Arctic Indigenous languages exhibition

The Sámi Languages

The Sámi languages are spoken in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. UNESCO regards all the languages as endangered, but revitalization efforts are taking place in several of them.

The Sámi languages are spoken from the Dalarna area in Sweden, in central Norway and northern Finland and to the Kola Peninsula in Russia. The ten languages are similar in structure and vocabulary but are at least as different from each other as the romance languages (For example French, Spanish, and Italian). However, there is geographical continuity: speakers of neighboring Sámi languages usually understand each other better than speakers from distant regions. There are also many dialects within the languages, which can make it difficult for speakers from different regions to communicate. The Sámi languages belong to the Finno-Ugric language family, the same family as Finnish and Hungarian.

The Sámi languages are spoken across language borders, and have an especially rich vocabulary when it comes to nature terminology, for instance weather, snow conditions, and reindeer herding. Although all ten Sámi languages are included in the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s languages in danger, there is a growing trend towards revitalization in several of them.

An “Orthography” is the conventional spelling system of a language.

The North Sámi word for language revitalization is “Giellaealáskahttin”.

South Sámi

Spoken in Norway and Sweden. With just over 500 speakers, it is the most endangered Sámi language in Norway. An orthography for South Sámi was approved in 1978.
Revitalization: For instance, in the municipality of Snåsa in Norway there is a South Sámi kindergarten where the language is spoken.

Ume Sámi

Spoken in Sweden today, historically also in Norway. It is hard to estimate a number of speakers, but Ume Sámi is undoubtedly an endangered language with few speakers. An orthography was approved in 2016.
Revitalization: In 2000 the association Álgguogåhtie – Umesamer i samverkan – was founded. The association promotes the Ume Sámi language. Several language events have been held and there is a growing interest in reclaiming the language. There is also an ongoing revitalization process in the areas of Hemnes and Rana in Norway.

Pite Sámi

Spoken in Sweden today, historically also in Norway. Today there are less than 50 speakers of Pite Sámi in Sweden, and most of them are over the age of 60.
Revitalization: A Pite Sámi grammar and a dictionary have been published. An orthography was approved in August 2019.

Lule Sámi

Spoken in Sweden and Norway today. There are approximately 650 active users of the language, and as many as 2000 speakers with knowledge of the language. Most speakers live in Sweden.
Revitalization: Lule Sámi is taught as a first language in school in Drag, Norway and Nord University in Bodø, Norway offers a Bachelor’s degree in Lule Sámi.

North Sámi

Spoken in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. About 90 % of Sámi language speakers speak North Sámi, and there are three main North Sámi dialects.
Revitalization: North Sámi is the most accessible language, both in terms of literature, news broadcasts, and other material for those who want to learn a Sámi language as a foreign language.

Inari Sámi

Spoken in Finland, in the Municipality of Inari. Some place names suggest that Inari Sámi may have once been spoken on the Norwegian side of the border. Around 450 people speak the language.
Revitalization: The number of speakers is slowly increasing due to language revitalization efforts.

Skolt Sámi

Spoken in Finland today, historically spoken on the Kola Peninsula in Russia and in the area of Neiden in Norway. There are around 300 native speakers, most in Finland, and at least one speaker in Russia. Development of an orthography began in 1970’s.
Revitalization: In the municipality of Sør-Varanger in Norway there are a few language activists, resettled from Finland, who use Skolt Sámi. The Skolt Sámi museum in Neiden, Norway offers language courses.

Kildin Sámi

Spoken in Russia on the Kola Peninsula. About 700 people speak the language and the orthography is based on the Cyrillic alphabet.
Revitalization: Three dictionaries and a grammar have been published in Kildin Sámi. Some literature has also been written in the language. There are trained Kildin Sámi language teachers and some teaching materials developed for schoolchildren. In the town of Lovozero optional Kildin Sámi teaching is offered for pupils from grade 1-4, but only one hour a week. Sometimes Kildin Sámi language courses for adults and children are held in several places in the Murmansk region.

Ter Sámi

Was spoken in several villages in Russia on the Kola Peninsula. Several people have knowledge of Ter Sámi, but nobody is using the language actively as an everyday language. All of the potential Ter Sámi language users are over 65 years old and live far apart.

Akkala Sámi

Was spoken in several villages in Russia on the Kola Peninsula. Today there are several people with passive knowledge of Akkala Sámi.
Revitalization: Some Akkala Sámi in Ëna are learning Kildin Sámi, hoping to switch to Akkala Sámi later. There is no teaching of Akkala Sámi, but there is an Akkala Sámi grammar and there are audio recordings. In 2010 the Akkala Sámi in Ëna established a language and cultural office for language revitalization.

Eira, Jaedicke, Magga, Maynard, Vikhamar-Schuler & Mathiesen. (2013).
Olthuis, Sarivaara, Gerstenberger & Trosterud. (2016).
Texts on South, Ume, Pite, Lule, North, Inari and Skolt Sámi from Riđđu searvi. (2013).
Texts on Kildin, Ter and Akkala Sámi provided by Elisabeth Scheller.

Learn some words in Sámi

The Sámi languages are spoken in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. UNESCO regards all the languages as endangered, but revitalization efforts are taking place in several of them.

The Sámi languages are spoken across national borders as illustrated by the language map. Words, how they are spelled and pronounced, differ between the languages, but are often connected in meaning.

Did you know that the word “heargi” is used about reindeer used for transportation, while the equivalent in South Sámi “hierkie” means horse? The general term for reindeer used for transportation in South Sámi is “råantjoe”.

Did you know that the word for fox is “rieban” in North Sámi, and this word is the same in all the Sámi languages with phonological (sound) and orthographical (written language) variations?

Did you know that the word “eadni” is the word for mother in North Sámi, while in South Sámi the word for mother is “tjidtjie”. However, the South Sámi word “tjidtjie” when pronounced, sounds very similar to the North Sámi word “cižži”, which means breast. The word for breast in South Sámi is “njamma”, which is very similar to the North Sámi the word “njammat” which means to suck? In Inari Sámi the word for breast is also “njamma”.

Did you know that in North Sámi dialects the word for to speak has a lot of variations depending on what area the speaker comes from? In Gáivuotna (Kåfjord) “sárdnut” is used, in Skánik (Skånland) they say “hoallat”. In Kárášjohka (Karasjok) the general term is “hállat”, while in Guovdageaidnu it is “hupmat”. The funny thing is that “hupmat” also exists in Kárášjohka, but it means something else – to mumble. In Guovdageaidnu (Kautokeino) “hállat” means to shout.

Did you know that the word “pärni” means child in Inari Sámi, while the equivalent “bárdni” means son in North Sámi and South Sámi?

Texts from the booklet: Riddu riđđu searvi. (2013). Dån tsamáda tjavgga = You whisper loudly. Samuelsberg: Riddu riđđu

Ørjan Marakatt Bertelsen

Download the original roll-up file in PDF format