Greenland – Saving world’s words


27 August, 2009


SISIMIUT, Greenland — Professor Lenore Grenoble stared at the bowl of raw beluga meat and gulped.

“So this is mattak?” Grenoble asked, using the Greenlandic word for the Inuit delicacy.

An elder eyed Grenoble as she moved a gelatinous slice toward her mouth. The whale meat smelled like fishy butter.

“It’s chewy,” she said, swallowing her first bite. “It’s not what I expected.”

Experiencing the unexpected is just part of the job for Grenoble, 51, a University of Chicago linguist who studies endangered languages. Rickety airplanes, horrible hotels and unusual cuisine are facts of life in fieldwork that often occurs far from her Hyde Park office.

“Getting robbed in Russia or [eating] raw reindeer hearts have probably been the worst part,” she said, laughing. “I’d actually prefer to be a vegetarian, but it’s just not possible in the places I work. It would be too disrespectful.”

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