A screen shot showing how Pinnguaq's new translation tool converts Inuit syllabics into Roman orthography.

Beneath Floes run through the “Syllabics Translator” extension in Google Chrome. (Courtesy Pinnguaq)

New tool tranlsates Inuit syllabics into Latin alphabet

A Canadian technology company has created a Google extension that will allow people to convert Inuit language syllabics into Roman orthography.

Pinnguaq, a company based in the community of Pangnirtung in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut, developed the extension this year after signs the territorial government is exploring a move away from the syllabic alphabet in favour of Roman orthography in schools.

Pinnguaq’s Ryan Oliver. (Courtesy Pinnguaq)

Pinnguaq’s Ryan Oliver. (Courtesy Pinnguaq)

“Seeing that government support at all levels is going to move in this direction in terms of standarization of the written language and moving away from Inuit syllabics specifically… that was a good impetus to do it,” said Ryan Oliver, Pinnguaq’s director, in a telephone interview this week.

To find out more about the new Google extension, how it works and who it might help, Eye on the Arctic’s Eilís Quinn spoke to Pinnguaq’s director Ryan Oliver:


Though Inuit share the same language; dialects and writing systems vary widely across the North.

When missionaries began arriving in the Arctic to convert the Inuit to Christianity; Catholic, Anglican and Moravian priests all used different writing systems to translate the Bible into local Inuit dialects.

Roman orthography, also known as the Latin alphabet, is now used in Inuit communities in Canada’s western Arctic as well as in Nunatsiavut, the Inuit self-governing region in the Atlantic Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Meanwhile, in Nunavut and in Nunavik, the Inuit self-governing region of northern Quebec, communities use the syllabic alphabet, a writing system where a symbol represents the sound of a consonant followed by a vowel.

Though Inuit language use is strong in some communities, especially in much of Canada’s Baffin Island region,  English is the dominant language in most other areas across the Arctic. Inuit language use is generally in decline, especially among young people.

Standardized writing system

There has long been a move to standardize the Inuit language writing system, using Roman orthography to make it easier for young people to learn and facilitating the use of the Inuit language in areas like technology.

Though the idea is controversial, Nunavut’s education minister Paul Quassa said earlier this year that using Roman orthography in Nunavut schools could help strengthen the language and make it easier to share Inuit-language education materials across Canada’s Arctic regions.

VIDEO: Losing their Words: Can standardization revive the Inuit language? (A 2010 documentary from Eye on the Arctic)

Pinnguaq’s Oliver said the company’s new Google extension can help Inuktitut-language learners struggling with the syllabic alphabet. But it could also help fluent Inuit-language speakers from places like the western Arctic and Nunatsiavut access syllabic web content from Nuanvut and Nunavik, he said.

“The big idea behind the need to standardize the written language specifically is that it does open that many doors to communication,” Oliver said. “Anytime you have a language (like Inuktitut) that’s a not a dominant language in the world, it’s important to make it as accessible as possible and I think this tool provides that option.

“Just having that choice is going to welcome that many more people into the language.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Losing their Words (Video documentary), Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Language lecturer voted Finland’s Sámi of the Year, Yle News

Greenland: (VIDEO) The importance of perserving the Inuit language, Eye on the Arctic

Norway:  Sami character keyboard app released, Barents Observer

Sweden: Social media strengthens Sami language, Yle News

Russia:  Sami languages disappear, Barents Observer

United States:  Alaska bill to be signed recognizing indigenous languages as official state languages, Alaska Dispatch


Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Indigenous, Internet, Science and Technology, Society

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.


One comment on “New tool tranlsates Inuit syllabics into Latin alphabet
  1. Jim Cowan ( Benalbanach ) says:

    How about a translating of the article into English ? Or is transate one of those new words just accepted.?