Douglas Coupland on Inuvialuktun’s decline: “It’s profoundly sad and is bigger than death.”

coupland.jpgThe Globe&Mail recently held a public forum with Canadian author, visual artist and modern art installer Douglas Coupland.Here are my submitted questions, which have Doug’s comments on efforts to preserve Inuvialuktun.The whole thing is online at

 Philippe Morin from Inuvik, NWT writes: Here’s a question for Doug: I live in Inuvik, Northwest Territories where traditional dialects are fast fading. Despite teachers’ and families’ best efforts, it’s estimated that fewer than 500 people still fluently speak Inuvialuktun and most are over 50. (And even then, that language has sub-dialects.)Coupland: One quick question comes to mind, Philippe … is Inuvialuktun difficult to learn? I mean this on a practical level. For example, Japanese and Italian are very easy (in spite of the fact the Japanese try to psych out the world and tell everybody it’s hard) whereas Scandinavian languages are like Martian. And what sort of language does Inuvialuktun structurally resemble?Philippe Morin: Embarrassingly, more people speak Klingon than Inuvialuktun today worldwide.Coupland: Klingon is a language? Seriously? WHTMFTOOHAAS (We Have Too Much Free Time On Our Hands As A Society.)Morin: How do you feel about this idea of languages disappearing? Is it better if all humans switch to a ‘compatible operating system’ or are we losing some priceless diversity? Thanks, (or Quanna, or Masi Cho, or Merci, etc..)Coupland: When I think about languages disappearing I think of Passenger Pigeons or Labrador Ducks and species going extinct. It’s profoundly sad and is bigger than death. It’s as if a whole universe is destroyed.Morin: Doug, what’s your take on the font ‘Helvetica?’ Do you share the many designers’ infatuation with it, or has it been overused? What is the message of Helvetica? If Helvetica were a person, who would it be?Coupland: Hello again, Philippe. I love Helvetica and always have, right back to art school days in 1980-84 (pre-Mac.) When I think of words in my head, they’re in Helvetica. I wrote extensively about this in the NYT blog that’s on Not trying to slough off the question, but it’s a good read for anyone who wants to pursue Helvetica further.Morin: Doug, you’re an author and a visual artist – Do you read comic books or ‘graphic novels’?Coupland: Yes.Morin: What’s your thought on that medium anyhow? Some of your books (like Generation X, and jPod) have visual elements outside of straight text such as sequences of numbers and different font sizes. What do you feel about comics? Now that you’ve written a screenplay would you ever try a comic book?Coupland: I’m for anything that tries to experiment with words and text and letters and numbers. I don’t have the huge specific kind of patience required to be a cartoonist …it takes a very specific kind of brain to do that. Have you ever met cartoonists? Of all the creative forms, they’re archetype is the most universal. They’re good talkers, but to a one they seem embroiled in a constant battle between themselves and the way reality impacts on their consciousness. Not crabby or fussy … prickly, maybe. In a good way.  


14 responses to “Douglas Coupland on Inuvialuktun’s decline: “It’s profoundly sad and is bigger than death.”

  1. Funny how problems are the same all over the world… In Bologna, my city, only very old peole, or those living with grandparents, speak dialect, and we are losing it. I work in a hospital, and I learnt much from my elderly patients, but I’m afraid our “bolognese” dialect will be buried soon… Things in dialect are so immediate, so short to say, so colorful, so…

  2. Yes, I agree…but can you imagine an airport in a world with dialects?

    As I recall, the biblical story of the Tower of Babel was intended as a punishment for one being able to understand each other…etc.

    Too bad Esperanto flopped.

  3. I will note that I completely agree with any programs to preserve traditional languages!

  4. ok so this is way to much information but example here in relationship to cultural heritage…
    . I speak fluent Hawaiian. [ which is the ENVY of NOBODY i might add. . ].
    when I started to speak it the “ locals” were intrigued [ I mean c’mon look at my pic. a “ hauli [ white man of the highest order] they were fascinated . WHY would a white man want to speak HAWAIIAN???
    because I found it INTERESTING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    ..the point is…..
    what one has to do is INSPIRE people to take charge of their heritage.
    when the aboriginal collection of locals [ where your at for example ] are show how important their heritage is to mankind then they take notice..
    they are NOT shown that ..
    instead they are shown and inundated with electronics and the world of cyber space, situations far more glamorous outside of their realm….
    SO!!!!! the intention is NOT to understand their heritage but to destroy it, as the change will bring something better. . this [ destruction] is not so as history has proven out.. ….
    It sadden me to see your post a while back about vandalism and other things done to the local cultures. tis no diff in cities where there are THOUSANDS of people .
    so I would think . the question is
    HOW does one INSPIRE YOUTH ????
    HOW do you show the importance of TRADITION ??
    how does one show PRIDE IN HERITAGE?
    from my observation all aboriginal cultures have suffered over a period of time from the inundation of a newer and better way. from other cultures. ..
    But once shown that THEIR way is JUST as valid it creates a Renaissance of their own roots.
    its simply REPLANTING the SEED of ones heritage. .
    but one needs the PEOPLE to nourish it and make it grow. .
    THAT’S the hard part.
    this was WAY to much info wasn’t it?
    I’m JUST trying to give a perspective

  5. Saatvic, you got it! That’s the story of Inuvik in a nutshell.

    Incredible how Hawaii and the arctic can be the same on many levels.

    This is my favourite comment ever to appear here. Thank you!

  6. EQ 3.9 Inuvik, NWT, Canada – PRELIMINARY REPORT
    An earthquake with magnitude 3.9 occurred near Inuvik, NWT, Canada at
    07:51:03.00 UTC on Jan 11, 2008. (This event has been reviewed by a seismologist.)

  7. Cool, I didn’t feel anything. Thanks for letting me know George!

  8. That’s awesome Phil.

  9. dear Phil.,
    thanks for the comment BUT!!!!!!!!!!!!
    its not only Hawaii in relationship to what you said. . I have seen that in many cultures in my limited time on this planet..
    . even the asmat tribes in new guinea [ the lower sepik river area] as well as tribe as far removed as Africa wear WHITE MANS CLOTHES . ..
    they use enamel plates to eat off of. . and knives and forks. [ that only transpired in the last 15 to 20 years]
    Ive seen Buddhist MONKS in Nepal [ a place where they throw garbage and feces out the window cause they Dont have sanitation ] GLUED TO A TELEVISION . .
    once I was sitting on top of a temple in the state of Kintana ru where the Mayan civilization ruled the territory of chichan itza .. as I climbed the temple steps in a state of what I thought was reminiscent of the ancient priests ascending a high point to some sort of spiritual decadence[ they killed people ewwwwwwwww]. well ……when I got to this 2000 year old temple top.
    there were a bunch of Indian children /. what did I HEAR??
    DORIS DAY singing “ whatever will be will be”. on a radio. huh??
    that REALLY burst my bubble as far as re- creating a concept of AUTHENTICITY in balance with what is taught in antiquarian historiography ..
    the object here is to show people to take PRIDE in their OWN heritage.;. Dont compare it with other cultures. SHARE it with other CULTURES.
    That WAY we LEARN about this illusion we call reality.
    by the TIME one LEARNS it . they DIE!!!:)
    just remember.. THERES NO PLACE ON EARTH LIKE THE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!:)

  10. You might want to check out “Spoken Here” which deals w/these types of questions about language ( It has a chapter on Nunavut, and is written in a journalistic style.

    p.s. It’s fun to see your pictures and recognize most of them right away even though I just moved here lol.

  11. Thanks for the link “esum,” if you see me walking around please introduce yourself!

    Also: I will say that the previous posts by Saatvic Warrior are my favourite ever. I should have known you were a world traveller, climbing mountains in Nepal, etc!

  12. I’m not sure I’ll be able to recognize anyone in this weather what with everyone so bundled up! I did see your ad though at the sandwich place just across the road from SHSS 🙂

    p.s. I’ve been as far as Japan, but never Nepal – SW is an entirely different person if you’re confusing me with him/her…

  13. Ah, good, the flyer is working!

    Maybe I should put an ad in the Inuvik Drum too..

  14. There was a man
    Who spoke seven languages
    Who met a woman who spoke five
    With the two of them
    They spoke twelve

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