Rethinking bilingualism : a sociolinguistic analysis of language planning and education legislation in Greenland

Thesis by Ivalu Søvndahl Pedersen

Many indigenous peoples’ languages in the world are endangered. But the special case in Greenland is the fact that Greenlandic is not an endangered language, even though less than 56,000 people speak Greenlandic. In fact, Greenlandic is spreading in Greenlandic society. The challenge in Greenland is rather how to educate Greenlanders to become functionally bilingual in Greenlandic and Danish, considering the vast varieties of bilingual skills that exist. Greenland has been a Danish colony since 1721 but achieved Home Rule in 1979 and an increased form of self-determination called ‘Self Rule’ in 2009. With the introduction of Self Rule the Greenlandic language has raised its status and become the official language in Greenland. Greenland is dependent on the annual block grant that it receives from the Danish state. In order for the country to create a self-sustaining economy, Greenland needs to invest in education. Today it is crucial for young Greenlanders wanting a further education to learn Danish, because Greenland lacks educational material and books in Greenlandic. But the amount of people who receive a further education is limited due to lack of Danish skills. The amount of people who will go on to receive further education in the future is crucial in the process of increased self-determination. Analysing official documents at macro level, i.e. at government level, this Master’s thesis studies the sociolinguistic paradoxes within the contemporary official language policy and planning situation in Greenland, concentrating primarily on language education policy in Greenlandic state schools. Factors affecting language policy in Greenland are those of: history, decolonisation, language emancipation, self-determination, nationalism, ideology and power. This Master’s thesis argues that one of the critical issues in official Greenlandic language policy is the absence of a clear definition of the status and role of the Danish language in Greenlandic society, which needs to be clarified more professionally at legislative, political and pedagogical levels. The second critical issue is the approach to an effective bilingual education system where pupils become functionally bilingual. Additionally there is a the lack of defining terms such as mother tongue, second language, foreign language, bilingualism and multilingualism in depth in a Greenlandic context; terms which ought to be used in a more adequate and conscious manner by policymakers and pedagogical leaders.

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