Inuktitut available in Microsoft Translator | Polarjournal
In Nunavut, Canada’s self-governing Arctic region, Inuktitut is the official language. This means that official letters and texts, such as on Pond Inlet’s welcome board, are written not only in English and French, but also in the language of the locals. Picture: Michael Wenger

Anyone who owns a PC these days is, in most cases, part of the Microsoft community. Windows and many of its utilities are standard. One of the features that Microsoft offers (and is successful with) is the built-in translation software, Microsoft Translator. With this function, individual text parts or entire documents can be translated into around 70 languages (the quality is debatable). Now, the software giant has announced that as of late, the Inuit language Inuktitut will be part of its translation software.

The corporation writes in a press release that with the latest update, all Microsoft products that deal with or use translation can now add Inuktitut. Here, the AI-powered Azure Cognitive Service Translator and Azure Cognitive Services Speech software will provide translation in the background. “This provides an additional way to make Inuktitut more accessible at work, at school and in everyday life and will help ensure the language continues to thrive,” Microsoft writes. To show the quality of the service, the group has also published the press release in Inuktitut, with both the normal script and the syllabic script, Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics.

The press release from Microsoft was also immediately published in Inukitut. The language actually is a dialect family of Inuit languages. The syllabary had been developed in the middle of the 19th century by James Evans for some First Nations peoples. Image: Screenshot press release Microsoft

“Language is deeply connected in culture and identity.”

Kevin Peesker, CEO Microsoft Canada

The development of the language software was driven by Microsoft in collaboration with the Government of Nunavut. “It is an honour and privilege to work with the Government of Nunavut on such an important project,” said Microsoft Canada chief executive Kevin Peesker. “Language is deeply connected in culture and identity. We believe technology can help protect heritage and preserve language.” In Nunavut, about 40,000 people speak Inukitut, and it has also been the official language in the self-governing region since 2008. Therefore, this innovation is also very important and welcome for the Government of Nunavut. This is because the innovation will make it even easier to communicate with more remote locations within Nunavut. Because of its remoteness, online connectivity (often via satellite) is the easiest means of communication between regions.

Last year, Nunavut experienced a super-GAU when a ransomware attack crippled the region’s entire communications. In such an attack, the victim is supposed to pay a ransom to the hackers to get the system unlocked again. According to the government, no money was paid at the time. But the restoration also cost a lot of money and time. Image: Nunatsiaq News

But this also has its pitfalls, especially in terms of security. Nunavut had to go through this sad experience last year when a ransomware attack crippled the entire Nunavut administration. At the time, Microsoft was one of the companies that had helped Nunavut regain control of the situation. That also led the administration to modernize its system and switch to Microsoft Teams. This means that, in addition to security, the integration of the translation software can now be guaranteed at all levels. “Our collaboration with Microsoft allowed us to advance our information technology infrastructure by leaps and bounds,” says Dean Wells, corporate chief information officer for the Government of Nunavut. The switch to Teams paid off especially during the pandemic, as travel between locations in Nunavut has also been kept to an absolute minimum, especially now that the virus has also found its way into Nunavut.

Virtually every year, the people of Chukotka and Alaska celebrate the Beringia Arctic Games, a festival of culture and sports. In this event, the towns on the Bering Strait compete in various sports, dance performances and other areas. It’s also an opportunity to catch up and see distant relatives. One of the unifying elements is language. Picture: Michael Wenger

Actually, Inuktitut is a dialect group within the Inuit languages. But the term is also used for the complete family of Inuit languages. In addition to Nunavut, Inuktitut also is an official language in the Northwest Territories and a recognized minority language in parts of the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland/Labrador and Yukon. The script used for Inuktitut today is based on the Cree Native syllabary. In the mid-19th century, Methodist James Evans developed writing (called titirausiq nutaaq), then actually for the Cree and other First Nations peoples. But the script endured the test of time and is now officially used in Nunavut to represent Inuktitut. Since Inuktitut belongs to the Inuit-Yupik-Unangan languages, people from Russia’s Chukotka to Alaska to West Greenland can more or less communicate with the inhabitants of Nunavut. This also enables cultural and social exchange between the regions. Because in many areas the use of the own language was forbidden for a long time, also in today’s Nunavut. That’s why the inclusion of Inuktitut is a great victory for the indigenous people, who for millennia had communicated only orally… and had done well with it.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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