language by 2008, they will lose their jobs. The policy is driven by a desire to have the civil service fluent in the first language of 85% of the territory's residents. The policy will be progressively be extended down through the ranks of the civil service in future years.

While there is some protest associated with this policy, I think that the Nunavut government is on the right track. It is important to get an assertive language policy in place in the early years of establishing the new territorial government, or it will become very difficult to implement in the future - witness the problems of the federal government for proof of this. Indeed, there is an even stronger case for such a policy in a territory where the language the civil servants are expected to learn is the language of the overwhelming majority of the population.

Today's news has another neat tidbit on Nunavut's language policy development. The government is apparently considering official recognition of two forms of sign language, American Sign Language (ASL) and a unique form of Inuit sign language. It will prove interesting to see if this ends up being adopted in the legislation expected to be introduced next year. Canada's newest territory is certainly shaping up to be an exciting laboratory for language policy.

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