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Resumé af Camilla Kleeman Andersens speciale

Specialetitel: Plastic Flowers and Tongue-less Greenlanders - Feelings in the Language Debate in 2009-2019.


Language debate, postcolonial, colonialism, emotions, language policy, nationbuilding, power, minority, identity, ethnicity, globalization, shame, Greenland, Denmark.


In January 2018, I made a presentation in the cultural house Katuaq in Nuuk, Greenland, of my BA-thesis about the linguistic purism in a Greenlandic context, with a headline: “Is our language on its way to commit suicide?”. The headline provoked many feelings on Facebook.

Being well aware of the devastating problems of suicide we have in Greenland, I thought it would be evident that I wanted to talk about the language since the subject is about the language. Suddenly I found myself being the target of a shitstorm on Facebook. People debated the headline without getting into the content. It made me wonder why we as Greenlanders have such strong feelings about the Greenlandic language, why is it such a big deal? What is the connection between language and feelings? Furthermore, how does this affect our view on identity, collectively and as individuals?

The study of feelings and emotions in the Greenlandic context is an unexplored area of research. When the language debate is in question, people tend to believe that it is too emotionally charged. However, what if the feelings behind the language is something we need to talk about?

Method and data collection

This thesis is based on the language debate on web media in Greenland during 2009-2019. This decade is the ten year-period since self-government was introduced. 2009 was the year in which the Greenlandic people were recognized as a people with a right to selfdetermination. Furthermore, it was the year when the Greenlandic language became the official language of the country.

This research about the feelings and emotions in the language debate is based on empirical data collected from the web medias Sermitsiaq.ag and knr.gl providing 259 articles about language debate, political articles, legislation, over 40 hours videos from 13 different election meetings in 2013, 2014 and 2018.

Using Norman Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1992; 2008), this thesis studies the feelings involved in the debate and what the causes are for these emotions. Being in a state of postcoloniality, Greenland has faced various challenges attached to be a former colony. Asymmetrical relations of power are forces one should not underestimate when talking about feelings and emotions.

Feelings of shame, hatred, anger, and love are among the emotions one can trace in the Greenlandic language debate. Emotions have been invested in the Greenlandic language giving the language a high affection value and are seen as a crucial part of the Greenlandic identity.

Theoretical frame

The thesis is written from a sociolinguistic and anthropological approach. It is based on Sara Ahmed's affect theory (Ahmed, 2014) and Norman Fairclough's critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1992:2008). Using Fairclough's discourse analysis, the language used in the debate, and the ideologies behind these statements are examined. Ahmed's affect theory explains the different emotions expressed in the language debate and how the emotions and postcolonial traumas are used as narrative weapons in the language debate and the independence process. Ahmed’s affect theory borrows the Marxist idea as feelings as circulating entities. The more they circulate, the more value they gain. In the same way, Ahmed argues that emotions can get invested in the discourses.

Danish vs. Greenlandic

Historically, the Greenlandic language has been the only language in Greenland. That was the case until the Greenlandic people began to demand education in the Danish language, partly because they wanted to have access to more literature and partly because they wanted to be equated to the Danes, who had more privileges. The Danification started, and many Greenlandic people became monolinguals in Danish. In the 1970s, the Greenlandification occurred; the Greenlandic language was prioritized at the expense of the Danish language in schools.

The Greenlandic language was used to promote the Greenlandic identity, which earned a very high symbolic value, especially in the 1970s. Many feelings got invested in the language, and it made the language debate an explosive affair. When Greenlandification started, it created many monolinguals in Greenlandic, which caused problems in the educational sector, since it is necessary to have skills in the Danish language.

Big expectations to the language law

After the introduction of self-government in 2009, the Greenlandic people had great expectations of the language law. However, as with other things, it takes time to see the results after such shifts.

Challenges and the quality of translation from Danish to Greenlandic, especially its lack, were debated in the media. In questions that were crucial in the democratic society, such as big-scale mining in respective areas where the citizens were monolingual in Greenlandic, the lack of translation was debated and criticized in the media.

The legislation of the language has been debated over the years. Some politicians wanted to add to the Language Act the obligations of signage and advertising in Greenlandic. However, due to the concern of democratic liberties, other politicians denied the proposal. It started an ethnicity debate and claims for and on (dis)respect for the Greenlandic language in the political arena.

When ethnicity comes in question, the division usually is on the “Dane" and the "Greenlander," depending on the respective speakers' language. Such labeling becomes problematic when the Danish speaking Greenlanders are in question. Due to the Danes (former) privileged position and the Danish language position as the language in the educational sector, the Danish language has become a language with high prestige. The high prestige the Danish language has provoked feelings of shame of the nonDanish-speaking Greenlanders, but at the same time, the Greenlandic language had gained so much affection value in the national symbolic sense that it is shameful when not being able to speak the language of the country, too.

According to the thesis, the Danish language has a dual-position; 1) it is a language of the colonizers, 2) it is the critical language that gives access to various educational possibilities (Langgård, 2004). The dual-position gives ambivalent feelings and frustrations towards the Danish language.

The feelings in the language debate

The thesis argues that there are various different emotions in the debate. Emotions such as shame, anger, and powerlessness give rise to frustrations in the population, and the emotions are reflected in the language debate. The Greenlandic language has been neglected in the modernization process. Moreover, even though an interdisciplinary conference concluded in 2001 that the Greenlandic language was no longer threatened with extinction, to this day, there is still a discourse that speaks of the danger of extinction. As the Greenlandic language is a vital national symbol of the Greenlandic identity, many feel a need to protect it. When one feels threatened, one tends to become violent. This "violence" is expressed in the debate in the form of anger and hatred. The anger goes out to some influential people who possess power one way or another, to Danish-speaking Greenlanders and other acting parties who are seen as threatening. However, that anger and powerlessness are also rooted in a postcolonial passivity, inferiority, and alienation, where one feels that one has no right to decide over one's own country and the future. The frustrations the Danish-speaking Greenlanders suffer. It is often those who sit in higher positions, as they speak the language of education, the Danish language, and therefore have easier access to educations, which gives them better career opportunities. However, the language debate also expresses the frustrations in society that are not directly related to Denmark or Danish-speaking Greenlanders. These are instead frustrations created by social inequality and poor education.

Greenlanders only on temporary

In Greenland's independence process, the Danish-speaking Greenlanders are seen as staying "temporarily" until the Greenlandic-speakers are "educated enough” to take over their positions. It gives a feeling of being unwelcome, not good enough until one speaks the Greenlandic language.

The Greenlandic-speaking and the Danish-speaking, share a desire to be accepted and recognized as they are. Therefore, the thesis comes with a recommendation to discuss the language and the emotions that keep coming back and have a destructive effect on both parties.

The thesis also points to the relationship between Greenland and Denmark from a postcolonial point of view. The asymmetric power relationship seen in the debate shows a need to articulate the relationship in 2020 and redefine the relationship between the two parties. Greenlanders need recognition as a people and as an equal partner by Denmark, as written in the Self-Government Act from 2009. The language debate is, therefore, only a small piece in a larger picture. If the independence process is to succeed, one has to take the plunge, not to go in circles.

Globalization and nationalism

The thesis discusses the challenges of the increasing globalization that the Greenlandic population is facing. The process of globalization has given rise to an urge to feel unique (Hall et al.,1992), which is reflected in the language debate and a growing nationalism among the population. The thesis problematizes this by arguing about the dangers of nationalism. Nationalism can lead to the exclusion of certain groups (including Danes and Danish-speaking Greenlanders), and even lead to racism. However, it is also pointed out that the Greenlandic situation is not a unique case, as similar trends are seen on a global level the past years.

The glorification of the colonizer Denmark

Furthermore, the thesis problematizes the predominant glorification of Denmark as the loving former colonizer. Although Denmark has been relatively milder than other colonies against the Greenlanders, it is clear that the advantage has been on Denmark's side (Thisted, 2016;2018). Greenland has longed and still longs for an equal position, clearly seen in the discourses. The debate continually shows that Denmark has a superior position vis-àvis Greenland. In the glorifying narrative of Denmark, there is an expectation and a mindset that “Greenland must be grateful for everything that Denmark does because Denmark does it out of love for the Greenlanders." The narrative helps maintain the asymmetric power relationship, which is detrimental in an equal partnership.

The Trump-effect

The nature of the relationship took a turning point in August 2019 after US President Donald Trump aired the idea of buying Greenland. The debate changed to become more appreciative of both parties. It was not too late to say that Greenland is part of Denmark, both from the Danish and Greenlandic side. It was also seen that Denmark became more appreciative and admitted the advantages Denmark has of having Greenland. Before that, there was a discourse that only Greenland gets benefits from being in that relationship. The fact that the Denmark expressed a bit appreciation of Greenland's positive contribution to the relationship meant that the Greenlandic postcolonial feeling of inferiority was subdued. The recognition did not just happen to Greenland, but it is done to the whole world, as several international media focus on Greenland.

The Unity of the Realm was challenged, so the parties unite when a threat comes from outside. Suddenly Denmark was not that big anymore from the Greenlandic perspective, which has a tendency to imagine Denmark as if it is the whole world. Suddenly the world got bigger for Greenland.

The rejection of the Danish language

In continuation of the discourse on the relationship between Denmark and Greenland, the thesis talks about whether Greenlanders should have Danish as the first second language in the education or whether one should replace Danish with English. The debate must be seen from a postcolonial perspective, as from the Greenlandic side, it is a rejection of the colony when one chooses to take the English language. One does not have the same negative feelings towards the English language. However, there are some voices against replacing Danish with English. The argument is that due to the negative feelings against the Danish language from the society, the Greenlandic language is protected from extinction because it retains the Danish language in an agonistic position. The Greenlandic language is defended and favored. If the English language were to replace the Danish language, it is feared that the English language will engulf the Greenlandic language, as seen with the Inuit in Canada and Alaska.


It should be clear to anyone that the relationship between Greenland and Denmark is facing challenges. However, there is a reason to be optimistic as far as both parties are willing to meet respectfully and most importantly equally. Some issues are historic, while others are contemporary. The conversation must begin, but the question is who wants to start?

Senest opdateret 22. december 2020