Inuktitut language interpreters and translators from across the country have voted to adopt a unified roman orthography system in hopes of saving and modernizing their language.

"We were caught off-guard," said Sarah Leonardis, a translator who also works with CBC North.

"We expected the vote to be a 'no' so it was a shock," added Leonardis, who explained that conference delegates voted 44 to 39 to adopt a unified roman orthography system.

Dozens of translators and interpreters from all over Canada have come together in Iqaluit for Apqutauvugut, a conference to discuss standards and terminology for the Inuktitut language. The conference is hosted by the territory's language authority, Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit, Nunavuts department of Culture and Heritage and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

Suicide prevention in Inuktitut

Interpreters/translators debated how best to say 'suicide prevention' in Inuktitut. Igalaaq host Madeleine Allakariallak noted several variations using syllabics. (Madeleine Allakariallak/CBC)

The goal of the conference, which wraps up Feb. 12, is to create a series of recommendations that will guide the future of the profession. 

Conference delegates are also working to standardize some words, and invent others. 

A highlight at the conference was the vote on the future of written Inuktitut.

This week's gathering follows a language summit that took place in Iqaluit this past August. That's where a task force, launched by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, recommended exploring the use of roman orthography (the alphabet used by European languages) instead of syllabics — distinct characters originally imported by missionaries who had developed them for the Cree. 

It's widely believed the move could make the language easier to learn and use. 

Piita Irniq, Nunavut's former commissioner, raised a concern about the lack of officials representing Inuit organizations and the various governmental departments at this week's meeting.

He said as the people responsible for the livelihood of Inuktitut, these officials should be at the table.


  • An earlier headline on this story said "Inuit translators vote to leave syllabics behind." In fact, translators voted to move ahead with a unified writing system for Inuktitut in Roman orthography.
    Feb 11, 2016 2:29 PM CT