Alaska is currently wrestling with a native language challenge: how to translate the state’s longest tax measure for local populations? Due on the public ballot in August, the tax forms and informational pamphlet that accompanies the measure are some 50 pages long - and both documents must be translated into Yup’ik, Inupiak, Siberian Yupik, Koyukon Athabascan and Gwich’in Athabascan - the local dialects in the region.
“The ballot measure to repeal the state’s oil tax cut might be the thorniest issue Alaskans ever vote on, but imagine trying to understand terms like ‘gross revenue exclusion’ and ‘progressivity’ in Yup’ik and other Alaska Native languages,” says Alex DeMarban, an Alaska Dispatch reporter following the progress,.
The translations must include recorded versions for those folks who only communicate in an “oral tradition” he says.
The ballot in Yup’ik, for example, ends with “Una-qaa alerquun ciuniurumanrilli?” or “Should this law be rejected?”
The task is so complicated that the state Election Division office is having a hard time retaining translators who command as much as $50 an hour.
“That ballot measure was a pain in the neck” says Oscar Alexie, one of six intrepid translators who stayed on to helped create a Yup’ik sample ballot that should be useful in dozens of villages in Western Alaska.