This Log post by Mark Liberman reproduces a letter sent by Helen DeWitt to Kenn Harper, an expert on Inuit dialects, and his response, which is extremely interesting from both a linguistic and political point of view. The reason for the letter was that she wanted to make sure she used the right term for the Labrador dialect in the forthcoming new edition of The Last Samurai (bold to represent the thrilling nature of the news — unbelievably, this great book has been out of print). Some excerpts from Harper’s response:
Traditionally, the term Inuktitut was used among laymen to include all Canadian Inuit dialects. But the term Inuttut was often used for the Labrador dialect.
Recently, the Government of Nunavut has decided that they should use Inuktitut to refer to all Nunavut dialects except the Copper Inuit dialect which is called Inuinnaqtun. So the Government of Nunavut now refers to the “Inuit language” in Nunavut as containing two dialects: Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun. This is not really correct as Inuktitut within Nunavut contains other dialects. Apparently they do not see the need for an over-all term that subsumes them both. This is more a political statement than a linguistic one, as the small population in the Inuinnaqtun-speaking region demands that their dialect be distinguished from the majority because the Inuinnaqtun speakers do not use the Syllabic writing system, using instead an alphabetic system. The majority in Nunavut use Syllabics. The Inuinnaqtun speakers fear that if they do not differentiate themselves linguistically from the majority, then Syllabics might be imposed upon them as a writing system. The irony is that very few Inuit in the Inuinnaqtun-speaking area actually speak Inuinnaqtun – it’s almost dead, and most Inuit there are unilingual English speakers. […]
Now, the situation in Labrador. As I mentioned, it used to be called Inuttut. But now the Nunatsiavut Government (set up when the land claim was settled) is calling it Inuttitut, so that is the official usage in Labrador now. But either should be accepted. Current modern usage is Inuttitut. Historic usage is Inuttut. Incidentally, they both really mean the same thing. One is singular, the other plural. The word is made up of Inuk (generic person or specifically an Inuk person – Inuk being the singular of Inuit) + a suffix meaning “in the manner of” or “like”. So in the singular that suffix is “-tut”; in the plural it is “-titut”. And in this dialect that combination creates a vowel sequence “kt” which geminates into “tt”.
Talk about your Narzißmus der kleinen Differenzen! And as far as the book is concerned, I agree with leoboiko in the comment thread:
Wonderful that a new edition is coming. They could take up this opportunity to rename it to The Seventh Samurai, as the author originally intended. Not only it’s a better title, and not only it immediately evokes the importance of Akira Toriyama’s The Seven Samurai to the plot, it also avoids the single biggest hurdle I had in my cultist practice: convincing people that the book is entirely unrelated to Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai, to stories like Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai, or to anything remotely resembling Tom Cruise.