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Greenlandic and Inuktitut differences

Posted: Thu Oct 01, 2020 6:56 pm
by Deinonysus
I was looking at the Greenlandic profile on the old forum and I knew it was closely related to Inuktitut but I was still surprised by just how similar they were, and the differences are so small (at least based on what I saw in the thread) that I wanted to make a comparison post.

The thread was started by ChristopherB who said he had not studied Greenlandic but was going by Wikipedia. Then Veig, who had studied Greenlandic, added some clarifications, and finally Miiyii, who I believe is a native speaker, came in with some very interesting information. I myself am studying Inuktitut. I've learned a lot about the grammar and phonology, but I'm still just a beginner and I wouldn't say I speak the language yet.

Although Greenland is an autonomous territory of Denmark, it is physically quite close to North America. For example, Cape Dyer on Baffin Island in Nunavut, Canada is only 338 km (that's 210 miles if you prefer Freedom Units) from Sisimiut, Greenland. That is around the distance between Boston and New York City by car, or about 80% of the distance from Oslo to Stockholm by air.

First I will go over some general differences between Inuktitut and Greenlandic that I'm aware of, and then I will go over some specific Greenlandic examples that are given in the thread that I linked above, and how they compare to Inuktitut. Again, I am a beginner in Inuktitut and I have not studied Greenlandic although there have been a few references to it in my Inuktitut learning materials, so I'm just going by this thread plus Wikipedia; I apologize for any mistakes.

General differences

p/v vs t/j

In Greenland, the basic verb endings start with a p (after a consonant) or v (after a vowel). In western Nunavut, they start with a t (after a consonant) or j (after a vowel). In eastern Nunavut, the two endings are interchangeable; there is a slight difference in meaning and usage but I'm not able to explain it at my beginner's level. The materials I'm using teach the 't/j' forms but the 'p/v' forms can also be used in the dialect I'm learning.


Inuktitut syllables can end in a vowel, p, t, k, or q. Sometimes the final 'q' is spelled as 'r' in the middle of the word depending on what spelling convention is being used. In western Nunavut, any final consonant can come before any initial consonant, but as you travel East, you start to experience gemination, which means that the consonant is doubled (pronounced long). For example, in the North Baffin dialect (which is what I'm focusing on), you can't have a labial consonant (p, v, or m) next to an alveolar consonant (t, s, ł, l, or n), so if you combine the verb root ᑎᑭᑦ (tikit, meaning 'enter') with the verb ending ᐱᑦ (pit, the second person singular interrogative ending), you run into an illegal consonant combination, so the second consonant kind of swallows up the first consonant and becomes doubled, so the actual word meaning "did you just enter?" is ᑎᑭᑉᐱᑦ (tikippit), with two p's instead of a t and a p.

Quick aside: The reason it's "did you just enter?" instead of "are you entering?" is that some verbs, particularly verbs of motion are called "process verbs", which refer to the recent past by default. To express a process verb in the present tense, you need to add the suffix ᓕᖅ (liq), so "are you entering?" would be ᑎᑭᓕᖅᐱᑦ (tikiliqpit).

The letter ł above is the voiceless lateral fricative which is pronounced like the Welsh "ll". This phoneme doesn't exist in the South Baffin dialect and usually becomes 'ts'. This also occurs in Greenlandic, but in a plot twist, the letter L does turn into this sound when it's doubled, so this sound does occur in Greenlandic, just not in the same places where it occurs in Inuktitut.

In the South Baffin dialect, which is spoken in the area geographically closest to Greenland, there is an additional restriction that labial, alveolar, and velar consonants can't be next to each other. The velar consonants are k, g, and ng. So for instance, the North Baffin word for a house is ᐃᒡᓗ iglu, but in South Baffin that would be an illegal combination so it geminates to ᐃᓪᓗ (illu) instead.

As far as I can tell, Greenlandic has identical gemination rules to South Baffin Inuktitut.

Pronunciation Differences

According to the Wikipedia article on Greenlandic, several consonants tend to become devoiced fricatives when they are geminated. I have not observed this to be true for Inuktitut.

Spelling Differences

Many Inuktitut dialects tend to be preferentially written in syllabics. Others are only written using the Latin alphabet. Greenlandic is written only using the Latin alphabet, not syllabics. Labrador Inuktitut has its own Latin spelling system which are very different from other Inuktitut romanisation systems. The usual Inuktitut romanisation system is very similar to Greenlandic's spelling system, with a few differences.

Inuktitut has only three phonemic vowels, a, i, and u. However, these vowels tend to sound different before uvular consonants (q and r). In particular, "ur" (for example) is pronounced more like "or", and "ir" is pronounced similar to the end of the French word "chauffeur".

Greenlandic uses the letters e and o to represent these i and u sounds before a uvular consonant. Inuktitut will usually not use e or o (except in Labrador). This is only a spelling difference, not a pronunciation difference.

Examples from the thread

Greenlandic conjugation of "to sleep":
sinippunga (I am sleeping)
sinipputit (you are sleeping)
sinippoq (...)
These are the first, second, and third person singular verb endings, followed by the first, second, and third person plural verb endings. In Inuktitut, plural means a group of three or more because they also have a dual number, but I believe Greenlandic only has singular and plural.

The singular forms I learned for Inuktitut are ᓯᓂᒃᑐᖓ (siniktunga), ᓯᓂᒃᑐᑎᑦ (siniktutit), and ᓯᓂᒃᑐᖅ (siniktuq). However, the forms listed above are also acceptable for Inuktitut, except Inuktitut usually doesn't use the letter o. Again, this is only a spelling difference, not a pronunciation difference.

The Greenlandic plural forms are also identical to the Inuktitut plural forms (although again, there is a second form that can also be used in Inuktitut).

They also listed double-person endings for the verb ᑕᑯ (taku, meaning "see"), but that is actually a fairly advanced topic that I haven't learned yet. This only applies to verbs with a specific direct object. I don't want to cover any material I haven't studied so I won't go into it. But this verb root is exactly the same in Inuktitut and Greenlandic.

Veig wrote:Fränzi, you wrote above, for instance, that Kalaallisut distinguishes nouns and verbs. In fact, specialists do not all agree with this. A word we first considered as a noun can sometimes become a verb. Ronald Lowe described Canadian inuit languages. According to him, a word IS not a noun or a verb by itself, it becomes either an "object word" (noun) or an "action word" (verb) at the moment of speech. Am I clear ?

I'm not sure if this is different between Inuktitut and Greenlandic. In Inuktitut, you have noun roots and verb roots, and you have noun endings and verb endings. But there are plenty of suffixes that turn nouns into verbs or verbs into nouns. And sometimes a verb root can be identical to a noun root and the difference comes from what ending you put on it (as we'll see below). And some endings can ambiguously be noun endings or verb endings, so for example ᐱᓱᓲᖅ (pisusuuq) can be either a habitual verb ("he/she walks", meaning they like to take walks) or a noun meaning someone who habitually does something ("walker" or "one who walks"). This is actually professor Mick Mallon's Inuktitut nickname because of his habit of hiking on the tundra.

So as you can see things can get a bit hairy but nouns and verbs are usually more or less different things in Inuktitut. I imagine the situation is the same or similar for Greenlandic.

Miiyii wrote:
Veig wrote:It was not false either to write that Greenlandic distinguish verbs and nouns ! Anna Berge, in her article "The Inuit language in syntactic theory", wrote that though the question still is open, most specialists obviously agree to say that Greenlandic do distinguish nouns and verbs, as in most languages.
For instance the word nasaq is considered as a noun which means "hat". But if you add the ending of the declarative mood, it becomes a verb : nasaqpuq (he puts his hat on).
That means either that a word can be, depending on the context, a verb and a noun, or that there are in reality two similar words, the first one being a noun (hat), the second one being a verb (to put one's hat on)
Well.. I don't hope you are saying you wrote Nasaqpuq in Greenlandic, cuzz' it's not right.. (Sooorry to say it.. d:
- Unless you mean Inuktitut?)

In greenland we say ''Nasaq'' (That right what you said) but we say Nasalerpoq/Nasani ativaa. (Directly translated
the first would be ''Hat on it does.'' and the second ''Hat takes on it.'' so.. :))

I had to look this one up in the dictionary and ᓇᓴᖅᐳᖅ (nasaqpuq) is correct for Inuktitut, although in the dictionary they give the 't/j' form and use an 'r' instead of a 'q'. It specifically means that you put a hat on yourself; there is a separate verb for putting a hat on somebody else.

It looks to me like Veig made a simple spelling error here, since in Greenlandic, the letter o is used in place of u before a uvular. However, there may be a second error with the tense. Miiyii adds the suffix ler, which would be spelled liq in the Inuktitut spelling system that I am used to (others might spell it lir) but would be pronounced the same. I believe this indicates that when nasaq is used a verb, it is a process verb, which I mentioned above, and in order to express it in the present tense you need to add liq.

My dictionaries don't say whether a verb is a process verb or not, so I can't tell if this would be different in Inuktitut. But if it is also a process verb in Inuktitut, then the present tense form should be identical to the first form that Miiyii gave except for differences in the spelling systems.

The second form that Miiyii gave should also be identical in Inuktitut: ᓇᓴᓂ ᐊᑎᕚ (nasani ativaa). The first word is the word for "hat" with a possessive ending meaning his/her own, and the verb means "he puts it on (garment)". Note that "he" is a pronoun of convenience but Inuktitut verbs and nouns don't show gender so there's nothing about these phrases that indicates that it's specifically a man that puts on the hat.

Miiyii wrote:Now.. I haven't been here for a long time.. So i thought that I wanted to post some more, that can be helpful
trying to learn Greenlandic. :)

.. Umm.. Oh yes.. Siblings.. Is probably one of the most difficult systems in the Greenlandic language.. It
depends on the sex! - Let me show you.


If the girl has an older sister, she will call her Angaju (Pronounced: Anayu)
If the girl has an younger sister, she will call her Nuka (Pronounced: Nuga)
If the girl has an older brother, she will call him Ani (Pronounced: Ani hard ''i'')
If the girl has an younger brother, she will call him Aqqalu (Pronounced: Agrralu)


If the boy has an older brother, he will call him Aavu/Aaju (Pronounced: Aavu as written and Aayu. long 'a')
If the boy has an younger brother, he will call him Nuka (Pronounced: Same as in the girls way.)
If the boy has an older sister, he will call her Aleqa (Pronounced: Alegrra)
If the boy has an younger sister, he will call her Naja (Pronounced: Nayah)


That should be it.. .. Try learning those.. :)


This is the biggest difference I have seen so far.

The sibling terms I learned for Inuktitut were:
  • ᐊᖓᔪ (angaju) - an older sibling of the same gender
  • ᓄᑲᖅ (nukaq) - a younger sibling of the same gender.
  • ᐊᓂ (ani) - brother of a female
  • ᓇᔭᒃ (najak) - sister of a male

There is significant but not complete overlap. However, there could be dialectical differences in how these words are used within Inuktitut and Greenlandic.