Iñupiatun on Facebook

Sometimes making progress on a project just involves connecting with the right people. One mini-grant funded by the Alaska Humanities Forum this year, “Connecting Speakers and Learners: Iñupiatun on Facebook”, came together based on a few friends and colleagues coming together to take on a daunting task: the translation of Facebook into Iñupiatun, otherwise known as the Iñupiaq language.

The project started with grantee Myles Creed reaching out to Grant Magdanz, a recent Computer Science graduate at UW, who grew up with Creed in the Iñupiat community of Kotzebue (Qikiqtaġruk). The two attempted to use some external applications to translate Facebook, but nothing quite worked. Having recently moved to Silicon Valley, Magdanz thought to reach out to a friend he knew at Facebook about the possibility of adding Iñupiatun as an option for the built-in Facebook Translations applications. Working together with his brother Reid, Magdanz was able to get Iñupiatun added.

Creed, along with his friend Cordelia Qiġñaaq Kellie, sought to publicize the Translations application, with the hope that enough volunteers would be able to translate the interface on their home computers. Unfortunately, for languages with small speaker populations, volunteer translations are not always enough, and this seemed to be the case for the Iñupiatun Translations application.

Creed, a former employee of the Alaska Humanities Forum, knew that AKHF might be able to help with their mini-grants program, and applied and received funding of $2,000.

Excited about the project, Creed promptly hired professional translators Muriel Qutuk Hopson and Jana Pausauraq Harcharek. Since the beginning of the grant period, Hopson and Harcharek have been using the Facebook Translations application to translate Facebook concepts into Iñupiatun.

Some difficulties arise when concepts do not exist in Iñupiatun, but do exist on Facebook. Hopson and Harcharek have had to be creative about how to translate some of these new terms. For example, they entered terms such as “qiñiġaaġa" for "selfie", literally "my photo/picture" or "kiiñaurat" for "emoticons", literally "little faces". A continuing challenge will be the sheer amount of translations that will be undertaken, and trusting in the machine learning of the application, but the team of friends and colleagues involved with this project are confident that by working together as a team, a Facebook interface in Iñupiatun will soon become a reality.


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