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The Greenlandic language

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A word or two in Greenlandic

 Photo – Magnus Biilmann Trolle, Visit Nuuk

Welcome to our cultural exploration of Greenland!

If you’re keen to speak like a local in Nuuk, start by learning some basic Greenlandic phrases for tourists. Our Greenlandic language guide offers a glimpse into the nuances of Kalaallisut, closely related to other Inuit languages such as Inuktun and Inuktitut. While living in Greenland doesn’t require fluency in Greenlandic, giving it a try enriches your experience.

Understanding these phrases can help you understand Greenlandic culture and enhance your interaction with locals, making your stay more memorable. Whether you’re navigating the city or engaging with the community, these basic words are a great step towards feeling more at home in Nuuk.

Photo – Magnus Biilmann Trolle, Visit Nuuk

Photo – Magnus Biilmann Trolle, Visit Nuuk

Qujanaq = Thank you!

Pronounced: Groo – ya – nagr (I would pronounce: qou-yan-uq)

The Greenlandic language is notorious for its difficult sounds, and even the most common phrases like ‘thank you and ‘you’re welcome will have difficult sounds in them.

You make the guttural sound Q (GR) at the beginning and end of QUJANAQ by closing up the top of your throat!

Illillu = You’re welcome!

Pronounced: ee – slee – sloo

The second most infamous sound of the Greenlandic language is the double L. This is a sound made with a bit of air – like when you say words with SL in but rather than separating the sounds of S and L we say them at the same time. Try to push the side of your tongue close to the left inside of your teeth while letting air out of your mouth.

Photo – Magnus Biilmann Trolle, Visit Nuuk

Aap = Yes!

Pronounced: aap

Phew – an easy one at last! You just prolong the A a bit and then you’ll know how to say ‘yes!’ And a bonus way to say yes in Greenlandic is simply by lifting your eyebrows as an answer. In Greenlandic culture we don’t shake our heads no and nod our heads yes, we simply use facial expressions. Keep reading to find out how to say no with your words and your face!

Naamik = No!

Pronounced: naa-mek

Pretty easy too huh? If you want to experiment with integrating into Kalaallit culture, scrunch up your nose when you want to say ‘no.’ Don’t worry – we won’t be offended!

But you might not want to practice this one in your homeland.

Photo – Magnus Biilmann Trolle, Visit Nuuk

Takuss = See you!

Pronounced: da-goos

Whenever you leave a place behind, you might want to shout a casual ‘takuss!’

This is especially nice if you intend to come back to said place. They are sure to be impressed by your Greenlandic words!

Mamaq = Tasty!

Pronounced: ma – magr

This is a good one if you eat anything that you think is yummy. It’s usually following a satisfied “mmmmmh! mamaq!”. Maybe this is something you’ll say when you try Mattak for the first time! Don’t know what mattak is? Read more about it here.

While these basic words don’t begin to cover the vastness of the Greenlandic language knowledge (did anyone say 600+ conjugation forms?!), they are a step towards making your visit more fun and friendly. Everyone loves a visitor who makes an effort with the local language, and that goes for Nuummiut (What is Nuummiut? No reference to what this means) too.

To effectively learn the Greenlandic language, starting with basic phrases and expressions can be incredibly helpful. Familiarizing yourself with key greetings and responses not only assists in day-to-day interactions but also deepens your appreciation of the local culture. Our guide includes essential phrases, practical tips, and cultural insights that serve as a foundational step for anyone looking to learn the Greenlandic language during their visit to Nuuk. This approach ensures that you start building your language skills with immediate, usable knowledge while preparing for a richer, more engaging experience in Greenland.

Takuss!

Kuluk-portrait

Kuluk Helms

Performing artist, poet, nuummioq