Microsoft can now translate words into Inuktitut on its platforms

IQALUIT — There's a new language option on Microsoft's translation software, one spoken primarily by people in the largest territory in Canada.

Inuktitut, a dialect of Inuktut used by over 40,000 people across Nunavut and Northern Canada, is now one of 70 language options available through Microsoft's translator.

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The translation service uses Inuktitut syllabics and is also available on Microsoft Office and Microsoft Bing Translator. It can also be used with Microsoft's speech-to-text translation services.

Microsoft said Wednesday that the Government of Nunavut led the initiative to add Inuktitut to the company's software and helped provide the data to include it.

"For thousands of years, Inuit have spoken Inuktut across the world. It’s amazing how we have kept Inuktut strong by adapting to changes in our culture. Embracing new technology is a perfect example of our resilience," said Margaret Nakashuk, Nunavut's minister of culture and heritage, in a news release.

"Let’s take the time to celebrate this significant milestone, knowing that it is a strong step on the path to the continued revitalization of Inuktut."

According to Statistics Canada, the use of Inuit languages, including Inuktitut in Nunavut, declined between 2001 and 2016. Between those years, the number of Nunavut Inuit who spoke an Inuit language as their mother tongue dropped to 65 per cent from 72 per cent.

Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, said the project to add Inuktitut to its translation software began last June.

"What we hope it means is that it will help open up all of the documents of the world in any language which they currently exist, so that (artificial intelligence) and computers can translate them into this dialect and vice versa," Smith said.

He said the software will also get better the more people use it.

"If you catch a word that it didn't get quite right ... you might enter a correction and when you do, the system realizes that it made a mistake and the system learns from it," he said.

"The A.I. engine needs to be trained."

The addition of Inuktitut is part of Microsoft's Artificial Intelligence for Cultural Heritage Program, a $10-million fund to preserve cultural heritage.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

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