Grammar » reading and writing in roman orthography

When most people think about writing in Inuktitut, syllabics come immediately to mind. Nonetheless, roman orthography (the Latin alphabet used to write English) has an even longer history among Inuit.

It was first used to write the Inuit Language almost a century before syllabics were developed. Today, even in communities that normally write in syllabics, roman orthography is frequently used. This is especially true with computer technology, e-mail and text messaging and among younger generations who are less confident reading and writing syllabics.

Most material for people learning Inuktitut as a Second Language also appears in roman orthography to make it easier for English and French speakers to use. Learning to write Inuktitut well in roman orthography has a number of advantages: you will begin writing Inuktitut more quickly by using a writing system that is more familiar to you; you will see the patterns in the language more easily than if you are trying to decipher syllabic characters; it will be much easier to master syllabics later on.

There are several important differences in how Inuktitut and English use roman letters. In English, depending on the word, the same sound may be written with different letters: calf cough or the same letter can make different sounds: girl giraffe

In Inuktitut, on the other hand, each sound can only be written using one letter, and each letter has only one sound (with some very minor variations).

In English, pronunciation has evolved over many centuries, so that the spelling of some words no longer reflects how it is actually pronounced: tomb knight

Inuktitut words, on the other hand, are almost always written to reflect accurate pronunciation.


ICI roman orthography has just three vowels: a i u

There can be some slight variations in how these vowels are pronounced. For example, i and u make a softer sound when they appear before the letters q or r. You will become more comfortable with these variations as you learn how to pronounce each word.

Vowels can also be combined: au aullaqtuq   ai aiviq    ia niaquq   iu niuvirvik    ui tui

The letters e and o are never used in standardized roman orthography, except to write names borrowed from other languages.


There are 18 consonants in ICI roman orthography. These consonants in Inuktitut are pronounced similarly to English: p t k g m n s h l v ng b f

The following consonants are pronounced differently than in English:

j is pronounced like the English y in the word yak

r This sound is not made in English but is similar to the way r is pronounced in French or the j in Spanish. It sounds like a slight gargle at the back of the throat.

q Another sound produced at the back of the throat. To begin, close your throat with the very back of your tongue, as if you were about to pronounce a g. Release air as if you were pronouncing a k.

ł Put your tongue in the same position as you would to pronounce an l. Without using your vocal cords, breathe out, as if you were pronouncing an sh. This sound is not made in the South Baffin dialect.

jj Sounds like a d + j ‘ The apostrophe represents a glottal stop, which is a little catch in the back of the throat that temporarily stops the flow of air coming from the lungs. An example where English speakers make this sound is between the syllables in the expression « uh-oh ». It appears in words from the Kivalliq and Nattilik regions, such as ma’na (thank you in the Kivalliq)


Double vowels and double consonants are used to reflect correct pronunciation in Inuktitut. It is very important to learn to write words correctly using double vowels and consonants.

Long vowels are pronounced as above, except that the sound is drawn out so that it is twice as long: ii nakurmiik aa ataata For double consonants, the sound that is made is also held twice as long as a single consonant: qujannamiik Kimmirut

As a general rule in Inuktitut, no more than two vowels or two consonants can appear in a row. Unstandardized Roman Orthography Keep in mind that much of what appears in roman orthography in Nunavut is not in written using the ICI writing system.

Many Inuinnaqtun speakers have been reluctant to abandon older forms of writing used by Elders. Also, many Inuktitut names and words are written in roman letters using spellings that were made up by English speakers and do not reflect how they are pronounced by Inuit.