Medical glossary bridges gap

FaceForward: The People and Stories of Memorial
By Janet Harron | Nov. 27, 2014

The connection between language and place is inescapable but perhaps nowhere more so than in Labrador.

Dr. Marguerite MacKenzie of Memorial’s Department of Linguistics has had a huge impact on the preservation and promotion of the Innu language in the mainland part of the province during the last 40 years.

Now, thanks in great part to her work, Innu translators, interpreters and other professionals working in the health system in Newfoundland and Labrador have access to a new resource, one that aims to improve the experience of Innu patients in the province’s health-care system.

Published by Mamu Tshishkutamashutau-Innu Education Inc. (MTIE), a glossary of more than 1,200 medical terms translated into the two Labrador dialects of Innu-aimun, is now available as a printed book as well as a mobile app that includes audio recordings for each term.

The Innu Medical Glossary marks the culmination of a three-year collaboration between MTIE, Health Canada, the Social Health Department of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation, the Innu Language Project (ILP) of Memorial University, the Algonquian Language Collaborative Digital Infrastructure Project of Carleton University and numerous community collaborators, including interpreters and health professionals from Labrador.

Dr. MacKenzie has a long history with Mamu Tshishkutamashutau-Innu Education Inc. In 2013, she successfully nominated the school board for the inaugural Faculty of Arts Community Research Engagement Award.

“The years of work that resulted in our major trilingual dictionary and now the medical glossary would not have been possible without the close collaboration and support of the directors of the school board, which is making a positive difference to the education of Innu youth,” said Dr. MacKenzie, who received the prestigious Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Impact (Insight) Award in 2013.

Continuing the work begun in 2004 under the SSHRC-funded Community-University Research Alliance project, Knowledge and Human Resources for Innu Language Development, the mandate of the ILP team of dedicated linguistics students and graduates, directed by Dr. MacKenzie, has been to work with Innu schools and community organizations in Labrador to provide language resources.

This translation tool marks a significant move towards bridging the gap in communication between Innu patients and health-care providers in the province.

“This medical glossary is an important step as we move into a new era of community and health development," said Jack Penashue, director, social health, Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation. "I hope it will also help to promote understanding and be of assistance to both medical community and the Innu.”

The new glossary provides translations for health conditions, diseases, procedures and medical affixes, and includes two sets of diagrams of body parts and systems, each labelled in English and one of the two dialects of Innu spoken in Sheshatshiu and Natuashish. It also includes an explanation of the more complex terms in plain English. Audio recordings on the app make it possible for Innu patients to listen to the translations spoken in their own dialect and for health-care providers to become familiar with Innu pronunciations. 

“Our government is pleased to have supported this innovative project through a contribution agreement with the Sheshatshiu Band Council," said Rob Moore, regional minister for Newfoundland and Labrador and minister of State (ACOA), on behalf of Rona Ambrose, minister of Health. "Our investment will help to strengthen the quality of health services for the Innu of Labrador by supporting improved communication among Innu clients and non-Innu health professionals and will foster increased cultural awareness of the strength and importance of the Innu-aimun language for the Innu people.”

Copies of the book have been distributed to translators, interpreters and various members of the medical communities in Labrador and in St. John’s. The book can be purchased by contacting the ILP at and the app (for iOS and Android devices) is available as a free download on iTunes and Google Play.

For more information or to download a PDF of the glossary, visit the ILP website.






Marketing & Communications

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000