The Inuit language, called Inuktitut, allows the Inuit people to express human emotion concepts such as protective love with greater precision than English does. According to Michèle Therrien, an ethnolinguist who teaches Inuktitut, the concept of nagli, protective love, suggests a preoccupation with the well-being of another person.
As she teaches Inuktitut courses to French students at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisation Orientales in Paris, Therrien emphasizes the idea that learning the language of the Inuit allows outsiders to gain an understanding of the people. Their words for feelings betray their obsession with self-control. Therrien explains that the Inuit strongly believe in the importance of not loving too much, of not getting carried away with emotions since they might violate the self-control they so highly cherish.
These ideas are developed in an article by Michel Arseneault (“Language of Love,” Canadian Geographic volume 124 no. 6, November/December 2004, p. 132+ ) that focuses on the ideas and teaching style of the Inuit language expert Therrien. While the meanings of Inuit emotion words have been more thoroughly explored in the writings of Jean Briggs, especially in works such as Briggs (1994), this article places the concepts in a new context: extending them to French student audiences.
Arseneault’s fascination for Inuktitut and for Therrien’s teaching style carries over into his appreciation for the French students who continue, year after year, to study the Inuit language, which is quite difficult to learn. Therrien, who is obviously a demanding teacher, takes pride in the accomplishments of her students. In return, over 100 of them—present and former—have formed an Inuit Cultural Center in Paris , a measure of the respect they have for the teacher and the culture and language she teaches.