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The Cree SyllabaryThe Cree syllabary was developed as a writing system for the Cree language in the mid-1800s by James Evans. Originally, he had tried to develop a writing system for the Cree language based on the Roman alphabet, but found this to be unsatisfactory. He then created a syllabary based on his earlier syllabary developed for the Ojibwe language, which was, in part, based on Pitman's shorthand. The new syllabary was quite simple; it consists of just 12 basic shapes representing syllables, which can be rotated to distinguish between the different vowels and adorned with a diacritic dot to distinguish vowel lengths. (Since syllables beginning with a given consonant have a similar shape, the writing system is, strictly speaking, not a syllabary but an abugida.)
Evans's syllabary was so easy to learn that it caught on quickly, leading to an incredibly high literacy rate among the Cree and adaptations of the script to be used to write native languages all over Canada, including Athabaskan languages, Inuktitut, and others. Some of these languages have changed to a Roman orthography, but many still use the syllabary today.
The Inuktitut Syllabary
The Inuktitut syllabary is a writing system used by Inuit people in Nunavut and in northern Quebec. It was originally adapted from the Cree syllabary by Edmund Peck, an Anglican missionary, in the 1870's. It is part of a system of syllabic writing schemes which are grouped together in the Unicode standard as Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics.
The initial sound in the syllable can be - G, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, NG, , ƚ (L-), or nothing, and the vowel can be A, I, U or absent.
The Inuit Taprissat has recently changed the official version of the syllabary to restore the "ai-pai-tai" row. The common diphthong AI has generally been represented by combining the "A" form with a standalone ᐃ character. This fourth vowel variant of the official syllabary was initially removed so that Inuktitut could be typed and printed using IBM Selectric balls in the 1970s. This decision was justified by claiming that modern printing and typesetting equipment no longer suffers the restrictions of earlier typewriting machinery.
The Inuktitut language is written in different ways in different places. In Greenland, Alaska, Labrador, the Mackenzie River delta in the Northwest Territories and in part of Nunavut, it is written with the Roman alphabet. In most of Nunavut and in northern Quebec, Inuktitut is written using the Inuktitut syllabary. At present, Inuktitut syllabics enjoy official status in Nunavut alongside the Latin alphabet. They are also used officially in Quebec. In Greenland, the traditional Latin script is official and is widely used in public life.
Because the Inuktitut language is a continuum of only partially intercomprehensible dialects, the language varies a great deal across the Arctic. Split up into different political divisions and different churches reflecting the arrival of various missionary groups, Inuktitut writing systems can vary a great deal.
The first efforts to write Inuktitut came from Moravian missionaries in Greenland and Labrador in the mid-18th century. In the 1870's, Edmund Peck, an Anglican missionary adapted the Cree syllabary to Inuktitut. Other missionaries, and later linguists in the employ of the Canadian and American governments, adapted the Latin alphabet to the dialects of the Mackenzie River delta, the western Arctic islands and Alaska.