Facebook adds Inupiaq as new language option

Facebook recently announced the addition of Inupiaq as one of their official language options. Several Inupiaq speakers worked on the translations in a crowdsourcing process.

Yosty Storms, regional director for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, sees this new feature as a positive.

“I think it’s a really good thing… to help bring back a language or just to get more people in general to use it,” Storms said.

She was raised in Unalakleet, a community on the West Coast of Alaska with roughly 700 inhabitants. Inupiaq played an important role in Storms’ childhood and youth.

“I was brought up with those Inupiaq values,” Storms said. “I grew up with my grandmother living right next door and she spoke Inupiaq.”

Whenever her grandmother’s friends came over, Storms and her siblings would listen to the conversations in Inupiaq.

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“We never really became fluent, but we were able to pick up on many words and slang terms,” Storms said.

In her elementary and middle schools, many students took bicultural and bilingual classes for Inupiaq and English. Now, with Facebook having Inupiaq as a translation option, she thinks that more people will be able to use the language on a regular basis.

“I know that there’s a lot of folks who use social media pretty much every day, so they’ll actually be able to apply it to everyday life. It’s a great tool for getting the younger folks, the younger generation interested in wanting to bring back a language,” Storms said.

Facebook allows users to request the translation of its diverse functions into their native languages. The social media network is meant to be a “community that transcends regions, cultures, and languages,” according to Facebook’s community statement.

Once a translation request is accepted, a language portal is opened in which speakers can collaborate on the translation project.

The crowdsourcing process for Inupiaq started in early 2017. About 13,500 Inupiaq people live in Alaska, of which 3,000 speak the language.

At ANSEP, Storms works with middle school students from different Native Alaskan groups all over the state. She hopes that more Native languages will be added to Facebook in the future.

“It’s their culture, it’s their identity and it’s who they are. It’s really important to recognize that,” Storms said.

To Amber Sims, transition advisor for UAA Native Student Services, Facebook’s addition of Inupiaq came as a surprise.

“It is amazing for one of our languages to be added onto Facebook,” Sims said. “It’s one thing to speak it, but it’s another thing to read it and write it. That’s going to be interesting.”

Sims, who is Alaska Athabascan, said she would be happy to see this “language revitalization” continue, helping people to be “reconnected with this part of their history.”

“This opens the door for so much more to happen,” Sims said. “It’s also great for folks that are non-native but value and honor our customs and traditions. It gives them another way to communicate and learn about the language.”

UAA is offering a course in elementary Inupiaq this fall semester.

For now, Inupiaq will only be available for the browser version, not for the Facebook app. Users can submit language requests in Facebook’s help center.