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About the story
What’s with this “Wren” thing?
   The oldest extant version of the fable we are presenting here appeared in 1913 in the first volume of a two-volume anthology of Low Saxon folktales (Plattdeutsche Volksmärchen “Low German Folktales”) collected by Wilhelm Wisser (1843–1935). Read more ...



Greenland (here the east-coast town of Kulusuk), a country of great beauty and potential, is now truly coming into its own. In the post-colonial era, Greenlandic is the primary and only official language, Danish and English being learned as foreign languages by most Greenlanders.

Language information: In Europe and in non-European countries with European heritage, Greenland (Kalallit Nunaat) has been traditionally seen as an extension or appendage of Europe, due to centuries of Danish rule over the country. Its colonial status was lifted and Greenland became an integral part of the Kingdom of Denmark in 1953. In 1978 it attained home rule status, and in 1985 it was the first governmental entity to leave the European Union. Home rule was extended effective on June 21, 2009. It is clear that Greenland, albeit formally still part of the Danish kingdom, is fast approaching extensive, if not complete, self-determination.
     If it belongs to any continent, its geography makes Greenland a North American country, perhaps a subcontinent of North America. (Of course this entails that the Norwegian-Icelandic “Vikings” in fact “discovered” America.) The same applies to Greenland’s basic and still predominant ethnic, cultural and linguistic heritage. These days, ca. 88% of the country’s population is fully or partly Inuit (“Eskimo”). While the Danish language still predominates in certain walks of life, including at the University of Greenland (Ilisimatusarfik), Greenlandic, specifically West Greenlandic (Kalaallisut), is now the only official language of the country, and the vast majority of Greenlanders is proficient in it, most of them natively. Danish and English are acquired as secondary languages in this country with high educational standards and with a virtually 100% literacy rate.
     With about 50,000 speakers, Greenlandic is the demographically largest member of the Eskimo-Aleut language family that extends from Greenland’s east coast across the north coast of North America all the way to the Alaskan west coast and the Aleutian Islands, with some outliers on the east coast of Siberia (which is under Russian rule).

Geography of the Eskimo-Aleut language family

            Greenland has made history by becoming the only national entity with a Native American language as its sole official national lingua franca. Greenlandic used to be co-official with Danish. Furthermore, Western Greenlandic (Kalaallisut) and Eastern Greenlandic (Tunimiit oraasiat) used to be treated as two official variants of Greenlandic. Western Greenlandic has been the only official variant since June 21, 2009. Around the town of Qaanaaq (Thule) in the northwestern part of the country, a third variant, or perhaps rather language, is used: Inuktun (referred to as Avanersuarmiutut in Western Greenlandic), which is fairly closely related to the Inuktitut language of Northern Canada. The variety of Upernavik on the central west coast of Greenland is by many considered yet another major form of Greenlandic. These days almost all speakers of Greenland’s other language varieties are proficient in Western Greenlandic as well. Most are at least somewhat proficient in Danish, and English is studied in schools as well.
     Greenlandic shares with all of its relatives certain noteworthy structural characteristics:      
composing words of numerous morphemes—a feature shared with several other Native American and also with Paleo-Siberian languages
Incorporation: specifically noun incorporation, whereby nominal components are incorporated into constructions that are essentially verbal, similar to but usually more elaborate than English cases of back-formation like “babysit”, “kidnap” and “breastfeed”—a feature again shared with several other Native American and also Paleo-Siberian languages
Ergativity: also known as ergative-absolutive structure, whereby the subject of an intransitive verb is treated like the object of a transitive verb but distinctly from the subject of a transitive verb—a feature shared with certain languages of the Americas, Australia, the Caucasus, as well as with Tibetan and Basque

      Greenlandic applies these structural patterns to loanwords as well, the vast majority of which are of Danish origin.
     Greenlandic is only on a basic level mutually intelligible with the Western Inuit language varieties of Canada. On top of various diverging native phonological, lexical and semantic developments among the Inuit varieties, it is loanwords (Danish words in Greenland versus English and French words in Canada) that alienate them from each other by political borders. Given increasing international Inuit communication, it is conceivable that mutual language exposure will lead toward improving mutual comprehensibility.
      Greenlandic uses the Roman script. In the past, a Greenland-specific orthographic system was used. It utilized one special character: ĸ for the voiceless uvular stop /q/. Also, it utilized vowel diacritics to indicate long vowels and following long consonants. In 1973, Greenlandic orthographic principles were brought into line with those of related languages that use the Roman script. (This is similar to post-colonial Malay and Indonesian adopting the same orthographic principles while remaining officially separate albeit closely related languages.) This facilitates international reading comprehension among speakers of Eskimo languages (although the Roman orthography is merely auxiliary after the official syllabary in the case of Canada’s Inuktitut). In Greenlandic, the phoneme /q/ is now written q as in related languages, and long sounds are represented by double letters (but the digraph ng, which stands for /ŋ/, is written nng instead of doubled). A peculiarity of the system is that the voiced uvular fricative is written r, inspired by the uvular pronunciation of /r/ in Danish. The new system is close to being fully phonemically based. An exception is the use of e and o that before uvular consonants stand for allophones of /i/ and /u/ respectively. (Greenlandic has three vowel phonemes: /i/, /u/, /a/.) As in related languages, the digraph ll represents the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative ([λ], like Welsh ll but in Greenlandic always long, probably derived from a combination of two consonants). This sound (both long and short) is found as an areal feature among related and unrelated languages across the northern end of North America and along most parts of the west coasts of the Americas.
     Greenlandic is used extensively in printing and in broadcasting, lately also increasingly on the Internet, and there is a burgeoning Greenlandic literary tradition.
     Greenlandic language planning, regulation and research is conducted and overseen by Oqaasileriffik (The Greenland Language Secretariat), an independent institution under the Ministry of Culture, Education, Research and Church, acting as the secretariat for parliament committees for language issues. The Oqaasiliortut (Greenland Language Council) is in charge of actual language planning, such as the creation of new expressions.
     While Greenlandic is still considered an “exotic” language by most people elsewhere in the world, it may well gain some importance as Greenland is becoming a major destination of adventure travel and eco tourism as well as a focus point of environmental studies, to say nothing of its economic potential thanks in great part to its yet untapped natural resources.

Genealogy: Eskimo-Aleut > Eskimo > Inuktitut > Greenlandic > Western

Historical Lowlands language contacts: Low Saxon (via Danish)

    Click to open the Greenlandic translation: [Click]Click here for different versions. >

Author: Reinhard F. Hahn

© 2011, Lowlands-L · ISSN 189-5582 · LCSN 96-4226 · All international rights reserved.
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