6 Times the Greenlandic Language was Easier Than Others

kalaallisut language map

<< This is a post that I started some time ago and it suits perfectly for today, 21 February, International Mother Language Day. 

Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) is not my mother tongue, but I am learning it because it is the mother tongue of the country I call home and because it is the primary language of many friends and ‘in-law’ family members. As part of the International Mother Language Day celebratory events, Oqaasileriffik – The Language Secretariat of Greenland interviewed foreigners learning Kalaallisut and created posters out of their replies. See mine here 🙂 >>

Truth: Kalaallisut, the Greenlandic language, is said to be one of the hardest, most complex languages in existence due to its polysynthetic nature. It adds derivative after derivative after derivative – up to 12! – to a root (like a verb or noun) to modify meaning, and the letters change based on the last letter of the derivative preceding it, if they are not dropped, or ‘eaten’, altogether. Words look very long and repetitive with several double letters, but they are, in fact, whole sentences. Transitive verbs (with both a subject and an object, such as “I saw him”) have a different derivative ending for each possible relationship (I-you / I-him,her,it / we-you all), and they also change based on tense (present, past, conditional). And yes, their letters, too, change based on the last letter of the derivative preceding it. All in all, there are upwards of 200 different possibilities just to express the transitive relationship between subject and object!

Basically, you rarely see the exact same combination twice. Linguists say that is one of the reasons it is difficult to learn Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) by ear, because you only hear the same combinations 4% of the time whereas in languages like English or the Romance languages, you hear the same combinations something like 20-25% of the time.

And the pronunciation, well, despite all the letters look like the standard English alphabet (which is more than can be said for Danish with its ø, æ and å), they combine in ways that make four sounds very different from other languages (the -q- sound, the -ll- or -rl- sound, the -gg- sound and the -rr- sound). The Q is nearly a glottal stop, similar to that found in Hawaiian, for example, while the others are made with a special placement of the tongue. Many people say you have to spit a little to make the sounds properly 🙂

BUT

Also truth: Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) can sometimes be very exact and to the point, without need for fluff and filler. And once you know the rules, you can do a lot! There are also a lot of abbreviations/shortening of words and exclamations, and it is these which get especially engrained in the brain.

For example, “Torrak!” is a way to express a high level of agreement, excitement, happiness, support or satisfaction with something – it’s basically the universal word of positivity. When I travel to other countries, I still have this word in front of all others in my brain, so if I don’t accidentally blurt out “Torrak”, I sort of stumble looking for the right word that expresses the same meaning. Should I just say, “Super!” or “Great!”? That just sounds funny to me now.

I present 6 times the Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) way of saying something (usually as slang) is easier than other languages (i.e. English or Danish, in this country’s case).

ALUUGOOQ“Say hello for me” or “Send my greetings”

SULI – “Same status” / “nothing has changed”

SALL’ – “You’re joking right” / “you’re lying” / “you’ve got to be kidding me”

TUSAS – “Talk to you later”

USORN – “I’m so jealous!”

QAAThree totally different meanings: “Great suggestion, let’s do that!” OR “Come on, quit playing” / “Give me a break” OR “Come!” like a command to a child

For more information regarding Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) language-learning resources, see the “Language” section on my Tips for Tourists page.

International Mother Language Day, 21 February

Oqaasileriffik – The Language Secretariat in Greenland did a number of things to celebrate International Mother Language Day, including a public event in Katuaq Culture House in Nuuk, where the Prime Minister spoke, and a series of portraits of foreigners who have learned, or are in the process of learning the mother language of Greenland – Kalaallisut (Greenlandic).

I was recommended to participate in this portrait series, and so I gave an interview, from which this poster was created. We were 6 in total, and our posters hung in Nuuk Center as well as in Katuaq. What an honour!

Read my full interview below (in English).

International Mother Language Day _ Poster _ Woodall

 

What were your first thoughts about Kalaallisut language?

It is amazing. In the start, of course I could not understand the words, but it was nice, like a song. Actually, that’s exactly how it was. Many times, a song’s lyrics can be felt in your soul, and that’s how it was for me with Greenlandic. As if it was somehow already in my heart. It was not until the learning phase that I realised how hard it is, but it did not matter. It must learn it no matter what.

 

What was your motivation to learn Kalaallisut?

I wanted to learn Greenlandic even before coming here. In all honesty, I did not know there were other options. My director at that time did say that a good deal of people could speak English, but my thought process was: I took it upon myself to come live in Greenland, so of course I should learn to speak the local language. I think I started going after it seriously the year after I arrived.  I have to say though, I will probably be in a learning phase forever. I hope at some point in the future I will be fluent.

 

What was the hardest in learning Kalaallisut?

It really requires a good memory, as there are so many suffixes and derivations. There must be at least 200 endings!

 

What was beneficial learning Kalaallisut?

Facebook really is one of the best resources. My friends are usually writing in both Greenlandic and Danish or English, so I can easily translate. In that way, I am able to learn new grammar and words. Thankfully my network supports me. They are patient, and they understand that I still talk slowly.

 

What is the most important thing in learning Kalaallisut language?

Remember that willpower is a gift. Learning any language is difficult, and from time to time the road may seem completely impassible. But it will come. Every single day there is something to be learned – by shopping, reading, listening to music and talking with people. Imagine that so few people in the world speak Greenlandic, and yet we do. We should be proud.

The pink text is that which Oqaasileriffik – The Language Secretariat of Greenland selected as a quote to my poster.

Learn more about International Mother Language Day.

Find resources for learning Greenlandic in the “Language” section of my Tips for Tourists page.

Concepts I Forgot About, After Living in Greenland

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In some ways, life in Greenland is just like every other place in the world, but in other ways it is this totally unique place! Every so often I come across something on the Internet or something comes up in conversation that makes me suddenly think, “Whoa, I haven’t thought about that in FOREVER!” And why? Because that concept simply doesn’t exist in Greenland. Or, at the very least, it is a concept that is so far reserved from my own everyday experience. Funny to think that some of these things used to be so everyday and normal to me in another time, another life.

Here’s my list of Concepts I Forgot About, After Living in Greenland.

Okra. Such a random thing to think of, I know, but nope we definitely don’t get that vegetable up here. On the other hand, we do get a ton of variety otherwise! Lots of kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, passion fruit, mango, fresh herbs, lettuce, apples, oranges, pears, grapes, berries, avocados, bell peppers, hot peppers, lemons and limes, eggplant, tumeric, etc. And once I saw two things I had actually never even heard of – pitahaya and kaki. I guess there was a sale on exotic fruits the day the grocery made their order!

 

 

Jewelry stores. This one came to me when watching a documentary on television about, of all things, Doris Payne, the infamous jewelry-thief grandmother. A picture of a Black, Starr & Frost jewelry store popped up, and suddenly I remembered that my family and I would always go into these stores in the mall – just to look – on Saturdays.

I have seen one dedicated jewelry store in Nuuk, but usually little shops around the coast just have a jewelry counter, if any, amongst all the other merchandise like clothing, makeup, outdoor gear, etc.

Hotel carts. 

Cutting grass. This one hit me hard when I looked out the kitchen window at our old house in Nuuk one day and realised, we literally just have rocks as our driveway and front yard. (Don’t mind the woman walking with a tree in her arms! Ha.)

Aside from South Greenland and the island Qeqertarsuaq in North Greenland (which myth says actually came from the south originally), there is not much green in Greenland. Sure, there’s some small patches of grasses and flowers here and there, and in the fjords where it is warmer in summer there can be nice bushes and small trees, but generally speaking, there are no full lawns of lush grass requiring a trip with the John Deere every weekend.

Edited to add: now that we live in South Greenland, greenery and trees is something I will have to adjust to, but nonetheless, in my every day life, there’s still no grass around the house, for example, that requires cutting 🙂

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Seasonal clothing in stores. Yep, winter jackets can be found year round here. And summer things like bathing suits are basically nowhere to be found. Things like that you just have to order on the Internet.

Commercials for new movie releases. Ok, this could just be me and my lack of cable television, but the few air channels we do have (KNR, DR1, DR2) do not show commercials like I used to know them. Nothing promoting movies or products. In fact, KNR’s version of a commercial is more like a powerpoint with still pictures changing every so often. Or just a blue screen for like, 13 minutes straight when they have nothing to air.

McDonald’s & Happy Meal collectibles / Monopoly sticker things. Calling anything at McDonald’s a Mc-Something. A Facebook friend posted a photo of their McFlurry and I literally laughed out loud!! I’m so glad there are no McDonald’s here. I know one singular person who talks about wanting to get one here, and I fight back saying, No, no no, every time it comes up.

Express lanes & HOV lanes on highways (and paying to drive in them). I watched my friend’s Instagram story about sitting in traffic in the Washington, D.C. area waiting to get onto an express lane that cost 30-something dollars (200 dkk / 27 eur), and I was in awe for a minute remembering that I, too, used to be victim to the outrageous thing called bumper-to-bumper traffic, and the fact that people will sell their souls to get out of it.

In Greenland, well, first there would have to be any sort of highway at all, in order for a special express lane to exist, let’s just establish that right off the bat. For anyone that does not already know, there are no roads that connect one town to the next in Greenland. (However, there are roads within the towns themselves. But not in settlements.) So, there’s no Spring Break road trip. There’s no taking a Sunday drive to the countryside.

But ok, there can be traffic of the ice kind sometimes 🙂 This photo is taken by Robert Holmene from onboard Sarfaq Ittuk, the coastal ferry that sails between Qaqortoq and Ilulissat nearly year round. Last spring, April 2018, it got a little backed up in South Greenland.

29571444_10156270359973436_1909324448234321543_n Photo by Robert Holmene.

Country Stores. Just the style of that old, antique look with all kinds of jams, candies, hostess gifts, knick knacks for the house. There was one in Fenwick Island, Delaware called the Seaside Country Store that my grandmother and I used to ‘ride up to’ every other day on our annual beach vacation together. Suddenly I feel the need to see that place at least once more in my life! That being said, the Pilersuisoq stores in settlements in Greenland do have the same concept 🙂 They’re usually the one and only place in the settlement where things can be bought, so clothes are sold next to yarn and art supplies and on the next isle over boat motors and hunting rifles.

Power outages. I had never really thought about it before, but I guess the majority of power outages are caused by trees downing power lines? There are no trees here. Or, where there are trees, they’re not tall enough to do that kind of damage. 

Thunderstorms, including lightning. Only ONCE in now seven years did I experienced thunder in Greenland, and I have NEVER experienced lightning here. Without knowing the ins and outs of these weather phenomena (although, I should, because that is something that is right up my alley), I say this is because of a lack of enough moisture or humidity to create the electrical charge needed.

Dry cleaners. It does not exist in Greenland.

Business clothes for the office. There is no professional dress code here. People wear whatever they damn please, whatever they feel comfortable in. The amount of suits I have seen in Greenland could be counted on one hand, and, true story, the other week we were in a meeting with various government Ministers and most people had on jeans and casual wear. I like it, really. To me, it means that everyone is just a person.

Retractable measuring tapes. Another REALLY random one! But in our house, at least, we used the old-school wooden zig-zag foldable measuring things instead. I just had to Google it, and surprisingly enough, “zig-zag” worked perfectly! I’m cracking myself up. It’s called a folding rule, for anyone interested to know.

And that’s it, so far! Really strange sometimes to think about some things being so common in some places while totally off the chart and out of mind in other places.

Aerobridges. You know, the enclosed walkway you pass through between airport terminal and plane. Yeah, we don’t have those in Greenland, and thus why first-time winter visitors to Kangerlussuaq get a huge shock to the system (literally) when they step out of the plane directly into -25*C air! So refreshing.

Bookmarks. I just flew out of Berlin and was looking around in their airport shops and came across an entire display of bookmarks. Go figure! I’m sure there are bookmarks to be found in Greenland, but it’s not something I run across every day, and honestly I don’t think I’ve thought of these since I was a teenager and my grandmother always used to bring me gifts like little notebooks, makeup bags and… bookmarks.

Paid parking/Restricted parking. Most places in Greenland do not even have designated parking lots or lines between which one should park, (OK, there are outside Nuuk Center, but again, that is the only shopping mall in Greenland) let alone rules about how one should park, where one should park, which hours one may park or not park.

A Snapshot of Internationals in Greenland (2016)

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Last year I wrote about some statistics and figures related to the nationalities of Greenland’s residents, and I thought I would do it again with the most recent figures to see if there are any significant changes this year over last. (The short answer is: no).

As of 1 January 2016, 11% of Greenland’s population of 55847 people is foreign born, which equates to a whopping 6021 individuals who hail from 51 different countries. This is literally only just a few handfuls of people more than last year, so the proportion of foreign presence is staying quite stable.

Danes account for the vast, vast majority of internationals in the country (76%). Faroese account for 5%, and Icelanders and Thai, 3% each. Filipinos and Swedes account for 2% each, and all others are 1% or less per nationality, including people from Norway, Germany, USA (39 individuals, or 0.6%), Poland, Other Asia, Other America, Other Africa, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Great Britain, Romania, Canada, China, Oceania, Iran, Holland, Italy, Spain, Pakistan, Lithuania, Slovakia, Russia, Other Europe, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Austria, Lebanon, Belgium, Hungary, Turkey, Ethiopia, Iraq, Japan, Latvia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Ukraine, Morocco, India, and Syria. In that order!

The distribution of internationals around the country is also very stable this year in comparison to last year.

  • 62% of internationals live in Nuuk (3733 people, which is actually about 100 people more than last year)
  • 7% of internationals live in Sisimiut (414 people, which represents a slight decrease actually)
  • 6% of internationals live in Ilulissat (384 people, which is slightly more than last year)

And, it’s still true that no matter where you are in the country, you will always be in the minority compared to Greenland-born residents.

  • The 3733 internationals in Nuuk still account for only 22% of Nuuk’s population.
  • The 414 internationals in Sisimiut account for 7% of Sisimiut’s population.
  • The 384 internationals in Ilulissat account for 8% of Ilulissat’s population.

Think you could hack it is an international in Greenland?

All figures based off of data published by Statistics Greenland on their Statistics Bank.

8 ways to have a cosy time in Greenland

Greenlanders love to cultivate cosiness – whether that’s by completely enjoying your own company by curling up with the cat, a heavy blanket, and a good book… by feng-shuiing your living room on a Saturday morning… or by inviting friends over for a dinner party. 

I think every culture can recognise the concept of a true comfort activity. Think about gathering to watch American football games on Saturday afternoons in USA with chips, dips and beer. Think about shinrin-yoku / forest bathing in Japan to destress and reconnect with nature. Think about knitting in the Faroe Islands.

Here’s how I ‘do cosy’ in Greenland!

1. Go to Kaffemik (or host your own) – Kaffemik is a get-together of one’s family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to celebrate exciting life events like a new baby, a baby’s christening, a child’s first day of school, birthdays, confirmations, weddings, a new house, etc. As host, you spend days baking and cooking in advance to fill your table with oodles of cakes, biscuits, coffee, tea, and all sorts of good things on the big day. The entire day is exciting and joyful with a constant flow of people coming and going. As guest, you bring a small gift for the honorary person. People often make Facebook groups to spread the news about kaffemik, but word of mouth is also just as effective, especially in the small settlements.

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2. Make arts & crafts – Of course, stretching your artistic legs requires that you have artistic legs to begin with, but for me, I have always loved putting energy toward drawing and painting and making beautiful things. The hours just fly by! Here is a card I made one evening for my friend out of plain old sequins, card stock, needle & thread, and a little inspiration from the Greenlandic women’s national costume, plus a few beaded necklaces I’ve made which also pay homage to the colourful patterned nuilarmiut, or pearl collar from the costume.

 

3. Make sealskin crafts – There’s no shortage of sealskin in Greenland, and using it is not only fashionable but functional. I love to make things for others, and what a luxurious gift sealskin is! I once made a vibrant red sealskin belt for my friend to wear at her wedding, and I’ve even made cell phone pouches out of the same. When the temperatures are very cold, sealskin works as a perfect insulator to keep your phone warm – and on! ‘Sewing clubs’ are a common thing in Greenland, but I’ll admit that all the ones I have experienced end up being much more about socialising than sewing – not necessarily a bad thing. Read here about my creations.

 

4. Relax with cosy candles and hot teaSelf-hygge is not always my strongest point. I admit, it can be a challenge for me to make myself stay in because I’m constantly wanting to be active, socialise, and take advantage of the fun events that happen in Nuuk. But when I do finally take that evening to relax with candlelight and a big pot of tea on a cold night, it feels oh so good!

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5. Bake delicious treats – Even if there’s no kaffemik on the immediate horizon, practice makes perfect, right? I don’t think there ever needs to be a ‘good reason’ to make something tasty!!

 

6. Make homemade soap – Okay, this one isn’t my own hobby, and I don’t think it’s that common anyway, but I have assisted my friend with soap-making twice now. It’s pretty fun! We tried a simple and gentle baby soap recipe with light lavender and bergamot scents. There’s something satisfying about seeing your hard work (1.5 hours of stirring with an electric mixer definitely counts as hard work!) come to something useful in a few weeks’ time. PS – the goggles and gloves are just a safety precaution when preparing the first step. The rest of the process is more fun and less mad-scientist! Photo credit: The Fourth Continent.

 

7. Eat meals together with others – Food is a universal language, and people bond when sitting to a shared table, no matter what. Whether it’s Friday morning breakfast at the office (a common thing in Greenland) or a burger night with friends or a little bit fancy dinner, meals are typically a super cosy time with tables full of delicious food, good conversation, and laughter.

 

8. Sunbathe on the terrace – Nearly every single town and village in Greenland is built on the coastline, so that means nearly every flat and house has some sort of fjord- or ocean-view and a terrace to take it in. Summers in Greenland can get quite warm, so shorts and t-shirts suit perfect for outdoor time. But when the view is that perfect, sometimes you also need a terrace day in the middle of winter. Here’s The Fourth Continent and I on her terrace out in Qinngorput on 14 February this year. With a thermos of good tea and some snacks, we stayed out there and chit-chatted for almost two hours!

Luckily for us, it does eventually get warm enough to sit outside without the winter jacket 🙂

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Follow @Polarphile on Instagram!

Follow me on Instagram at @Polarphile to see what my daily life in Nuuk, Greenland looks like!

Here’s a few snapshots from the last week:

WATCH TONIGHT! House Hunters International – Greenland

After a few years in the pipeline, this day has finally come!

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TONIGHT (Monday 12 May) – Watch House Hunters International Greenland on HGTV at 10:30 PM (USA Eastern Time). On international television, virtually meet my friend over at The Fourth Continent and her husband, and get a lovely introduction to the vibrant city (and not to mention the killer real estate) of Nuuk, Greenland!

Did you ever ask yourself, What is it like living in Greenland? or What is everyday life in Greenland like? Tune in to House Hunters International Greenland tonight to get the 30 minute tour of Nuuk, one of the northernmost capitals in the world!

~

House Hunters International is a reality television show that follows expats around the world as they move from one country to another. The real estate bit is, of course, central to House Hunters International, but the show is also a great showcase of the expat couple’s personality and the culture of their new home.