Newspaper article The Canadian Press

'Challenging Language:' Edmonton Academic Studies Versions of 1st Inuit Novel

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

'Challenging Language:' Edmonton Academic Studies Versions of 1st Inuit Novel

Article excerpt

Academic studies versions of first Inuit novel


EDMONTON - The story reaches out of an Arctic past stretching back to long before Europeans came, a world when a hunter's fate was determined by snow and ice, claws and courage.

An academic is dusting off a text considered the first Inuit novel in an effort to understand the travels and many translations of an almost-forgotten Canadian classic: "Harpoon of the Hunter."

"I'm interested in the journeys texts take," said Valerie Henitiuk of MacEwan University in Edmonton.

"Harpoon of the Hunter," first published in 1970, is the story of an Inuit boy coming of age as a hunter and a man. Its journey begins in the preliterate past.

"I heard some of the stories from my grandfather and grandmother, mother and father," said author Markoosie Patsauq, reached at his home in Inukjuaq, Que.

"From their stories, I decided to find out more. I started asking some elders from the community, how can I do this? How can I make something? It's like a small part of the history of our people."

Patsauq was a pilot in the 1960s -- the first Inuk to get a pilot's licence -- who wrote as he waited for weather to clear.

The original text was in Inuktitut and used syllabics -- the circles, triangles and squiggles first developed by missionaries to write down the language.

"Harpoon" originally appeared serialized in a government-sponsored magazine. The magazine's editor, James MacNeill, encouraged Patsauq to translate the story into English.

That was the version, edited by MacNeill, that was published.

It's short, but complex. It uses four different points of view, including a polar bear's, and flips verb tenses as freely as it alternates between joy and sorrow. It offers a vivid view of how Inuit communities worked, the relationships between men and women, and the realities of their daily lives.

Translations followed in French, then German and Danish. The book was recently retranslated into French, and that version was translated into Hindi and Marathi.

A French academic is currently working on a new translation using the syllabic text. …

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