'Reinforces the legitimacy of our language': Inuktitut officially available on Facebook desktop

·3 min read
Aluki Kotierk, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., looks out her office window at the Legislative Assembly in a file photo. The Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated worked alongside Meta to provide Inuktitut as a language setting on the Facebook desktop website. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Aluki Kotierk, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., looks out her office window at the Legislative Assembly in a file photo. The Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated worked alongside Meta to provide Inuktitut as a language setting on the Facebook desktop website. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Inuktitut is now an available language setting on Facebook's desktop website.

The initiative is the result of a joint partnership that started over four years ago between Meta, Facebook's parent company, and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI). It's meant to promote the daily use of the Inuit language spoken in communities across Nunavut, a news release issued on Friday reads.

The translations were led by the Pirurvik Centre, an Inuit-owned learning centre based in Iqaluit.

The news release also says the launch "aligns with the United Nations International Decade of Indigenous Languages."

"Inuit expect to see and hear Inuktut in all aspects of our lives. Recognizing Inuktitut as an official language on Facebook, equal to English and French, reinforces the legitimacy of our language," said Aluki Kotierk, president of NTI, in a statement.

Canadian Press
Canadian Press

"Being able to access Facebook in our own language is an important and concrete step towards seeing and hearing Inuktut in all aspects of our lives."

Jeela Palluq-Cloutier told CBC News how she helped with the translation of the Facebook interface.

She said there were some difficulties at first, including trying to find the right translation, a task community members provided assistance with.

"Because not everybody uses a standard orthography, and not everybody uses the standard spelling. So what the community was bringing in was not the standard that we need to have on Facebook," she said.

"So that part was a little more difficult than easy."

Some of the terms used were pulled from the early 2000s, when new terms were created for the Microsoft interface translations, Palluq-Cloutier said.

Traditional words, modern tech

Among those terms is the word "internet" which the Inuktitut version is rooted in a traditional word used by shaman who would spiritually check in on other communities.

"The idea of leaving your body, you're in a trance or a shaman in a trance … to go look at another community to go see … how that other community is doing, whether they're thriving or starving, or they need help," Palluq-Cloutier said.

"So exactly the same idea [for internet]. You're sitting at your home, you're on the computer, you can log on, and then you can find out what's happening in China."

Screenshot of Facebook
Screenshot of Facebook

There were also some spacing issues when it comes to the Facebook translation, she said, as some Inuktitut words can get quite long.

"We would have a really good term, but just too many characters to put on the space that we have," Palluq-Cloutier said.

Some words had to be truncated because of this, she said, including the word "help" in Inuktitut. Though she said it was avoided whenever possible.

"We weren't too pleased about it, but it's understood and it fits."

Another challenge, Palluq-Cloutier said, was that many English words that are different, like edit, fix, modify are similar in Inuktitut, so they had to be extra careful to ensure they were distinguishable from one another.

But, she added, "it's fun to try to look through the traditional terminology to be used in modern technology."

She said there's a mix of dialects in the new Facebook interface, but mainly, its North Baffin.

Palluq-Cloutier hopes this will help more people, especially elders, to connect.

"I was trying to trying to imagine my mother using Facebook," she said.

"She's in Ottawa for medical now and we have limited contact. But if she can go on Facebook and post how she's doing, that'd be great."

Another positive aspect, she said, is the visibility of the language for those who want to learn it or those trying to maintain the language.

"It could be used for the younger generation, as much as it could be used with the unilingual generation."

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