Berthelsen, Christian

Author, historian, teacher, translator, school principal and judge, born in Nuuk (Greenland) in 1916 - died in Nuuk (Greenland) in 2015.

Christian Berthelsen, also known as Christiaannguaq, is the son of Udsteds administrator Johan Jørgen Josef Berthelsen (1883-1958) and his wife, Karen Bodil Abegael Lynge (1882-1950).  His brother, Rasmus Hans Pavia Karl Berthelsen (1905-1980) is Rasmus Hans Pavia Karl Berthelsen (1905-1980), was mayor of Nuuk from 1955 to 1963 and father of the politician and musician Per Berthelsen born in 1950.

Christian Berthelsen married Vibeke Kaja Wulff-Hansen in 1945, the daughter of the architect Poul Wulff-Hansen (1885-1956) and Marie Louise Nielsen (1893-1976). Together, they had three children: Lone born in 1946, Finn born in 1949 and Hannah born in 1958.

In 1936, he began post-secondary catechism studies in Qoornoq (Greenland), followed by Danish teacher training in Jonstrup (Denmark) in 1941. He took further training to become a teacher (Lærerhøjskolen) at the International College in Højskole (Denmark - den Internationale Højskole) from 1941 to 1945.

After World War II, he returned to Greenland to work as a teacher for fifteen years, then continuing as school principal, inspector and school consultant between 1960 and 1972. Christian Berthelsen has had a great influence on the development and instruction of Greenlandic children, particularly through his language studies in Kalaallisut, his mother tongue, and through his role as an advisor in the development of school textbooks in the Greenlandic language between 1973 and 1986. In addition to his duties in the education sector, he held the position of Judge of the High Court of Greenland. Once retired, he moved to Denmark where he taught Greenlandic to Danes. Between 1977 and 1986, he was an associate at the University of Copenhagen professor (Institut for eskimologi ved Københavns Universitet)

Christian Berthelsen was very active in the political, linguistic and cultural life of Greenland, as a member of many institutions: the Radio Agency, the Board of Knud Rasmussen University College (Knud Rasmussens Højskole) and the Greenland Board of Education. He was also chair of the Greenlandic Publishing House and the Greenland Language and Spelling Committee, the Greenlandic Society for the Assignment of Place Names and a member of the Bible Translation Committee. Christian Berthelsen is awarded an honorary doctorate from the University Ilisimatusarfik (Nuuk, Greenland) in 2014, mentioning his important contribution to the dissemination of Kalaallisut, Greenlandic literature and culture.

Christian Berthelsen is the author of ten books, which focus on the literary history of his native island and elaborate on Greenlandic linguistic and orthographic textbooks. He published the history of Greenlandic literature under the title Kalaallit atusakkiaat in 1957, which was reissued in 1974 under the title of Oqaluttuaativut taalliaativullu 1956 ilaangullugu, then in 1976 under the title of Oqaluttuaativut taalliaativullu 1974 ilaangullugu and a last time in 1994 and re-titled Kalaallit Atuakkiaat 1900 ilarmgullugu. He edited Kalaallisut sungiusaatit. Læsestykker i Grønlandsk in 1980 and Grønlandsk litteratur: En kommenteret antologi in 1983, two books that trace the literary history of Greenland. In 1973, he introduced a new Greenlandic orthographic method.

In addition, from 1941 he has authored over hundred articles concerning the Inuit language and culture in both Greenlandic and Danish newspapers. He also co-authored with Christina Inger H. Mortensen and Ebbe Mortensen, the Kalaallit Nunaat Atlas, first published in Greenlandic and Danish in 1992 and translated into English in 1993.  He also translated many literary works from English into Kalaallisut such as A Gun for Sale (in Kalaallisut: Pundit akigineqarpoq) by Graham Greene in 1967 and books in Kalaallisut into English such as Kalaallit eqqumiitsuliaat (in English: The Art of Greenland) by Bodil Kaalund in 1980.

Christian Berthelsen died at the age of 98 in his native country, in the town of Nuuk, Greenland in 2015.

This biography is based on the available written material during a collective research carried out during 2018-2021. It is possible that mistakes and facts need to be corrected. If you notice an error, or if you wish to correct something in an author's biography, please write to us at and we will be happy to do so. This is how we will be able to have more precise presentations, and to better promote Inuit culture.

(c) International Laboratory for Research on Images of the North, Winter and the Arctic, Université du Québec à Montréal, 2018-2021, Daniel Chartier and al.