How do you say ‘narcissistic’ in Inuktut? GN and Microsoft want to know

New project incorporating everyday words into Microsoft Translator

Microsoft as well as Nunavut government members came together seeking community input for the technology corporation’s Inuktut language translator Tuesday. The team is looking for new words in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun used by everyday Inuit to be added to the online translator. (Photo by Meral Jamal)

By Meral Jamal

Updated on Thursday, October 27, 2022 at 12 p.m.

After an estimated eight million words in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun were translated in the last fiscal year alone, Microsoft and the Government of Nunavut want input on new words to be added to the corporation’s online Inuktut language translator.

The GN and Microsoft partnered last year when Inuinnaqtun and romanized Inuktitut were added to Microsoft’s translation services as part of the government’s annual celebration of the Inuktut languages.

Much of the initial vocabulary came from government translators, through documents and records translated since the early 2000s. Now, the focus is on making sure everyday Inuktut used by Inuit can be incorporated into the translator as well.

“If you have this data and you want to share it with us, you can share it with us and we’ll put it in Microsoft Translator,” said Michèle Guignard, a consultant with the GN’s Department of Culture and Heritage, at a meeting Tuesday about the initiative.

“With this kind of technology, the more data the better.”

Some words might come from children’s books that were translated or reports from and about cultural activities by Inuit organizations.

Community and Government Services Minister David Joanasie said updating and improving the Microsoft translator app will ultimately help Inuit who are seeking health care in receiving services in their own language. (Photo by Meral Jamal)

Along with adding new words to the translator, the goal is to update the translated meanings of existing words.

This was a concern brought up by Teresa Hughes, deputy minister for the Department of Culture and Heritage. She said she once tried to translate the word “narcissistic” from English to Inuktitut through Microsoft’s translator.

Instead of translating it as a person who is extremely self-centered with an exaggerated sense of self-importance — as defined in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary — Hughes said the platform’s translation of the word was “somebody that is soft” in Inuktitut.

“That does not sound right,” she said.

“So how do we start looking at those words when they’re completely opposite of the meaning?”

Dean Wells, the corporate chief information officer with the Department of Community and Government Services, and other members of the Microsoft team said they hope that by engaging with the community on improving Inuktut translations, they can address problems with existing definitions that are part of the online translator.

In the meantime, Microsoft’s desktop Bing translator accepts suggestions for its translations, so users can provide the most accurate definitions of the words being used.

Ultimately, the GN and Microsoft said the hope is that with new Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun words added to the translator, the technology will adapt and improve over time.

They also hope it will be used by youth and elders, and especially unilingual Inuktut speakers to better access services such as health care.

“We envision that patients will have the ability to communicate with doctors. Residents of care facilities will have the security of being able to communicate with staff travelling from inside and outside the territory and translate their needs to over 100 languages available on the tool,” said Community and Government Services Minister David Joanasie of the project.

“We’re already beginning to see the benefits that Microsoft Translator has brought to us by helping to incorporate our language into everyday life.”

Clarification: This article has been updated from an earlier version to clarify the title of Dean Wells, who is quoted in the story.

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(16) Comments:

  1. Posted by Langauge evolution on

    The word Narcissist made its way into English via Greek mythology, unless a similar concept / term already exists in Inuktitut why do you need to make a new one up? Just use the same term. Many languages incorporate words from other languages when they denote very specific concepts.

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    • Posted by Niachuri jurijuk on

      Time to learn you Inuktitut.

      Jurijuk

      Niatsuri

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      • Posted by Language evolution on

        I agree, it’s hard to learn without a good teacher though.

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        • Posted by Umingmak on

          This is very true, and it’s even harder to learn Inuinnaqtun than Inuktitut. There are hardly any resources available. With the GN wanting to eventually move to doing business primarily in Inuktut, it’s wild that they’re not providing the resources for both Inuit and non-Inuit to learn the relevant languages & dialects.

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    • Posted by Linguistics on

      True, and there’s examples of Inuktitut having already done that (coffee = kaapi, hockey = haaki), so I could easily see something like “naarsistik” if a specific word is felt needed and one doesn’t exist.

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    • Posted by Phil Lange on

      re: mythology… important to remember that Narcissus did not fall in love with himself, he fell in love with his own image—his reflection in a pool of water—not with himself, there’s a difference. A narcissist is likely in love with a false image of themself.

  2. Posted by translator on

    AQITTUNGNGAJUQ does not mean someone who is soft. it is still the wrong translation but still…

    • Posted by Liquid Language on

      As a translator do you find there are words that don’t easily cross the cultural divide? I suspect there are different concepts that relate to specific contexts and myths that aren’t easily relatable without understanding a bigger story.

      Inuit tell me this often. I suspect Narcissist is this type of word.

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      • Posted by Langauges are fun on

        There has not yet been a word found in any natural language on the planet that cannot be expressed in another. You might need a phrase in the other language to say it, a good example being the German “schadenfreude” which translates into English as “taking pleasure in the misfortune of another person”, but the concept it still translatable.

        In the example being cited, narcissist, knowing the mythology behind it isn’t actually necessary for understanding the concept. You need to know the myth to know the *origin* of the word, but you don’t need to know the myth to understand the *meaning* of the word. The article itself demonstrates this: it explains what “narcissist” means without once needing to refer to the myth of Narcissus itself.

        Everyone claims their own language has concepts which can’t be translated…which is usually followed by them translating the concept. People mistake not having a specific word for something with not being able to understand something.

        • Posted by Liquid Language on

          Thanks for the interesting and informative reply.

          I think what I wanted to get at is that “there are words that don’t easily” translate, as in word for word.

          You’re right to say a concept can always be relayed, schadenfreude is a great example. Yet look how many English words it took to explain one word in German. In other words there is no specific English term that corresponds. Perhaps I should have been more clear on that.

          • Posted by It doesn’t though. on

            To sum up Shadenfreud in 2 words; the direct translation is Harm-Joy.

  3. Posted by qikitaalummiu on

    it already it exist in our langugae .there was a reason why baffin was to be chosen for different kinds of langugaes and for setlers, No fights or buts from the ancestry they say.. may be this can be added as a pronoun instead as in dictionaire uses maybe it will read properly. a lot of words today being used has surfaced that are not even within the languag maybe best for computer to corerect first before adding on a new verb?

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