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Spotlight on Language: Kalaallisut -- Greenland

Kalaallisut AKA Western Greenlandic[1]

Kalaallisut: Inuit language in the Eskimo-Aleut language family; Closely Related to Alaskan and Canadian Inuit languages (I.E. Inukitut)

Speakers: Approxiamtely 61,000 speakers throughout Greenland and Denmark (54,000 Greenland and 7,000 in Denmark)

Rating: Only Arctic language that is not endangered

Area: Greenland and Denmark Primarily

Kalaallisut is often used as an umbrella term for Greenlandic language, but actually it is actually the most prominent dialect of the Greenlandic language and was made the official language in 2009 by the Greenlandic government. The other two main Greenlandic dialects are East and South; however, Thule[2] (North) dialect is still spoken even if only marginally. These other dialects have much fewer speakers and are spoken in regions throughout Greenland, while Kalaallisut is taught in schools and is learned alongside Danish and English. Kalaallisut consists of four main sub-dialects, with the prominent Kalaallisut dialect being the one found around Nuuk.

Kalaallisut is the official language of Greenland and is taught in the schools and is used in commerce throughout the towns. Despite the comparatively low number of speakers[3], Kalaallisut is not considered to be endangered, and in fact, it is thriving, in literacy and in growth of native speakers. In fact, Kalaallisut is the only Arctic language that is not considered to be endangered.

Greenlandic is a polysynthetic language, meaning that words are formed with a root and one more affixes and a suffix. Because of how Greenlandic words are created, the words can be really long, and often, the meaning of just one word is the equivalent of a sentence in other languages[4].

The Greenlandic language arrived in Greenland around the 13th century by the Thule people, who are considered to be the ancestors of the modern Inuit people. We don’t know what languages were spoken by the earlier Greenlandic Saqqaq and Dorset cultures before the Thule arrived. The Greenlandic language was first described in the 1600s and by the 1700s, Danish missionaries compiled dictionaries and grammars of the language. In 1750, the first Greenlandic dictionary was published, which was closely followed by the first Greenlandic grammar; both were written by Paul Edege. In 1851, a Greenlandic orthography (writing system) was established, which enabled literacy, and as a result, Kalaalisut has high literacy rates since the 1850s.

The only Harry Potter book that was translated into Kalaallisut is the Philosopher’s Stone. This book was published by Atuakkiorfik Greenland Publishers and was translated by Stephen Hammeken. It is unknown how many Kalaallisut Philosopher’s Stone books were published, but this translation is among the rarest of the Potter translations, and to quote Peter Kenneth (@ThePotterCollector), it’s one of the Big Six hardest to find translations. Even in Greenland, this translation is considered rare.

To hear the 1st paragraph of Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone read in Greenlandic, Click HERE.


[1] Kalaallisut is also sometimes referred simply as Greenlandic since it the prevailing dialect

[2] Thule is supposed to have about 1,000 speakers

[3] Kalaallisut has approximately 54,000 speakers in Greenland and another 7,000 in Denmark

[4] An example of a Kalaallisut polysynthetic word is Qiteqatigerusuppingaa which means “Will you dance with me”.


Ager, S. (n.d.). Greenlandic (Kalaallisut). Retrieved July 27, 2016, from

Ager, S. (n.d.). Useful Greenlandic phrases. Retrieved July 27, 2016, from

Greenlandic language. (2016, June 09). Retrieved July 27, 2016, from

Grenoble, L. (n.d.). Kalaallisut, language of Greenland A lecture by Lenore Grenoble «

Sorosoro. Retrieved July 27, 2016, from


Kalaallisut. (2015, July 13). Retrieved July 26, 2016, from

S. (2011). Kalaallisut, language of Greenland - A lecture by Lenore Grenoble.

Retrieved July 27, 2016, from

The Greenlandic language – a highly descriptive tongue. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27,

2016, from


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