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Project July 23, 2009

Greenland: Languages on Thin Ice


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In the arctic, warmer weather has already reshaped fauna and flora zones, and sea ice melted last year at the highest levels in modern history. In fact, some scientists believe that if such thawing continues, North Pole summers will be ice-free by the end of the century.

For the people of the arctic, the ice is not the only thing disappearing: a way of life is melting away as well. And one aspect being forever altered is the region's languages – almost all are threatened or endangered, either because of population relocation or lack of use.

One exception is Greenland, where the native tongue, Kalaallisut, became the island nation's lone official language in June 2009. On Greenland, where global warming is causing major changes, local citizens are doing everything they can to save their native language.

"Languages on Ice" examines the work of prize-winning Professor Lenore Grenoble, who's looking at how Greenland has done so well at retaining its native tongue despite incredible environmental and societal pressures. Grenoble hopes the lessons she learns in Greenland can be applied to helping other arctic languages.