Kalaallisut texts

Kalaallisut language

Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) is the official language of Greenland. It belongs to the Inuit branch of the Eskimo-Aleut language family, whose typological features include polysynthesis (in Kalaallisut, hundreds of productive derivational suffixes) and a rich system of inflections.

Kalaallisut inflectional system distinguishes three categories of words: verbs, which inflect for mood; nouns, which inflect for case; and particles, which do not inflect. In addition, pronominal argument inflections distinguish two subcategories of verbs and nouns: intransitive verbs inflect for mood and the subject; transitive verbs, for mood, subject and object; common nouns, for number and case; and relational nouns, for possessor, number and case. The form of the pronominal number inflection (for subject, object, or possessor) indicates person, numbers, and the current centering status (proximate or obviative, i.e. top-ranked in the center of attention or top-ranked in the background).

Syntactic dependencies are marked both on the head word (by pronominal argument inflection) and on the dependent phrase (by verbal mood or nominal case inflection). The case system is ergative. That is, intransitive subjects and transitive objects are in the absolutive case (unmarked), in contrast to transitive subjects in the ergative case. In Kalaallisut, the ergative case also marks possessors of relational nouns.

Kalaallisut has no grammatical tense. Instead, it has a grammatical mood system, which together with derivational verbal suffixes expresses temporal relations as precisely as the English tense system (see Bittner 2005, 2007, 2011, 2014).

Interlinear texts

The following Kalaallisut texts are classified as easy, intermediate, or advanced. The easy and intermediate texts come from teaching materials for Greenlandic school children learning to read. The advanced texts come from advanced school readers or from Kalaallisut literature (i.e. books originally written or translated by native Kalaallisut speakers). The English glosses and translations are mine.

All texts are transcribed in the standard Kalaallisut orthography, except that I have replaced the allophones (i.e. predictable variants) [e], [o], [ff] with the respective phonemes /i/, /u/, /v/. For example, the standard orthography oqaluttuaa ("his story") explicitly represents the predictable lowering of high vowels before uvular consonants (here, the phoneme /u/ is lowered to the allophone [o] before the uvular stop /q/). Native speakers are only aware of phonemic contrasts, not of predictable allophonic adjustments. I therefore transcribe oqaluttuaa ("his story") phonemically, as uqaluttuaa, which better represents the sound contrasts that Kalaallisut speakers are aware of.




  • A shaman's definition of poetry. Orpingalik, a Netsilik shaman, interviewed by Knud Rasmussen in early 1900s.
  • Appaliarsuit ("Little auks"). Natural history.
  • From Kalaaq miiraqataalu ("Kalaaq and his friends"), by J. Platou. Daily life of children in the Thule district.
  • From Histi piaraq tappiitsuq, Kalaallisut translation of the The Blind Colt by G. Rounds.
  • From Naya Nuki: Niviarsiaraq qimaasuq. Kalaallisut translation of Naya Nuki: Shoshoni Girl Who Ran, by K. Thomasma.
  • From Piiaasup pania Ronja, Kalaallisut translation of Ronja, R√∂verdotter (Swedish original of "Ronia, the Robber's Daughter"), by A. Lindgren.
  • From Qillarsuakkunik uqalualaaq ("Qillarsuaq's saga"), by Inuutersuaq Ulloriaq. Story of a migration from Canada to Thule. The author, Inuutersuaq Ulloriaq, recorded this story based on eyewitness testimony by his wife's grandmother, who had participated in this migration as a child and told him about it in her old age: Canadamit qimaanirat ("Flight from Canada"), Piuaatsup saavitaagaluarnira ("When Piuaatsuq was almost carried off by breaking ice").

Note to Kalaallisut speakers

Kalaaliuguit nutsikkakkalu kukkunersiorniarlugit piffissaqaruit assut qujamasuutigissagaluarpara. Nutsikkakka pillugit qanoq ikkaluartumilluunniit oqasissaqaruit allaffigilaarniannga uunga: mbittner (at) linguistics.rutgers.edu

("If you are a Greenlander and have time to proofread my translations, I'd be very grateful. If you have any comments about my translations, please email me at mbittner (at) linguistics.rutgers.edu")

Maria Bittner. ©Maria Bittner 2017. mbittner (at) linguistics.rutgers.edu