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 ūüôā >>

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 √ł, √¶ and √•), 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 ūüôā

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 ‚Äď 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.

Tips for Tourists in Greenland

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Here you will find¬†a lot of¬†useful information about clothing, Internet/communications, transportation, language, food pricing, etc. in Greenland (in that order). It is a continual work in progress, and you are quite welcome to leave a message at this blog post with any questions or comments about these topics and others ūüôā

I try to consider both tourists and people moving/staying for a while, but much of the information is applicable for everyone.

CLOTHES IN GREENLAND

* Bring items that are durable and have plenty of life left in them.¬†Don‚Äôt come to Greenland with clothing that may not make it for the duration of your trip, i.e. jeans, shoes, etc. It’s not that replacing the items is hard, just that it is quite¬†expensive to do so! While it may not be your thing to buy new items before a trip if you already have them, you would be wise to do it anyway if you have any doubt about their lifespan!

* Bring windproof and rainproof outerwear. Definitely bring a good jacket and a pair of pants that are wind- and rain-proof. They will come in handy both on the water for boat trips but also (and maybe more so) on land. The rain itself is not anything out of the ordinary, but rain plus wind makes for the potential to have very wet and uncomfortable clothing!

* Bring sturdy, supportive, and resilient footwear. Most people wear hiking boots or heavy-duty sneakers around town, and if you are going sailing or plan to be in wet areas, waterproof boots (wellies?) are best. If you are buying new shoes prior to your trip, I would highly recommend spending the extra money for a nice pair rather than skimping for something cheap. The worst-case scenario is that you must purchase new shoes in Greenland. As I mentioned before, it will probably be no problem to replace them, but it will be expensive.

* Bring many socks!¬†For one thing, it’s just good to have extras, especially if you will be doing hiking or other¬†outdoor activities. Nothing is worse than sitting in damp socks! For another thing, if you will be staying in or visiting¬†a private home (for example, for Kaffemik or to visit a friend), the custom is to take your shoes off at the door and go around in your socks.

Funny story:¬†I made the silly mistake once of wearing shoes without socks¬†to Kaffemik. When I¬†got to the door and saw all the other guests’ shoes lined up outside, I¬†suddenly realized that I didn’t have socks on! So I ran home real quick to get socks! Fortunately I lived just across the street ūüôā

* Bring clothing / accessories for many weathers. Layers are your best friend. The climate in Greenland is a bit tricky because there is very low humidity. What the forecast says and what the air temperature feels like can be two very different things. With no wind, it usually feels much warmer than it is. But if the wind picks up (and it probably will), it quickly starts to feel cold.

Basically, be prepared for many temperatures, many weathers, etc. Use multiple thin layers rather than a few thick layers to regulate your body temperature easily. Keep breathable, non-cotton materials close to your body; layer heavier knit/woven materials on top; always have windproof and waterproof outer layers available. And always have a pair of gloves and a hat available, even in summer.

* Check the weather.¬†Make it a habit to check the weather daily, paying attention to temperature, wind, and precipitation. For one of the¬†most comprehensive weather forecasts for towns and villages in Greenland, see Denmark’s Meteorological Institute – Town Weather.

COMMUNICATIONS / INTERNET IN GREENLAND

* AC Plug: You will need the 2-prong plug typical for continental Europe. It is the same for Iceland and Denmark, Greenland’s two largest connection points.

* Make an Internet game plan. You must pay for Internet in Greenland, and you must pay a lot, so you should decide before your trip whether you need/want to use the Internet or not. You can purchase Internet via wi-fi hotspots or, if you have a smartphone, you could use its data capabilities. (See next bullet.)

Cafés, hotels, airports, etc. use wi-fi hotspot systems in which you purchase a set amount of time (30 minutes, 1 hour, 3 hour, 24 hour) and you receive a unique log-in code and password to use. MOST times you are able to meter the time by logging in and out Рfor example, use 5 minutes here, 20 minutes there, etc. But I have found a few places in Greenland that do not allow metering.

The best rate for Internet I ever encountered was 3 hours of Internet (metering allowed) for 120 DKK (22 USD).

*¬†Know your phone’s international capabilities before¬†you leave home. Is¬†it unlocked for use with a local SIM card?¬† What are the international fees for calling, texting, and data usage? Does it make sense for you to buy a cheap phone for Greenland specifically?

For someone staying in Greenland for a short period, it might make the most sense to use your smartphone (if you have one) and purchase an international data plan via your home carrier. For reference, my international plan via Verizon Wireless is 30 USD for 100 MB of data, plus calling and texting. Every additional 100 MB of data is 25 USD, and it charges automatically.

For someone staying in Greenland for a long period, it might make sense to get a phone with a Greenlandic number, but be aware that probably only¬†the larger towns will have places to buy such a setup (Nuuk, Sisimiut, Ilulissat, and Qaqortoq are my best guesses). A cheap one¬†can be¬†490 DKK (84 USD) for the phone and 400 DKK (68 USD) for the SIM card, which comes¬†pre-loaded with a call/text allowance called Tusas. It’s like a debit system for outgoing calls/texts, and¬†incoming calls/texts are free.

General pricing for outgoing calls/texts:

  • Outgoing Local daytime call price (per minute, 7:00-18:00) 1.75 dkk = 0.30¬†USD
  • Outgoing Local evening call price (per minute, 18:00-07:00) 1.23 dkk = 0.20 USD
  • Outgoing Call tax (one time, per call) 0.15 dkk = 0.02¬†USD
  • Outgoing SMS price (per 160 character message) 0.33 dkk = 0.06¬†USD

So, the original SIM card purchase comes with approximately¬†114 minutes of outgoing calls or¬†567 outgoing SMS’s.

I personally use 2 phones when I am in Greenland, an iPhone 4S with an American phone # and a cheap Nokia phone with a Greenlandic phone #. I use the iPhone for calls/texts to people in the United States and for Internet usage away from home/office, and I use the Nokia phone for calls/texts to people in Greenland. Simple!

GROUND TRANSPORTATION IN GREENLAND

It is very easy to use the bus system in Greenland. There are buses in Nuuk, Sisimiut, Ilulissat, and Kangerlussuaq.¬†Nuup Bussii¬†(Nuuk’s bus system) is¬†of course the largest.

In towns and villages without bus systems, you must either walk or use Taxi transportation.

A¬†single ride costs 15 DKK (2.50 USD), and you pay with cash on the bus. Keep your ticket stub because it is valid for unlimited rides for up to 1.5 hours. It is easiest to pay with exact change, and I’m quite certain the bus driver will not accept a bill larger than 500 DKK.

In Nuuk, there are many routes that reach all parts of town, including city center, Nuussuaq neighborhood, the airport, and Qinngorput neighborhood (the new development approximately 5 km/3 mi outside city center). In general, buses run from 6 in the morning until midnight, and they reach any given stop twice an hour. Always consult the Schedule/Route Map for your specific needs. It is available online, and it is posted at every bus stop.

For someone staying in Greenland for a long period, there is the option of purchasing an 11-ride per month card or an unlimited ride per month card. It can only be purchased at the Nuup Bussii headquarters. It makes financial sense to get a card if you anticipate using the bus a lot because there is a slight price break and it is, of course, easier than finding change every time.

For transportation to Greenland, see How to Get to Greenland.

LANGUAGE IN GREENLAND

* Greenland is a multi-lingual country. Greenlandic (called Kalaallisut) is the official mother tongue, Danish is the official second language, and English is a third language that children begin learning in the 4th class.

* Language can be a tricky topic. Without going into many details about history and politics, language in Greenland is not clear-cut. There are Greenlanders who are fluent in Greenlandic, Danish, and English. There are others who only know Greenlandic & Danish or Danish & English, and there are others who only know Greenlandic.

* From my personal experience, there are three very general trends regarding language proficiency.

  1. The larger the town, the more likely people are to be bilingual (Greenlandic & Danish or Danish & English) or trilingual (Greenlandic, Danish & English).
  2. The people that have consistent contact with tourists are more likely to be trilingual. This is a broad range of people from guides to restaurant bartenders/servers to airline staff, and so on.
  3. Many people are even proficient in a fourth language. Due to the closeness of the Danish language to other Scandinavian languages, this is typically Swedish and Norwegian. German is another common one!

* Signs are most commonly posted in Greenlandic and Danish. As a very general rule: signs are posted in Greenlandic and Danish always and in English sometimes. See my extensive photo gallery of signs around many towns in Greenland for a good idea.

* There are Greenlandic language learning resources available. Here I will give general tips regarding language according to your trip purpose to Greenland, your mother tongue, and your motivation to pick up a foreign language. Below, I will simply list the Greenlandic language learning resources that I am personally familiar with. Others may exist.

The vast majority of Greenlandic language learning resources are produced in Danish.

    • For those traveling to Greenland for a short period (i.e. tourists).
        • For Danish speakers. If foreign language is not your thing, all signs, menus, etc. are posted in Danish so you will not have any problems getting along in Greenland. But if you want to pick up Greenlandic for fun, there is a Greenlandic-Danish dictionary (available online and in smartphone app form) that you can use. There is also a DVD set and a workbook available. See below for both.
        • For non-Danish speakers.¬†As a very general rule: signs are posted in Greenlandic and Danish always and in English sometimes. (See my extensive photo gallery of signs around many towns in Greenland for a good idea.) But don’t worry¬†– spoken English is much more common than written English.¬†If foreign language is not your thing, my honest suggestion for reading¬†signs, etc. that are not available in English¬†is to have a¬†translator tool on hand (for example, Google Translate). It will be easiest for you to do Danish-English or Danish-Your Language because the Danish language separates noun and verb words. In Greenlandic, it can be hard to pick out the nouns and verbs because it is a polysynthetic language and looks different from anything you have probably seen before. But if you want to pick up Greenlandic for fun, there is a Greenlandic-English DVD set available. See below. Or you can use¬†the Greenlandic-Danish dictionary (online or smartphone app) or¬†workbook. You will have to use a translator tool to supplement both of these.
    • For those traveling to Greenland for a long period (i.e. moving/staying a while). Coming soon.
        • For Danish speakers.
        • For non-Danish speakers.

List of Greenlandic language learning resources:

  1. Greenlandic-Danish dictionary, called “Ordbogit”. Produced by Oqaasileriffik (Greenland Language Secretariat). Available online¬†and in Smartphone App form.
  2. Greenlandic-English or Greenlandic-Danish¬†DVD called “Learn Greenlandic with Per Langg√•rd“.¬†Produced by Oqaasileriffik. Available online, and I have also seen it in Atuagkat bookstore in Nuuk.
  3. Greenlandic-Danish workbook called “Qanoq: Opgave- og Grammatikbog” by Helene Brochmann. I have seen it in the bookstore in Sisimiut and in Atuagkat bookstore in Nuuk.
  4. Language Center in Sisimiut, called Oqaatsinik Pikkorissarfik. Provides intensive classroom courses in Greenlandic.
  5. Private Language Courses by Katrine Andersen at Katri.gl.

FOOD IN GREENLAND

This¬†topic¬†is a work in progress, but as a start, here’s a very random¬†list of various foods prices at the grocery store or¬†fresh market. Prices are converted DKK to USD. Please note: the exchange rate will, of course, change constantly,¬†but these prices can give a general idea of the cost of groceries¬†in Greenland.

For this week’s¬†up-to-date information on food/groceries in Greenland, the two¬†grocery stores chains, Pisiffik and Brugseni,¬†post their Weekly Specials¬†flyers online.¬†You will have to convert DKK to your own currency, of course¬†ūüôā test.

Pisiffik –¬†Click on ‚ÄúTilbudsavis‚ÄĚ (Specials Flyer), then “Denne Uges Avis” (This Week’s Fyler).

Brugseni – Click on PDF icon that says “Uge 30” or “Uge 31” etc. (Week 30, Week 31)

* Prices for Greenlandic products (ex: reindeer, muskox, ptarmigan, sea mammals, fish, etc.) are set by the individual municipalities when sold at independent markets like Kalaaliaraq in Nuuk or Qimatulivik in Sisimiut. The prices of Greenlandic products in the Meat section below represent Qeqqata Kommunia, the Arctic Circle Region municipality.

MEAT

Steak 176 dkk/kg = $14.72/lb

Chicken breast 88 dkk/kg = $7.36/lb

Pork chops 90 dkk/kg = $7.53/lb

Fresh Reindeer 90 dkk/kg = $7.53/lb

Dried Reindeer 400 dkk/kg = $33.46/lb

Fresh Muskox 90 dkk/kg = $7.53/lb

Dried Muskox 400 dkk/kg = $33.46/lb

Snow hare 150 dkk each = $27.61 each

Ptarmigan 65 dkk each = $12 each

Fresh fish (cod, redfish, trout, salmon, capelin, halibut) 45-60 dkk/kg = $3.74-$5.02/lb

Smoked fish (trout, salmon, halibut) 180 dkk/kg = $15.06/lb

Lumpfish roe (Stenbider rogn) 60 dkk/kg = $5.02/lb

Fresh Whale meat (various species) 45-55 dkk/kg = $3.76-$4.60/lb

Whale mattak (various species) 100-250 dkk/kg = $8.37-$20.91/lb

Seal, various species (meat & organs) 45-60 dkk/kg = $3.76-$5.02/lb

PANTRY

Rugbr√łd 28 dkk for a loaf = $4.75 for a loaf

Wild Rice 35 dkk for 1000 g = $6.44 for 35 oz

Whole grain cereal 45 dkk for 375 g = $8 for 13 oz

M√ľsli 28 dkk for 1000 g = $5.15 for 35 oz

Fusili pasta 11 dkk for 500 g = $2 for 18 oz

Pasta sauce 17 dkk for 480 g jar = $3.12 for 17 oz jar

Wasa crackers (Delikatess, Frukost) 22 dkk for 285 g = $4 for 10 oz

Raisins 20 dkk for 300 g = $3.68 for 10.5 oz

Canned beans 17 dkk for 250 g = $3.13 for 9 oz

Marmelade 15 dkk for 400 g = $2.75 for 14 oz

Specialty Pesto sauce 14 dkk for 130 g = $2.58 for 4.5 oz

Pickwick tea bags 22 dkk for a box of 20 = $4 for a box

DAIRY

Yogurt 21 dkk for 1000 g = $3.87 for 35 oz.

Specialty yogurt (Icelandic Skyr) 30 dkk for 500 g = $5.52 for 17.6 oz

Sliced cheese 29 dkk = $4.91 for a pack

Large wedge Parmigiano Reggiano 50 dkk = $8.41 for a wedge

Cheese with Herbs 18.25 dkk for 114 g = $3.36 for 4 oz

FRESHIES

Apples 4 dkk each = $0.75 each

Bag onions 15 dkk = $2.52 for a bag

FROZEN

Mushrooms 22 dkk for 400 g = $3.70 for 14 oz

Haricot Vert Green Beans 22 dkk for 700 g = $4 for 25 oz

Peas 25 dkk for 400 g = $4.20 for 14 oz

Chopped Spinach 13 dkk for 450 g = $2.40 for 16 oz

ALCOHOL

White wine 39 dkk for 200 ml = $6.56 for 8 oz bottle

White wine 89 dkk for 750 ml = $15 for 25 oz bottle

Royal Summer beer 102 dkk for 6 pack = $17 per 6 pack, or $2.83/beer)

Beer & soda¬†bottle deposit¬†2 dkk per bottle (refundable) = $0.33 per bottle ‚Äď Greenland imports almost all of its beer and all of its soda, but it bottles the beverages locally.

Beer at a Bar 40 dkk for 200 ml = $6.80 for 6.75 oz (or $1/oz)

Beer at a Bar 75 dkk for 400 ml = $12.75 for 13.5 oz (or $0.94/oz)

Beer at a Bar 98 dkk for 600 ml = $16.70 for 20 oz (or $0.84/oz)

TOILETRIES

Nivea shower gel 51 dkk for 750 ml bottle = $8.63 for 25 oz bottle

Tampons 37 dkk for box of 20 = $6.26 for box of 20

Generic shampoo 12.45 dkk for 750 ml bottle = $2.11 for 25 oz bottle

Disposable razors 12.5 dkk for bag of 4 = $2.12 for bag of 4

KAFFEMIK IN GREENLAND

Kaffemik is a fun gathering of friends and family to celebrate birthdays, births, graduations, new homes, and other milestones! The person of honor hosts at his or her own home and provides coffee, tea, cakes, sweets, bread, and oftentimes Greenlandic specialities like reindeer, muskox, whale, seal, fish, etc. Kaffemik events are extremely common and can happen any day of the week, but they are most common on weekends when many people are free. The entire event typically lasts for multiple hours, but guests usually only stay for a short visit.

Should you be invited to Kaffemik, these are some general guidelines to being a delightful guest. Please note, some tour companies do offer Kaffemik as an activity. In this case, the gift is not necessary. Please consult the tour company with any questions.

  • Always take your shoes off before entering the person‚Äôs home (so wear socks!).
  • Taste as many of the cakes and food¬†as possible! They are delicious!
  • Only stay a short while ‚Äď enough time for a couple cups of coffee, say ‚Äď so to give others the chance to take a seat and enjoy also.
  • Bring a gift for the person of honor ‚Äď something around¬†50-100 DKK worth (9-17 USD) is nice.