Facebook seeks help translating its interface into the language of the North

By Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

Facebook is asking Inuktut speakers for their help in translating the social networking site into the language of the North.

Starting on Monday, which is also Nunavut Day, Inuktut speakers can access the Translate Facebook app, where they will be presented with words and phrases from Facebook’s interface and asked to provide an Inuktut translation.

People can also vote on the suggestions, and the results will eventually be used for an Inuktut version of Facebook that will be launched sometime next year.

Kevin Chan, head of public policy at Facebook Canada, said the idea follows a roundtable with Indigenous leaders who said they wanted a Facebook interface in their own language.

“It will start presenting to you various words — basically all of the phrases and words that make up the Facebook interface — so what linguists call strings,” Chan explained.

“That would mean simple things like the ‘share’ and ‘comment’ buttons, having those read in Inuktut. But there are also more complicated phrases that are part of the Facebook interface as well,” he said.

“All of those things would be translated into Inuktut.”

Inuktut refers to all languages spoken by the Inuit, including the Inuktitut dialect spoken on Baffin Island.

Inuktut speakers on Facebook can already type posts in syllabics, a written version of the language. But Chan said one of the things Facebook heard during the roundtable was a desire for the interface for the site itself to be in Inuktut.

The interface won’t use syllabics, however. It will use Roman orthography, the alphabet used for English — a decision Chan explained was based on the recommendations from one of Facebook’s partner organizations in order to make the social networking site as accessible to as broad a group of people as possible.

Help on the project is coming from Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, which monitors the Inuit land claim, and Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit, Nunavut’s language authority.

“Facebook’s recognition of their role in the promotion and use of Inuktut is very much welcomed, particularly in Nunavut, where it is the public majority language,” Aluki Kotierk, President at Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, said in a news release.

“This is refreshing because Inuit in Nunavut use Facebook to connect.”

Chan said Facebook use in the North is higher than the national average.

It’s partly a reason why Facebook has partnered with organizations in the North before. Last year, it hosted the Boost Your Community summit in Iqaluit, where a five-year plan aimed at reducing the number of suicides in Nunavut was launched.

Statistics Canada reports the number of Inuit in Nunavut whose mother tongue is Inuktut was 80 per cent in 2011. However, that had dropped from 88 per cent in 1996, and use of the language in homes fell to 61 per cent from 76 per cent during the same period.

“Providing an interface and allowing communications in our language is one of the ways we can encourage our people to use our language in all areas, including the very widely used social media,” Mary Thompson, Chairperson of the Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit, said in a news release.

—with files from Bob Weber.

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