West Greenland Inuit - Orientation

Identification. The origin of the name "Kalaallit" is not certain, but it has been interpreted as derived from Old Norse skraelling. It was recorded in South Greenland in the Beginning of the eighteenth century. At the close of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, "Kalaallit" came in general use all along the coast spread by Greenlandic catechists educated in Nuuk (Godthab) and through publications in Greenlandic. "Inuit" is now being used as the Common name for Eskimo.

Location. The West Greenland Eskimo occupy the west coast of Greenland from Melville Bay to the Kap Farvel area. Only the coast is habitable, 85 percent of Greenland being covered by an ice sheet. Off the coast are numerous islands, and the coast itself is marked by deep fjords. Generally speaking, the winters are long and cold and the summers short and cool, with climatic variation from north to south. Linguistic Affiliation. The West Greenlandic language, Kalaallisut, Greenlandic, or Kitaamiutut, West Greenlandic, belongs to the Inuit-Inupiaq (Eastern Eskimo) group. The various dialects of West Greenland are mutually intelligible. Presently the great majority of Greenlanders use Kalaallisut as their first language and Danish as their second; English is also taught at schools. The Greenland Home Rule Act (1978) states that Greenlandic shall be the principal Language.

Demography. According to a census of 1789 the West Greenlanders numbered 5,122, not including small populations in the marginal areas. The population was decimated by epidemics, especially by a smallpox epidemic in 1733-1734. From 1900 to 1950, the population nearly doubled from 11,118 to 20,730, and during the next twenty years it doubled again because of better health services combined with a higher standard of living. From 1975 to 1980, the population was nearly stable owing to contraception and abortions. Since 1980 the population has been slowly increasing. Presently about 80 percent of the population of West Greenland are Greenlanders; 20 percent are Danes, most of whom reside for only a short period of time in Greenland. As of January 1, 1989, 41,633 people, in a population of 49,976, were native-born in Greenland. The great majority of Greenlanders are West Greenlanders. The corresponding figure for the whole of Greenland was 55,171, including the population in East Greenland and the Thule area.

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