Danish MPs get a lesson in Greenlandic | Polarjournal
Some expressions need no interpretation (Photo: Folketinget)

As Greenland increasingly speaks for itself, the next step will be for its representatives in the Danish national assembly to not have to address the chamber in a language that is not their own

Greenland is a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. And laws governing the Kingdom of Denmark are made by the Folketing. It would stand to reason, then, that the two Greenlandic legislators who sit in the assembly address it in Kalaallisut as a matter of course.

That this is not the case only proves Aki-Matilda Høegh-Dam’s point. One of the current Greenlandic MPs, Ms Høegh-Dam (pictured above, in pink blazer) spoke only in Kalaallisut during the annual debate about the state of the kingdom on Friday. Her fellow MPs had been informed ahead of time, but, to their irritation, her decision extended even to her answers to the questions they posed in Danish. To the befuddlement of the speaker of the assembly, it also extended to her reply to his request that she repeat what she said in Danish. Eventually, she had to resort to telling him “nej” (“no” in Danish).

Ms Høegh-Dam’s choice was not a matter of being unable to communicate effectively in Danish; indeed, she was born in Denmark and attended university in Copenhagen, but the point of holding a 10-minute address in a language just one other person it the chamber understood was, she said, an opportunity to show the 177 other members of the Folketing what it is like to have your laws debated in a language you do not understand.

This, she feels, is what the Folketing has done all along by debating laws that apply in Greenland only in Danish, a language that — if it is spoken at all — is generally spoken as a second language in Greenland. The situation is one the people of Greenland find “humiliating”, she said. Adding injury to that insult, she feels, is that Danish lawmakers expected hear their own language, proving to her that they view Denmark as being first among members of the kingdom that on paper are equal.

Aki-Matilda Høegh-Dam, wearing a traditional Greenlandic outfit, poses with Danish PM Mette Frederiksen during the opening of the legislature on 4 October (Photo: Aki-Matilda Høegh-Dam / Facebook)

Though Danish is the official language for the entire kingdom and the language of business in the Folketing, the assembly does not bar addresses in a foreign language, and Ms Høegh-Dam argued that Greenlandic (as well as Faroese, the language of the other member of the kingdom) ought to be expected during debates that relate directly to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, as Friday’s debate did.

“Speaking only Danish in the chamber is a remnant of colonialism,” she said. “If Denmark really is a kingdom of equals, we need to be able to respect each other’s languages.”

According to Ms Høegh-Dam, the chair had been informed a week in advance that she would hold her remarks in Greenlandic. If she had been expecting that she would receive the same treatment from the Folketing that non-Kalaallisut legislators receive when addressing Greenland’s national legislature, where two-way interpretation is a matter of course, she must have been disappointed: there was no interpreter. Even without one, her message appears to have gone through loud and clear.  

Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal

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