Language facts: Greenlandic

Aug 22, 2016

Greenlandic is a language spoken by the Inuit people in Greenland. The main dialect, Kalaallisut, of Western Greenland belongs to the Eskimo-Aleut family (closely related to other Inuit languages, e.g. in Canada and basically accross the Arctic area).

It became the only official language of Greenland when it gained autonomy from Denmark in 2009, after abandoning the Danish language. Greenlandic has around 58,000 native speakers.

Parents don't understand their kids – literally

It is not exactly known what language was spoken in Greenland by it's original inhabitants, however, the roots of today's Greenlandic was brought to the island around 13th century (by the ancestors of Inuits, the Thule people). There was no mention of the language in written form until the 17th century and the process of Greenlandic grammar constitution and the introduction of dictionaries accelerated with the Danish colonization of Greenland. The very first Danish-Greenlandic dictionary was introduced in 1750, and the first grammar followed in 1760.

Interestingly, similar to colonialism also the independence tendencies boosted development of the language. Since a home rule agreement in 1979, Greenlandic is the only language used in primary schooling and also by a lot of media, causing many young people to be bilingual in both Greenlandic and Danish, while their parents are monolingual in Danish. Modern Greenlandic has loaned many words from both English and Danish, but when adopting new technologies, attempts are made to construct words based on Greenlandic roots. Today, the language is regulated by the Greenland Language Committee and is still considered as "vulnerable" by UNESCO in terms of its endangerment.

Alphabet

Greenlandic is written in Latin script since it became a Danish colony in the 1700s. The alphabet is very short, consisting of just 18 characters, but it uses the letters b, c, d, h, x, y, z, w, æ, ø and å to enable spelling of loan words from Danish and English.

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