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Monday, 12 October 2009

My Next Big Challenge



If anyone happened to look at my twitter babblings on Friday night, you'd have noticed a slightly strange emphasis.

Greenland.

And more specifically, a developing obsession with Kalaallisut, the Greenlandic language.

I fell in love with Greenland when I flew over it, and now we're actively making plans for a trip there next June.

I've been assured that most of the younger Greenlanders speak English, and that we'd get along fine without learning the language... but I'm a linguist at heart. I can't help myself. And when I found out that it's an ergative-absolutive language*, that was it; I've wanted to learn an ergative language ever since I first heard of them back in my earliest morpho-syntactic studies.

A couple of the most interesting things I found as I descended deeper and deeper into language-geekery on Friday: you can tell surprisingly much about what's in the news even without speaking the language, and the website of the Greenlandic language bureau has some really neat morphology tools and a free download of their work-in-progress Greenlandic-English dictionary.

There don't seem to be many helpful resources out there (though I have borrowed an introductory textbook, helpfully written in Danish...), and I have 1001 other things to be getting on with... but I seem to have committed myself regardless.

Over the next 9 months, I'm learning Greenlandic.

Wish me luck, folks - I think I'm going to need it!

* If you're wondering, but don't want to wade through a whole article to learn more, the simple(ish) definition is this: In a nominative-accusative language (the normal kind) the subject of an intransitive verb and the subject of a transitive verb are treated the same (e.g. 'he ran', 'he chased her'). In an ergative-absolutive language, the subject of an intransitive verb is treated the same as the object of a transitive verb, but the subject of a transitive verb is different (imagine if you still had 'he ran', but you had to write the second sentence as 'him chased she'...)

12 comments:

Louiz said...

Wow, I've always fancied Greenland - and the language thing is interesting

Bagman and Butler said...

Wow! I'm impressed. I think. I may have to look up "ergative" although I'm kind of afraid because I can sometimes get hooked on weird new stuff too. I have a cousin who was a linquist and lexocographer and had an interesting discussionw with him about how language (particularly languages that have different structures) influence the way you think and perceive the world...in any case, I'm in awe...

Sam said...

I was fascinated when I saw your Tweet and further so now that I have read this, Rachel C. It brings back memories of Becki going off for a summer trip to Mornington Island (off Australia) to help capture and revive the native language there. I look forward to hear further of this adventure.

Jacqueline said...

The trip sounds wonderful, but the language sounds quite difficult. I always try to learn a few phrases before I go on holiday, but it sounds like you are taking this altogether more seriously. I think there is a real talent in learning new languages.

liliannattel said...

i looked up the link, but i'm not a linguist. what is ergative-absolutive in layperson's terms? Good luck! I think it's fabulous.

Lara Dunston said...

Well, you're the first person I've known to learn the language of Greenland! Good on you! Can't wait to hear how you progress. Good luck!

liliannattel said...

thanks for the linguistic explanation! i do get it now. :)

Bells said...

wow this is going to be fascinating. I'm along for the ride. Fabulous! I'd be a linguist too except all my attempts have come to nothing. I've attempted Russian. Japanese, German. Fun but I was lazy.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Sounds challenging.

I can understand the appeal of Greenland from the air, it's one of the great things about being the insomniac next to the window on transatlantic flights.

LadyFi said...

Greenland - fascinating!

I'd love to go to Iceland...

Cara Lopez Lee said...

Learning to speak Kalaallisut? Holy smokes, that's impressive! Took my some 15 minutes just to comprehend the very idea of ergative language, much less speak it! When you go to Greenland, I'm eager to see you throw a few Kalaalisut phrases around in your blog about the trip.

Shai Coggins said...

Wow! That's like a blast from my psycholinguistic past - what with words like morpho-syntactic studies popping up. Reminded me of papers written past for my first grad studies. Eeeps.

Anyway, language is great, isn't?

Good luck with learning Greenlandic! Looking forward to seeing what you do with it. :-)

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