Aboriginal language officials are rethinking terms for cancer as treatments evolve.

Aboriginal Languages Evolve as Cancer Treatments Change


As cancer treatments have evolved, so too have aboriginal languages. CBC News reports that language officials in Nunavut have released the new word, kagguti for cancer, which comes from the Inuktitut word kagguaq, meaning “knocked down out of natural order.”

The new word replaces annia aaqqijuajunnangituq or “an incurable ailment,” which CBC News said language officials felt was giving people the wrong impression of the disease.

Terry Audla, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, tweeted a new Inuktitut work for cancer April 23. (Twitter)

The Inuit aren’t the only ones evolving their language around cancer. The word for cancer the Gwich’in First Nation in the Northwest Territories use describes “a difficult disease.”

“The first time we heard about it, it seemed like it was a disease that we did not have any cure for,” William Firth, language programs director for the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute in Fort McPherson in the Northwest Territories, told CBC News. “But as you know, nowadays, there’s a lot of work that has gone into remedies and treatments for cancers, so we’re going to be having to change that term.”

The Northwest Territories Chief Public Health Officer explained to CBC News how many aboriginal languages used terms that led to misunderstandings about cancer.

“Terms like ‘a worm that’s eating you’ or ‘bugs,’" Dr. Andre Corriveau told CBC News. “Or they would use the same term that they would use for HIV so there was a perception in some communities that cancer was contagious.”


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