the gaq

Greenlandic Text Lesson 4 (and Name The Book challenge)

So far: Text lesson #1, Text Lesson #2 and Text Lesson #3

Here’s a short piece of text for Lesson 4 which comes from a well-known novel translated into Greenlandic. I’m not going to name it or translate it for now, but I think it’s very guessable, so please put your thoughts as to the book title (or any translation thoughts) in the comments.

Pisarnini qaangerlugu 18-inik issippoq. Nittaappoq, uangalu maanna oqaaseriunnaarsimasattut aput taaneqartarpoq qanik, angisuut aliggutut ittut oqimaassuseqanngingajattut nakkaallutik sequtsikkatut qaleriissaattut nuna qaqortumik issimik qallerlugu.



pisarneq – (being) normal with 4th person possessive –ni (its own…).Pi- is often used as a “dummy” word root without much meaning, a similar role to the word “it” in English sentences like “it’s raining”. After that we have -sar-(/-tar) which signifies habitual action and –neq a verbal noun. So together it literally means something like “the condition in which it habitually is”, i.e. normality

qaanger-exceed, go past with 3rd person object contemporative mood, singular object –lugu (while (verbing) it)

18-inik – here pronounced atteninik reflecting the Danish word for eighteen, in the instrumental case (by, with, “more specifically”)

issippoqit is cold. With 18-inik, it expresses the idea of 18 [degrees] of cold i.e. -18C.

nittaappoqit is snowing

uanga‎ - here combined with –lu and. Uanga commonly means I, and with an intransitive verb would be in the absolutive case (e.g. uanga kalaaliuvunga I am a Greenlander), but note that uanga also has the same form in the relative case, as it is here, governing (possessing) the word oqaaseriunnaarsimasattut which follows. It acts as the agent of the passive nominal ending –saq, described below, giving a meaning of [by me] or [my].


oqaaseq - word. Derived from this is oqaasii (their words) with 3rd person plural possessive –i (note: alternative form of –at), which is used to denote a language, for example kalaallit oqaasii (literally: of.the.Greenlanders  their.words). Here oqaaseq is combined with –ri(vaa)/-raa (to have as one’s…), -iunnaar- (no more), -sima- (perfective affix, to have done…), -saq/-gaq (passive nominaliser – a thing which is (verbed)), and –tut (/-sut)  (equative case, like, as, in the manner of.  When –tut/-sut used with nationalities it usually describes speaking in their language, e.g. kalaallisut[oqaluttarpoq] meaning literally [he speaks] like a Greenlander or more naturally [he speaks] Greenlandic). Note that here the equative case ending has a double -t- which signifies a truncated first person singular possessor -v- + -tut giving -ttut which complements uanga.

So together uanga oqaaseriunnaarsimasattut  means literally in the language which is no longer had [as a language] by me, or more naturally in the language which is no longer mine

aputsnow. Usually means “snow on the ground” as opposed to “snow in the air” but in this case it has a more generic meaning, as is clear from the remainder of the sentence.

taaneqartarpoqis called from taavaa he/she names it and –neqar- passive suffix and –tar- habitual suffix

qanik falling snow, snow in the air, snowflake. Based on this also note qannerpoq – it is snowing which is another (regional) term used alongside nittaapoq

Clearly having an article about an Eskimo-Aleut/Inuit language with multiple words for snow begs some questions! For a definitive discussion about how many words there are for snow in these languages, I highly recommend Geoffrey Pullum’s The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax. The title of the book gives you a bit of a clue to the answer…

angisooqlarge, plural angisuut

aligoqcrystal. The plural form is a slightly irregular aliggut with a doubled (geminate) consonant. For words like this, the plural form is used as the base for oblique cases such as –mi, -mik, and in this case –tut. Hence aliggutut like a crystal or like crystals

ippoqis. Here in nominal mood, absolutive plural form, ittut. Together with aliggutut it gives an adjectival form being like crystals which is in apposition to the preceding and following plural descriptive terms. It’s not completely clear to me, but I suspect these plural terms are referring to an implied qaniit snowflakes (plural of qanik above) as the subject of the final part of the sentence. Note also that the stand-alone verb ippoq is only used is a few settings, as with –tut here. It also occurs in the phrase qanorippit? How are you? (originally qanoq ippit?)

oqimaa*- to be heavy; with –ssuseq “the condition of being” (makes verbal nouns), -qar-have, -nngi*-  not -ngaja*- almost –toq (plural –tut) nominal mood, absolutive. Hence oqimaassuseqanngingajattut which almost does not have weight or almost weightless

nakkaa*- fall together –(l)lutik contemporative mood, intransitive plural form: [while they are] falling

sequtserpaa – to pulverise it, turn to powder with passive -gaq (plural form- kkat) giving pulverized , here with equative case ending –tut giving sequtsikkatut like powder[ed things]

qaleriipput they lie on top of one another. From this qaleriissat or qaleriiaat – things which [are to] lie on top of one another, i.e. a stack. Here the full word is qaleriissaattut again with equative –tut as stacks, in stacks. I don’t quite follow the full breakdown of this word which appears to be qaleriissa+at+tut. Since qaleriissat stack is already a plural form in Greenlandic (like scissors or pants in English), the central –at- could be the third person possessive “their” to give a sense of plurality i.e. falling together in their stacks, but I’m not entirely sure.

[Update: Double checking with “word splitting” software Qimawin by Henrik Aagesen, which analyses and breaks down Greenlandic words to their constituent parts, this is the correct breakdown of the word. Screen grab of this handy tool below:]

nunaland, ground (absolutive, singular form). As in Kalaallit Nunaat the land of the Greenlanders or Greenland. Similarly found in cognate word Nunavut our land (in Inuktitut). Here it means ground and is the object of qallerlugu.

qaqortoqwhite. Here with instrumental case –mik

issi – chill, coldness, frost. Here with instrumental case –mik

Hence qaqortumik issimik with a white frost

qallerpaa – he/she covers it, here in the contemporative, transitive form with singular object –lugu ([while] [he/she/they is/are] covering it)


[Update 2 - translation now added]

It is freezing, an extraordinary -18C, and it’s snowing, and in the language that is no longer mine, the snow is ‘qanik’ – big, almost weightless crystals falling in stacks and covering the ground with a layer of pulverized white frost.

As ever, if there are any questions please ask. Any corrections by native speakers are also very welcome.