Sunday, 18 March 2018

UN in your language

People without a language are like a kayak without skin

Greenland1The population of Greenland is only be about 60,000 or roughly the same as European cities such as Gladsaxe in Denmark or Järfälla in Sweden, Torquay in England or St Nazaire in France. In terms of population Greenland may be a dwarf, but geographically speaking it is a giant of 2.2 million square kilmeters or almost four times the size of France – Western Europe’s biggest country.

As if this does not provide enough challenges, Greenlanders and the local media have to cope with unfavourable climatic conditions and geographical factors such as glaciers, ice and mountains and lack of infrastructure.

Nevertheless Greenland has a lively media landscape with both public and private television and radio, two newspapers and virtually the whole nation connected to the internet.

Greenlandic is based on Kalaallisut, the west coast dialect which became the only official language of Greenland in 2009 and is closely related to the language of Canadian Inuits.

”Media in our own language is essential for contacts between citizens of this country and not least for the preservation of our culture,” says Mariia Simonsen, Chairwoman of the Association of Greenlandic journalists. ”An old Greenlandic saying goes: ”People without a language are like a kayak without skin.” A kayak cannot float without its skin cover. It would sink and be of no use.

The broadcast news media in Greenland consists of the public broadcaster KNR (Kalaallit Nunaata Radioa) , with private cable TV in the capital Nuuk.

The main print media in Greenland consists of Sermitsiak and Atuagagdliutit- Grönlandsposten which are published respectively on a weekly and twice weekly basis.

Mariia Simonsen points out that it is not a given that a language spoken by 50,000 people survives in the modern world and says media plays a large part in this struggle for survival.

”The language develops by being used. The media and not least social media contributes to the survival of the language, its development and adaption.”

Danish is the first language of about 12% of the population and it is spoken by almost the entire population as a second language.

”We live in a bilingual country and English is also very present. Our language is influenced a lot by Danish and English and the danger in our media is that Greenlandic is more and more becoming a translated language. Many articles are written originally in Danish and then translated both in the electronic and print media. There is a lot of translation being done under pressure from stiff deadlines. This means that there are a lot of faults and direct translations where the meaning gets lost and the influence of the original language is felt, including in the structure of sentences.”

Greenland’s window to the outside world is still in large part through Denmark, but interestingly, in addition to Copenhagen, the public broadcaster has a foreign correspondent in Canada. “KNR has a permanent correspondent in Montreal who covers Inuits in Canada. KNR radio and TV have regular programmes on other indigenous people but the newspapers are less focused on that issue.”

Traditional media in Greenland faces exactly the same problems as its counterparts elsewhere in the world: loss of advertising money, competition from the internet, downsizing and decreasing budgets.

The colossal size of Greenland is, of course, another big challenge for local media who ironically are sometimes jealous of foreign journalists who can easily afford to travel to remote places within the country.

”Copies of the two weekly newspapers sometimes reach remote areas a long time after the publication day and newspapers, TV and radio have limited resources to send their staff to other parts of the country for financial reasons. The foreign media, on the other hand, has the possibility to travel to Greenland and talk about its people in the context of the environment, the nature and climate change and we welcome this wholeheartedly, up here,” says Mariia Simonsen.