Team translates Bible into Inuktitut

Published June 1, 2002

Bible translation team: Jonas Allooloo, Benjamin Arreak, Andrew Atagotaaluk and Joshua Arreak.

The Canadian Bible Society, working with a translation team of Inuit Anglican clergy, has completed the 24-year task of translating the Bible into Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit of the eastern Arctic and northern Quebec.

“Translating the Bible into Inuktitut has given our language importance and has preserved it,” said Canon Jonas Allooloo, a member of the team. The group also included Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk, Canon Benjamin Arreak, Rev. Joshua Arreak and Rev. James Nashak, all from the diocese of the Arctic.

The monumental task – the Old Testament and New Testament contain about 750,000 words – was not simply a matter of straight translation. It posed the challenge of translating words and concepts from a Middle Eastern desert culture into the language of a land with no trees and vast amounts of ice and snow.

“Many living languages have no words to describe daily life in ancient Palestine. The Inuit people recognize six or seven seasons that do not really correspond either to English terms (spring, summer, fall, winter) or to biblical seasons (rainy, dry),” said Hart Wiens, director of scripture translation for the Toronto-based Canadian Bible Society.

“From the beginning of the project, we were all overwhelmed by the responsibility of translating God’s word into the Inuktitut language. We were afraid and yet compelled to move forward because the people needed the Bible in their language,” said Canon Arreak.

About 28,000 people living in Nunavut, Quebec and the Northwest Territories speak Inuktitut, which existed as an oral language for thousands of years until Anglican priest Rev.Edmund Peck introduced a syllabic system in the late 19th century. It is one of the three official languages (the others being French and English) of Nunavut.

The Inuktitut Bible project began in 1978, when Dr. Eugene Nida, now 90 years old and an expert on Bible translation, travelled to Baffin Island to recruit translators. The team met at various locations in the Arctic over the years and also traveled to the bible society’s translation office in Kitchener, Ont. to work exclusively on the project for four to six weeks at a time, the bible society said.

The new Bible will not be widely available until 2005, after final checks, proofreading, printing and the preparation of Inuktitut study guides are completed.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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