The social media platform Facebook is available in numerous languages – and since July 8, 2022, also in the Inuit language Inuktitut. For four years, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc, the land claims organization in Nunavut, and Meta worked together to make the Facebook interface on desktop computers also available in Inuktitut. The introduction of Inuktitut on Facebook is intended to promote its daily use among the Inuit.
The Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic are widely scattered and many of them can only be reached by air. Therefore, Facebook is a much-used communication medium among the Inuit, helping them stay in touch with family members and friends. To promote the daily use of their own language, the idea of translating Facebook to Inuktitut was born in 2018.
“So it’s really important as Inuit that we see our language in every aspect of our lives and that it’s not only used in our homes, but that we see it in public, on television, hear it on radio and, in that vein, it makes sense that we’re able to use it in social media as well,” Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. told the news platform Eye on the Arctic.
Communities have set up local Facebook groups where locals can share and access all information, from organizing events to returning lost items.
The project is important not only for young people who find their language in the technical world, but also for the older ones who speak only Inuktitut and thus have the opportunity to participate fully, Kotierk said.
One difficulty before implementing the project was finding the right terminology. In Arctic Canada, dozens of Inuit dialects are spoken and there is no single Inuit language, which made it difficult to find universally understood translations for terms such as “like” or “page”.
Therefore, it was decided to use the most commonly spoken Inuit dialect, Inuktitut. The translation of the approximately 4,500 words was done by the Pirurvik Centre in Iqaluit, which deals with Inuit language, culture and well-being, in collaboration with other Inuktitut speakers. The center had to create some new words such as “Facebook makpigaq,” which means “Facebook page.”
“It’s so exciting because I’ve always been of the view that the language doesn’t just express who we are and how we fit into the world, but it’s a practical language that we can use in our lives in 2022. It’s really important as Inuit that we develop new terminology for concepts or products that were not part of our culturally previously but that can easily have a word that we understand,” Kotierk says. The integration of Inuktitut on Facebook is an important contribution to making the Inuit language more visible, Kotierk adds.
The timing of the launch is fitting in two ways: this year marked the start of UNESCO’s Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032, and the official launch on Facebook occurred on July 8, the day before Nunavut Day. “We’re proudly asserting our language in modern technology as a way to assert who we are, right on Nunavut Day, a day all Inuit in Nunavut celebrate as the day Nunavut became a territory and that Inuit were the ones that were able to achieve that,” Kotierk says.
Julia Hager, PolarJournal
More on the topic: