The conversation was interrupted, and we were both going our separate ways, but I thought about it a lot afterwards. What did she really mean? Was it not important to use the Greenlandic language in education? Did it have anything to do with her research on valuing indigenous knowledge
? Among other things, she had repeatedly emphasized communicating and exchanging expertise in silence. (link to former blog)
And now, now her words reappeared in my head during the conversation with my colleague who was trying to describe what it meant to speak Greenlandic, without necessarily using Greenlandic words. Communication in Greenlandic is about so much more than using the Greenlandic words.
I have learned a few things about communication in Greenlandic – but still have a lot to learn. The Greenlandic language is structured completely differently from the Indo-European languages that belong to Scandinavian. This means, for example, that the sentences are structured in a different way, where the meaning of a sentence, the main word, is often at the end of the sentence. It is therefore both rude and stupid to interrupt when someone is talking. You are not sure what they will actually say until they have completed the sentence.
Another thing is voice volume. I read a Facebook post where a Greenlander with good intentions thought that one should actually explain why one was annoyed with people who spoke so loudly. Speaking out loud is not an expression of security, does not add to trust and credibility. In a classic Norwegian upbringing, I learned that you have to “speak loud and clear”. One should not mumble or hesitate when expressing one’s opinion. In Norwegian culture, we have the phrase “He who is silent agrees”. If you disagree, you have a duty to speak out loud and clear. If you do not, then you agree. It is not necessarily correct or is perceived as polite here in Greenland.
I read in a book that in Greenlandic you do not have so many polite phrases – but that it is important that you look each other in the eyes and acknowledge each other’s presence by greeting – either with words or facial expressions
. One can also through facial expressions express one’s agreement or disagreement, without putting it into words, without saying it loud and clear and through this put the other in embarrassment.