Updated 30 August, 2021
This page gathers basic information about the Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics (UCAS) script and its use for the Eastern Canadian Inuktitut language, focusing particularly on usage in Nunavut and Nunavik. It aims (generally) to provide an overview of the orthography and typographic features, and (specifically) to advise how to write Inuktitut using Unicode.
Phonetic transcriptions on this page should be treated as an approximate guide, only. Many are more phonemic than phonetic, and there may be variations depending on the source of the transcription.
ᐃᓚᖓ 1. ᐃᓅᔪᓕᒫᑦ ᐊᓂᖅᑎᕆᔪᓕᒫᑦ ᐃᓅᓚᐅᕐᒪᑕ ᐃᓱᒪᕐᓱᕐᖢᑎᒃ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐊᔾᔨᐅᖃᑎᒌᒃᖢᑎᒃ ᓂᕐᓱᐊᖑᓂᒃᑯᑦ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐱᔪᓐᓇᐃᑎᑎᒍᑦ. ᐃᓱᖃᖅᑐᖁᑎᖃᕐᑎᑕᐅᕙᓕᕐᐳᑦ ᐱᔾᔪᑎᖃᕐᓂᒃᑯᑦ ᖃᑕᙳᑎᒌᑦᑎᐊᕆᐊᖃᕐᓂᒃᑯᓪᓗ.
ᐃᓚᖕᒐ 2. ᑭᓇᒃᑯᑐᐃᓐᓇᓕᒫᑦᑎᐊᑦ ᐱᔪᒃᓴᐅᑕᐃᓐᓇᑦᑎᐊᖕᒍᕗᑦ ᑕᒪᐃᓐᓄᓕᒫᖅ ᐱᔪᓐᓇᐃᑎᓂᒃ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐃᓱᒪᖅᓱᕈᓐᓇᐃᑎᓂᒃ ᐃᓕᖕᒐᓂᓕᐅᖅᑕᐅᓯᒪᔭᕇᖕᒪᑕ ᓇᓗᓇᐃᔭᐅᑎᖃᑦᑎᐊᑦᖢᑎᒃᓗ ᑖᒃᑯᑎᒎᓇᖅ, ᐊᔾᔨᐅᙱᖃᑎᒌᖕᓂᓕᕆᓗᐊᙱᓪᓗᑎᒃ ᓇᓪᓕᐊᒍᑐᐃᓐᓇᖅ, ᓲᕐᓗ ᓇᓂᕐᒥᐅᑕᐅᓂᕐᒥᒃᑎᒍᑦ, ᐅᕙᓂᖃᑎᒌᙱᓐᓂᕐᒥᖅᑎᒍᑦ, ᐊᕐᓇᐅᓂᖕᒍ ᐊᖕᒍᑕᐅᓂᖕᒐ ᐃᓱᒪᒋᓇᒍ, ᐅᖃᐅᓯᖃᖃᑎᒌᙱᓂᖅ, ᐅᒃᐱᕐᕕᖃᕐᓂᖅ ᑐᒃᓯᐊᕐᕕᖕᒥᖕᓂᒃ, ᒐᕙᒪᓕᕆᐅᑎᖃᕐᓂᖅ ᐅᕝᕙᓗ ᐊᓯᐊᒍᑦ ᑕᒪᒃᑯᐊ ᐃᓯᒪᒋᔪᓐᓇᖅᑕᖕᒋᑦ ᓯᖁᑎᒋᓇᒋᑦ, ᓇᓂᑐᐃᓐᓇᖅ ᓄᓇᒋᔭᐅᔪᒥᑦ ᐅᕝᕙᓘᓐᓃᑦ ᐊᓂᖅᑎᕆᔪᓐᓇᕐᓂᕐᒥᑎᒍᑦ, ᓄᓇᖃᖅᓂᒃᑯᑦ, ᐃᕐᓂᐊᖕᒍᓯᒪᓂᒃᑯᑦ ᐅᕝᕙᓘᓐᓃᑦ ᐊᓱᖕᒋᓐᓂᒃ. ᓯᓕᒃᑲᓐᓂᖅᑕᐅᖅ, ᐊᔾᔨᐅᙱᑎᑦᑎᔪᑕᐅᕙᒃᑐᑦ ᓴᓇᔭᐅᒪᔪᓐᓃᕐᓗᑎᒃ ᒐᕙᒪᐅᑎᓕᕆᔨᓄᐊᖅᑕᐅᕙᒃᑐᑦ, ᒪᓕᒐᑎᒍᑦ ᑲᒪᕕᒋᔪᓐᓇᖅᑕᖕᒐᒎᕈᑕᐅᕙᒃᑐᑦ ᐅᕝᕙᓘᓐᓃᑦ ᓯᕐᓚᔪᐊᕐᒥᐅᓄᑦ ᐊᑐᒐᐅᓕᖅᑕᖅᑐᑦ ᑎᑎᕋᕐᓯᒪᔪᑦ ᓄᓇᖓᓄᑦ ᓄᓇᖁᑎᒋᔭᐅᔪᒧᓪᓘᓐᓃᑦ ᓇᓪᓕᐊᕐᓄᑦ ᑖᓐᓇ ᐃᓄᒃᑐᖓ ᐊᑕᓪᓚᑦᑖᕐᒪᖔᑦ ᐸᓪᓗ, ᐃᓄᑑᔾᔨᓂᐊᕐᒪᖔᑦ, ᐊᖏᒐᒃᓴᐅᖕᒪᖔᑦ, ᓇᖕᒥᓂᖅ ᒐᕙᓕᐅᕿᒪᙱᑦᑑᖕᒪᖔᑦ ᐅᕝᕙᓘᓐᓃᑦ ᐅᖃᕐᓯᒪᓂᖓ ᓇᓪᓕᐊᑐᐃᓐᓇᖅ ᐊᓯᖏᑎᒍᑦ ᑭᒡᓕᓕᐅᕈᑕᐅᓯᒪᖃᑦᑕᖅᑐᑦ ᐱᖁᔭᕐᔪᐊᑦ ᐊᑕᔪᑐᖃᐃᑦ ᒪᓕᒃᖢᒋᑦ.
Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics are used for a range of Algonquin and Inuit orthographies indigenous to Canada, including Cree, Ojibwe, Inuktitut, and occasionally Blackfoot languages.
Inuktitut syllabics are used in Canada by the Inuktitut-speaking Inuit of the territory of Nunavut and the Nunavik region in Quebec. The script is used by governmental agencies and in business, education, and media.
In 1976, the Language Commission of the Inuit Cultural Institute made Inuktitut syllabics the co-official script for the Inuit languages, along with the Latin script and standardised both orthographies.
ᖃᓂᐅᔮᖅᐸᐃᑦ qaniujaːqpaˈit Inuktitut syllabics ᖃᓕᐅᔮᖅᐸᐃᑦ qaliujaːqpait Latin orthography ᑎᑎᕋᐅᓯᖅ ᓄᑖᖅ titiʁausiq nutaːq new orthography (post 1976) ᑎᑎᕋᐅᓰᑦ ᓄᑕᐅᓐᖏᑦᑐᑦ titiʁausiːt nutaunŋittut old (pre-1976) system
The 'Inuktitut language' comprises a number of similar dialects, which have divergeant vocabulary and pronunciation. The following lists dialects in Nunavit: Inuinnaqtun, Nattilingmiutut, Qamani’tuarmiutut, Paallirmiutut, Aivilingmiutut, North Qikiqtaaluk, Central Qikiqtaaluk, South Qikiqtaaluk (includes the capital, Iqaluit), and Sanikiluarmiutut. The orthography follows the sounds spoken, which leads to different spellings for the different dialects. Some dialects use only the Latin orthography.
The Canadian syllabic script was first created in 1840 by the British missionary James Evans for writing the Swampy Cree dialect. The individual symbols may represent different phonemes for each language.
The syllabic script was first adapted to represent Inuktitut around the middle of the 1800s, again by missionaries, and early print runs occurred in the 1870s.ws,#History
Sources Scriptsource and Wikipedia.
The Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabary is a featural syllabary, ie. each symbol typically represents both a consonant and a vowel, but vowel components are indicated by standardised rotations of the glyph shape. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Eastern Canadian Inuktitut orthography.
The Inuit languages can be written using the syllabic script, or using a Latin transcription. The former is widely used in eastern dialects, whereas the latter is more common in the west.
The UCAS script runs left to right in horizontal lines.
The majority of symbols in the syllabary represesent a CV pairing, and the symbol is rotated to indicate whether the vowel is i, u, or a, or in some dialects ai.
Syllable-final consonants (ie. not followed by a vowel), are represented by a set of superscript symbols.
A small dot above a symbol indicates a lengthened vowel, but there are precomposed code points for all combinations of base plus diacritics. Inuktitut uses no combining marks.
Numbers are written using ASCII digits.
The denomination Eastern Canadian Inuktitut includes a number of dialects, with differences in pronunciation. The charts here attempt to cover all the possibilities. Some dialects won't use certain sounds.
Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.
Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones. Source Wikipedia.
Where eastern dialects (South Qikiqtaaluk) use s, eg. ᑭᓴᐅᑦ kⁱsᵃut kisaut anchor western dialects (Paallirmiutut) use h, eg. ᑭᓴᖅ kⁱsᵃq kihaq anchor In some foreign words western dialects may use the sound s, such as ᓱᑲᖅ sᵘkᵃq sukaq sugar and eastern dialects may use h,t eg. ᕼᐋᑭᕐᕕᒃ ʜākⁱrvⁱk haːkiʁvik hockey arena
Several dialects replace phonemes with a glottal stop, ʔ, however the original phoneme it replaces varies from dialect to dialect,m eg. ᑐᐱˈᒥ tᵘpⁱˈmⁱ tupiʔmi in a tent
Eastern dialects are more likely to collapse consonant clusters into geminated pairs. For example, compare these versions of the same word from western and eastern dialects, respectively:tᐅᑉᓛᖅ uplᵃ̱q ublaːq morning ᐅᓪᓛᖅ ullᵃ̱q ullaːq morning
Speakers of North Qikiqtaaluk dialect, Nattilingmiutut, Aivilingmiutut and Pallirmiutut make the sound ɬ, eg. (North Qikiqtaaluk)ᐊᒃᖢᓈᖅ akɫᵘnᵃ̱q akɬunaːq rope but other dialects don't have it in their phonetic repertoire, eg. (South Qikiqtaaluk)ᐊᑦᑐᓈᖅ attᵘnᵃ̱q attunaːq and (Inuinnaqtun)ᐊᒃᓱᓈᖅ aksᵘnᵃ̱q akhunaːq
The b sound is only used in certain dialects, and almost always before l, eg. (Inuinnaqtun)ᖃᑉᓗ qᵃplᵘ qablu eyebrow whereas elsewhere geminated sounds are common, eg. (South Qikiqtaaluk)ᖃᓪᓗ qᵃllᵘ qallu
The following indicates the syllabic structure of Inuktitut syllables.m
VV sequence may consist of a long vowel, eg. ᐆᒪ or a sequence of 2 different vowels, eg. ᑕᐃᓇ There are usually never more than two consecutive vowels.m
Where a syllable with a closing consonant is followed by a syllable with an opening consonant, a cluster arises, eg. ᑐᒃᑐ Clusters are usually only 2 consonants in length. Special final consonant signs are used at the end of a syllable, or in other words at the beginning of a cluster.m
A single consonant in the middle of a word is the opening consonant of a syllable, eg. ᐊᐃᕕᖅ is composed of the syllables ai and viq.m
The sounds of consonants may change when they are part of a cluster due to phonetic rules that determine which consonant sounds can be together. This is particularly relevant when attaching morphemic suffixes, eg. ᐃᓄᒃ + ᒧᑦ inᵘk + mᵘt inuk+mut to a person becomes ᐃᓄᖕᒧᑦm
For more details, see Inuktitut Linguistics for Technocrats. These sound changes are reflected in the written text.
The core of the script is a set of V or CV syllables, and the superscripts used for syllable-final consonants.
Each consonant can be followed by one of 4 vowel sounds (though not all combinations exist). The vowel sound for a given syllable is indicated by the rotation of the basic glyph. The illustration below is based on the p consonant.
The basic set of syllable glyphs used for Inuktitut includes the following.
There is also a set of standalone vowel glyphs, which can be seen below, and some special glyphs for consonant clusters.
Three of the vowels have both short and long forms, the latter indicated by a dot diacritic. These are all single precomposed code points. They don't decompose.
Here is the complete set of syllables beginning with the sound p.
The last symbol just above is a superscript, usually visually similar to the -a syllable, which indicates a consonant sound without a following vowel. These glyphs are used for the syllable-final consonants, which occur in (C)VC sequences.
Pronunciations of words and their suffixes can vary from dialect to dialect but, with the exception of the s~h distinction, words are generally written as they are pronounced. In the series ᓯᓱᓴ, each syllable starts with the sound s in eastern (Qikiqtaaluk) dialects, but in western dialects, the pronunciation of the same symbols begins with h.
The -ai vowels were initially dropped due to typewriter-related constraints, but have recently been reintroduced in Nunavik. ᐯ pᵃⁱ pai would be spelled ᐸᐃ pᵃi pai in Nunavut.i
ᖯ [U+15AF CANADIAN SYLLABICS AIVILIK B] is used to represent sounds from Inuvialuktun dialects or borrowed words from other languages. It represents a b sound in bl or bj. This sound may also be written using ᑉ [U+1449 CANADIAN SYLLABICS P],i eg. ᐅᑉᓛᖅ uplᵃ̱q ublaːq morning
ᕼ [U+157C CANADIAN SYLLABICS NUNAVUT H] is used to represent a borrowed h in eastern dialects, eg. ᕼᐋᑭᕐᕕᒃ ʜākⁱrvⁱk haːkiʁvik hockey arena In western dialects, the s- series produces this sound, so ᓵ [U+14F5 CANADIAN SYLLABICS SAA] can be used.i
Glottal stop. As mentioned earlier, several dialects have a glottal stop, ʔ, that replaces an original phoneme. Many writers simply use the original phoneme: others use the apostrophe in both Latin and syllabics,m eg. compare these versions of the word 'in a tent':ᑐᐱᕐᒥ tᵘpⁱrmⁱ tupiʁmi ᑐᐱˈᒥ tᵘpⁱˈmⁱ tupiʔmi
Mills describes an h- series of syllables that is sometimes used in Nunavit.r
Consonant clusters only occur where one syllable ends in a consonant and the next syllable begins with one. They therefore involve the use of final consonant symbols, eg. ᐃᒡᓗ iglᵘ iglu house
Generally usage is straightforward. But there are some wrinkles.
Nng.Two ŋ consonants occuring together are typically represented using a distinct series of code points, eg. ᐅᒥᐊᙳᐊᖅ umⁱaŋᵑᵘaq (umiannguaq) umiaŋŋuaq toy boat
Note that the Latin orthography also changes, dropping the first g from ngng to give nng.
According to Mills,r Nunavik continues to use ᖕᖏ ŋŋi (ŋŋi) He also says that they typically use an alternate glyph shape rather than the ng-ligature, which looks like an 8.
Qq. Rather than *...ᖅᕿ ...qqi (qqi) the orthography substitutes ᑭ [U+146D CANADIAN SYLLABICS KI] for ᕿ [U+157F CANADIAN SYLLABICS QI], resulting in the sequence ...ᖅᑭ qki (qqi) eg. ᐅᑕᖅᑭᔪᖅ utᵃqkⁱjᵘq utaqqijuq she waitsThe Latin orthography doesn't apply this change.
Clusters with j. In clusters that end with j the pronunciation is generally d͡ʒ, including the geminate jj,i eg. ᓂᔾᔭᔪᑦ nⁱjjᵃjᵘt (nijjajut) nid͡ʒajut music
ᖕᒋ [U+1595 CANADIAN SYLLABICS NG + U+148B CANADIAN SYLLABICS CI] may cause some confusion, since it looks the same as ᖏ [U+158F CANADIAN SYLLABICS NGI], eg. compare ᑭᒍᑕᖕᒋᕐᓇᖅ kⁱgᵘtᵃŋgⁱrnᵃq kigutanggiʁnaq blueberryᑲᖏᖅᑐᒃ kᵃŋⁱqtᵘk kaŋiqtuk inlet, fjord
Inuktitut uses ASCII digits.
The UCAS script runs left to right in horizontal lines.
bidi_class properties for characters in the Inuktitut orthography described here.
This section brings together information about the following topics: writing styles; cursive text; context-based shaping; context-based positioning; baselines, line height, etc.; font styles; case & other character transforms.
You can experiment with examples using the Inuktitut character app.
Inuktitut has no context-based shaping or positioning, and is not cursive.
It has no special requirements for baseline alignment between mixed scripts or in general.
The orthography has no case distinction, and no special transforms are needed to convert between characters.
Words are separated by spaces, however 'words' in Inuktitut can be quite complicated and often long, eg. parimunngauniralauqsimanngittunga means I never said I wanted to go to Paris.m
Hyphens are sometimes used. fig_hyphen shows 3 hyphens used inside words or to attach numbers to words.
, [U+002C COMMA]
; [U+003B SEMICOLON]
: [U+003A COLON]
. [U+002E FULL STOP]
Inuktitut uses western punctuation.
The Unicode block contains two punctuation marks, ᐀ [U+1400 CANADIAN SYLLABICS HYPHEN] and ᙮ [U+166E CANADIAN SYLLABICS FULL STOP], but they are not used for Inuktitut.
|initial||” [U+201D RIGHT DOUBLE QUOTATION MARK]|
|nested||’ [U+2019 RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK]|
eg. “ᑕᒪᓐᓇ ᓂᕆᐅᒋᓚᐅᙱᑕᕗᑦ, ᑭᓯᐊᓂᓕ ᑲᒪᒋᓗᐊᙱᖢᑎᒍ,” ᑲᓪᓗᒃ ᐅᖃᓚᐅᕐᑐᖅ ᑐᓴᕋᒥ ᑐᓴᒐᒃᓴᓂᒃ.
Observation: Use of m-dash in newspaper: ᐃᓱᒪᔪᖓᓕ ᖃᓄᐃᓕᐅᕈᑎᒃᓴᓄᑦ ᐸᕐᓇᐅᑎ ᑕᒪᑐᒪᓂ ᐊᕐᕌᒍᒥ ᐊᑐᕆᐊᖃᓕᕐᓂᖓᓂᒃ—ᐃᓚᒋᔭᐅᔪᑦ ᐅᑕᖅᑭᓯᒪᖕᒪᑕ.
By default, lines are broken at inter-word spaces. As in almost all writing systems, certain punctuation characters should not appear at the end or the start of a line.
Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the modern Inuktitut orthography.
Inuktitut uses hyphenation when words are broken at the end of a line. This is quite important for Inuktitut because the words can become very long (see word).
The primary opportunities for full justification lie in inter-word spaces. Because Inuktitut words tend to be very long, hyphenation is extremely useful for managing justification in narrow columns. Even so, fig_justification shows that spaces can become reasonably large in constrained spaces.
Inuktitut can highlight initial letters in a paragraph. fig_initials shows how this can lead to a final consonant standing alone at the beginning of the continuation text; it is not part of the highlighted initial.
This section is for any features that are specific to UCAS and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.
According to ScriptSource, the Unified Canadian Syllabics script is used for the following languages: