Bible Study

A team of translators have finished the first draft of a new Bible in the Inuit language



The first draft of an Inuktitut-language Bible has been completed after 23 years of collaboration between the Canadian Bible Society and the Diocese of the Arctic of the Anglican Church of Canada.

The draft translation, finished in December, will eventually give Inuktitut speakers an opportunity to read the entire Bible in their own language. This translation breaks ground because it was done entirely by Inuit.

The Bible has more than 750,000 words and about 577,000 of them are in the Old Testament.

Hart Wiens, director of scripture translation for the Canadian Bible Society, said the New Testament was translated and published in 1992, but with the addition of the Old Testament, the work can be studied in its entirety.

“This will mean they have access to the scriptures in the language many of them prefer to read,” Wiens said. “For the churches it means once we have published the entire Bible, they will be able to read the scriptures of the churches in their language. For individuals at home in their scripture readings, they will have access to the text in their own language.”

The project began in 1978, when Dr. Eugene Nida visited Baffin Island to find translators on behalf of the Bible Society. Rev. Benjamin Arreak, Rev. Jonas Allooloo, Rev. Andrew Atagotaaluk and Rev. James Nashak started work on the New Testament and were later joined by Rev. Joshua Arreak.

Twice a year the translators visited different communities in the Arctic and occasionally Kitchener, Ont., where the Bible Society’s translation offices are located.

Rev. Arreak, of Kuujjuaq, was the translation team coordinator. He said they began the project with a workshop and then were assigned books to work on from various English translations of the Bible.

There were some challenges in the translation, he said, including accuracy when translating English words into Inuktitut, a language that doesn’t have words to describe things not indigenous to the Arctic.

“Probably those animals that are different from what we have in the North and also the plants,” were the most difficult to translate, he said, referring to such things as palm trees and camels.

“If there was nothing similar, we kept the [English] name and right after it said it was similar to what we have,” he explained. “For example, the dove. We wrote ‘dove, like ptarmigan.’”

There were also words that all Inuktitut-speaking regions couldn’t agree on, so footnotes were added.

If there wasn’t a general term understandable to all regions he said, a mark was made beside it and it was described in the footnote.

The Bible has now been translated into more than 2,285 different languages, and Arreak said having an Inuktitut edition would have a positive effect on the language in the long run.

“It also emphasizes who we are and the language we speak. In making an Inuktitut Bible, culture and language is always tied in so I think it will be good,” he said. “It’s going to be the first time people will be able to see the whole Bible in Inuktitut. That’s a big step.”

Now that the draft is finished, the project will enter a new phase of community consultations, consultant approval, final proofreading, printing, and preparation of Inuktitut study guides. Wiens said the society is aiming to have the Inuktitut Bible completed by 2005.

“We work with people who are also busy in their parishes so we can’t always guarantee we are going to meet our timelines, but that is what we’re targeting,” he said.

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