Microsoft adds Inuit language to translation app

Inuktitut speakers volunteer their time to ensure accuracy

Microsoft’s Translator app is now able to translate more than 70 languages into, and from, Inuktitut. (File photo)

By Dustin Patar

The Inuit language just got a little bit more accessible.

Microsoft has announced its Microsoft Translator app now supports Inuktitut. That means anyone using the app will be able to translate more than 70 language to, or from, the language.

“Any new tool to encourage language use and learning, especially in Inuktitut, is always welcomed,” Karliin Aariak, Nunavut’s languages commissioner, told Nunatsiaq News.

Aariak sees the app as a good starting point for governments, territorial institutions, municipalities and businesses who need to comply with Nunavut’s language legislation.

The Government of Nunavut worked alongside Microsoft to develop the software, by providing the company with relevant language data. Inuktitut speakers then volunteered their time to ensure the translations were correct.

“We are proud to collaborate with the Government of Nunavut and learn from Inuktitut speakers,” said Kevin Peesker, president of Microsoft Canada, in a news release.

“We believe technology can help protect our heritage and preserve language.”

In addition to Microsoft’s Translator app, Inuktitut is also now available in its Microsoft Office software, and on Translator for Bing.

Inuktitut has also been added to Microsoft’s Azure Cognitive Services Translator and its Azure Cognitive Speech Services, which will allow for translation to be offered on other apps, tools and websites.

“For thousands of years, Inuit have spoken Inuktut across the world. It’s amazing how we have kept Inuktut strong by adapting to changes in our culture,” said Margaret Nakashuk, Nunavut’s minister of culture and heritage, in a news release.

“Embracing new technology is a perfect example of our resilience.”

The Jan. 27 announcement comes just before Inuit Language Month, or Uqausirmut Quviasuutiqarniq, which begins in February.

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(11) Comments:

  1. Posted by Language authority on

    So the GN is going to work alongside Microsoft and tell them what the correct spelling, terminology, and syntax is for the Inuit Languages? When will this authoritative work be published and distributed to people in Nunavut?
    Unfortunately for Microsoft and its Inuit language users, this will probably result in a lot of bickering between interpreter-translators over every single work. It’s a nice feel-good story but we’ve seen tech companies come here time and time again to try and help solve the language issue only to be let down a few years down the road.
    Nunavut and ITK’s inability to come up with a unified language has been a spectacular failure so far, hijacked by regional gatekeepers and incapable bureaucrates. That’s what’ll kill the language in the end. A unified language CAN coexist with regional dialects, but no one has successfully made that argument to Nunavummiut yet. It’s time for IUT and C&H to use their authority and say “this is the unified language” and take it from there. Let people bicker after the fact instead of letting them dictate the terms beforehand.

    • Posted by Don’t Hold Your Breath on

      As long as orthography users feel dominated, ignored, and belittled by syllabics users don’t expect a change. Which raises the question – why no orthography? Why syllabics only?

  2. Posted by always complaining on

    cant just think something like this is cool? they could just not have the language in the app at all.

  3. Posted by just a northerner on

    Just accept and be happy, Nunavut raised residents can read it. Learn to read and write and adapt in inuktitut .

    • Posted by Ignored and Forgotten on

      I am a Nunavut raised Inuktut speaker and I can’t read it. I shouldn’t have to.

      That doesn’t make me less than you. Provide the language services that we as Inuit deserve! You learn to read and write and adapt!

      Always forgotten and ignored, always. I’m tired of it. It is time for a new type of Nunavut, where we are not dominated by the Inuktitut speakers and our rights and needs are respected.

      • Posted by The Forgotten Ones on

        The linguistic and cultural domination by the eastern part of the territory has been a problem for a long time. I have no solutions but it is something that needs to be fixed.

    • Posted by Total opposite on

      Ouff! You’re in for a rude awakening if that’s what you think. It’ll be quite the opposite in fact.
      Transients and southerners will be in awe of how they can get access to Inuktitut language services. They’ll use it for 10 minutes then tweet about it for days, praising Microsoft.
      The Nunavut raised residents will be the ones who’ll complain. Mark my words, 4 out of 5 users will complain about how off base the vocabulary and spelling is. There’s no unified language, so what is Microsoft and the GN going to base it off of?
      Go on any Iqaluit PSA where Inuktitut is used and you’ll get comments like “this word doesn’t mean that”, “that means this in my dialect” etc. How the heck is microsoft going to deal with that?
      The only way this has a chance is if the IUT will release their unified language dictionary at the same time as Microsoft launches this language feature. But i wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

  4. Posted by Inuk Tuina on

    Is the app only in Nunavut syllables or all Inuktitut?

    • Posted by Important details on

      These are the important details that I’m sure Microsoft will “figure out later…”
      It’s details like that that will probably kill this project before it’s launched. The GN can’t even decide if they’re going with Inuktut or Inuktitut+Inuinnaqtun. There’s no authoritative guidance whatsoever.

  5. Posted by yappity app on

    The app handles sylabics because some people put in the time and effort to make it so. MicroSoft built the app (a very simple database look-up program) as a way to lock the GN into paying them millions of dollars each year for software, when they could get almost the same functionality for free using Open Source software.
    If you want the app to handle ortho, make it so.

  6. Posted by pissed off on

    Good luck with that !!!

    Ever found a sign or a public announcement that Inuit speakers can agree on ?
    Especially if they come from different communities or regions of Nunavut ?

    And I am not taliking about the deep difference of opinions on Syllabic vs. roman calligraphy.

    You tell me that some whiz kid from Sillicone Valley aided by a few well meaning Inuit so-called specialists will work out a proper translation system.

    Just need to see the results of automatic transalations of lanquages like English, Spanish, French, Russian , etc… and reralize that comical and somethimes dangerous results to see it is not a sure shot.



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