Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics orthography notes

Updated 7 February, 2023

This page brings together 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 to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Eastern Canadian Inuktitut using Unicode.


Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details. Source
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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.

Usage & history

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,#History

Sources Scriptsource and Wikipedia.

Basic features

The Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabary is a featural syllabary, where the majority of symbols represent 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.

Character index



Basic syllables


Extended consonants











Items to show in lists


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.

Vowel sounds

i u a

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
palatal velar uvular glottal
stop p b t     ɟ k q ʔ
fricative v   s ɬ     ɣ ʁ h
nasal m   n     ŋ  
approximant     l   j    

Where eastern dialects (South Qikiqtaaluk) use s, eg.


western dialects (Paallirmiutut) use h, eg.


In some foreign words western dialects may use the sound s, such as


and eastern dialects may use h,t eg.


Several dialects replace phonemes with a glottal stop, ʔ, however the original phoneme it replaces varies from dialect to dialect,m eg.


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:t



Speakers of North Qikiqtaaluk dialect, Nattilingmiutut, Aivilingmiutut and Pallirmiutut make the sound ɬ, eg. (North Qikiqtaaluk)


but other dialects don't have it in their phonetic repertoire, eg. (South Qikiqtaaluk)


and (Inuinnaqtun)


The b sound is only used in certain dialects, and almost always before l, eg. (Inuinnaqtun)


whereas elsewhere geminated sounds are common, eg. (South Qikiqtaaluk)



The following indicates the syllabic structure of Inuktitut syllables.m


A 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 suffixesm, eg. ᐃᓄᒃ + ᒧᑦ inᵘk + mᵘt inuk+mut to a person becomes ᐃᓄᖕᒧᑦ

For more details, see Inuktitut Linguistics for Technocrats. These sound changes are reflected in the written text.


Syllable composition

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.

  i u a ai -
The core syllables for Inuktitut, arranged in matrix form.

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.

Vowel-only syllables


The -ai vowels were initially dropped due to typewriter-related constraints, but have recently been reintroduced in Nunavik. For example, the following show the Nunavik and Nunavut spellings, respectively, for the same syllablei: pᵃⁱ pai ᐸᐃ pᵃi pai

Consonant-vowel syllables







Other sonorants


Final consonants


Repertoire extension


[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 [U+1449 CANADIAN SYLLABICS P],i eg.


[U+157C CANADIAN SYLLABICS NUNAVUT H] is used to represent a borrowed h in eastern dialects, eg.


In western dialects, the s- series produces this sound, so [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':



Rare characters

Mills describes an h- series of syllables that is sometimes used in Nunavit.r


Consonant clusters & geminates

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.


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.



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 [U+146D CANADIAN SYLLABICS KI] for [U+157F CANADIAN SYLLABICS QI], resulting in the sequence ...ᖅᑭ qki qqi eg.


The 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.



ᖕᒋ [U+1595 CANADIAN SYLLABICS NG + U+148B CANADIAN SYLLABICS CI] may cause some confusion, since it looks the same as [U+158F CANADIAN SYLLABICS NGI], eg. compare




Inuktitut uses ASCII digits.

Text direction

The UCAS script runs left to right in horizontal lines.

Show default bidi_class properties for characters in the Inuktitut orthography described here.

Glyph shaping & positioning

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.

Font styling & weight



Since there are no combining marks or decompositions, grapheme clusters correspond to individual characters.

Grapheme clusters

Base | superscript

Each letter is a grapheme cluster, and there are no combining marks to extend them. Final consonant letters are also treated as grapheme clusters.

Click on the text version of this word to see more detail about the composition.


Punctuation & inline features

Word boundaries

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.

ᒐᕙᒪᒃᑯᑦ-ᓄᓇᖃᖅᑳᖅᑐᓄᓪᓗ ᒥᓂᔅᑕ ᑭᐅᕈᓕᓐ ᐸᓇᑦ ᐅᖃᓚᐅᕐᓯᒪᓂᑯ ᑭᐅᔾᔪᑎᐅᔪᑦ ᐱᐊᓂᒃᑕᐅᓯᒪᖁᓪᓗᓂᒋ ᐊᕐᕌᒍᖓᓂᒃ ᐅᓂᒃᑳᑦ ᓴᖅᑭᑕᐅᓚᐅᕐᓯᒪᓂᖓᒍᑦ, ᑭᓯᐊᓂᓕ ᒪᐃ 27-ᒥ ᐅᖃᓕᓚᐅᕐᑐᖅ ᐅᓇ ᓄᕙᒡᔪᐊᕐᓇᖅ-19 ᐋᓐᓂᐊᕕᒡᔪᐊᕐᓇᖅ ᓱᒃᑲᐃᒡᓕᕚᓪᓕᕈᑎᐅᓂᖓᓂᒃ ᐱᓕᕆᓂᐅᔪᓂᒃ.

Examples of hyphens in syllabics text.

Phrase & section boundaries


Inuktitut uses western punctuation.


, [U+002C COMMA]


: [U+003A COLON]


. [U+002E FULL STOP]



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.

Bracketed text


Inuktitut commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.

  start end





Inuktitut texts typically use quotation marks. Of course, due to keyboard design, quotations may also be surrounded by ASCII double and single quote marks.

  start end





eg. “ᑕᒪᓐᓇ ᓂᕆᐅᒋᓚᐅᙱᑕᕗᑦ, ᑭᓯᐊᓂᓕ ᑲᒪᒋᓗᐊᙱᖢᑎᒍ,” ᑲᓪᓗᒃ ᐅᖃᓚᐅᕐᑐᖅ ᑐᓴᕋᒥ ᑐᓴᒐᒃᓴᓂᒃ.



Abbreviation, ellipsis & repetition


Inline notes & annotations


Other punctuation

Observation: Use of m-dash in newspaper: ᐃᓱᒪᔪᖓᓕ ᖃᓄᐃᓕᐅᕈᑎᒃᓴᓄᑦ ᐸᕐᓇᐅᑎ ᑕᒪᑐᒪᓂ ᐊᕐᕌᒍᒥ ᐊᑐᕆᐊᖃᓕᕐᓂᖓᓂᒃ—ᐃᓚᒋᔭᐅᔪᑦ ᐅᑕᖅᑭᓯᒪᖕᒪᑕ.

Other inline text decoration


Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

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.

In-word line-breaks

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).

Hyphenation example
Examples of hyphenation in a newspaper column.

Line-edge rules

As in almost all writing systems, certain punctuation characters should not appear at the end or the start of a line. The Unicode line-break properties help applications decide whether a character should appear at the start or end of a line.

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the modern Inuktitut orthography.

The following list gives examples of typical behaviours for some of the characters used in modern Inuktitut. Context may affect the behaviour of some of these and other characters.

Click/tap on the characters to show what they are.

  • “ ‘ (   should not be the last character on a line.
  • ” ’ ) . , ; ! ? %   should not begin a new line.

Text alignment & justification

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.

Justification example
Full justification using expansion of inter-word spaces and hyphenation in a newspaper column.

Text spacing


This section looks at ways in which spacing is applied between characters over and above that which is introduced during justification.

Baselines, line height, etc.

Inuktitut uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.

Inuktitut has no combining characters, and no ascenders or descenders, but the long vowel dot does sit slightly higher than the normal top line of the font.

To give an approximate idea, fig_baselines compares Latin and Inuktitut glyphs from the Noto Sans Canadian Aboriginal font. The basic height of Inuktitut letters is usually that of the Latin cap-height, however the long vowel dot appears above the Latin ascender line, creating a need for slightly larger line spacing.

Font metrics for Latin text compared with Inuktitut glyphs in the Noto Sans Canadian Aboriginal font.

fig_baselines_other shows similar comparisons for the Euphemia UCAS and Gadugi fonts.

Hhqxᐱᐲᕿᖡᓃᖐᕼᑉᖅᖕ Hhqxᐱᐲᕿᖡᓃᖐᕼᑉᖅᖕ
Latin font metrics compared with Inuktitut glyphs in the Euphemia UCAS (top) and Gadugi (bottom) fonts.

Counters, lists, etc.


Styling initials

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.

A highlighted initial in a paragraph of newsprint.

Page & book layout

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.

Online resources

  1. East Cree Language Resources, esp. Read-along pages
  2. Isuma TV
  3. Inuktitut - A Multi-dialectal Outline Dictionary
  4. Nunatsiaq News
  5. Inuktut Tusaalanga