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definition - Sami_languages

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Sami languages

Spoken natively in Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia
Region Sápmi (Lapland)
Ethnicity Sami people
Native speakers Approximately 20,000–30,000[citation needed]  (date missing)
Language family
  • Sami
Official status
Official language in Sweden and some parts of Norway; recognized as a minority language in several municipalities of Finland.
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Variously:
sia – Akkala
sjd – Kildin
sjk – Kemi
sjt – Ter
smn – Inari
sms – Skolt
sju – Ume
sje – Pite
sme – Northern
smj – Lule
sma – Southern
Corrected sami map 4.PNG
Historically verified distribution of the Sami languages: 1. Southern Sami, 2. Ume Sami, 3. Pite Sami, 4. Lule Sami, 5. Northern Sami, 6. Skolt Sami, 7. Inari Sami, 8. Kildin Sami, 9. Ter Sami. Darkened area represents municipalities that recognize Sami as an official language.

Sami or Saami is a general name for a group of Uralic languages spoken by the Sami people in parts of northern Finland, Norway, Sweden and extreme northwestern Russia, in Northern Europe. Sami is frequently and erroneously believed to be a single language. Several names are used for the Sami languages: Saami, Sámi, Saame, Samic, Saamic, as well as the exonyms Lappish and Lappic. The last two are, along with the term Lapp, considered derogatory by many.[1]



The Sami languages form a branch of the Uralic language family. According to the traditional view, Sami is within the Uralic family most closely related to the Finnic languages (Sammallahti 1998). However, this view has recently been doubted by some scholars, who argue that the traditional view of a common Finno-Sami protolanguage is not as strongly supported as has been earlier assumed,[2] and that the similarities may stem from an areal influence on Sami from Finnic.

In terms of internal relationships, the Sami languages are divided into two groups: western and eastern. The groups may be further divided into various subgroups and ultimately individual languages. (Sammallahti 1998: 6-38.) Parts of the Sami language area form a dialect continuum in which the neighbouring languages may be to a fair degree mutually intelligible, but two more widely separated groups will not understand each other's speech. There are, however, some sharp language boundaries, in particular between Northern Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami, the speakers of which are not able to understand each other without learning or long practice. The evolution of sharp language boundaries seems to suggest a relative isolation of the language speakers from each other and not very intensive contacts between the respective speakers in the past. There is some significance in this, as the geographical barriers between the respective speakers are no different from those in other parts of the Sami area.

  Western Sami languages

  Eastern Sami languages

Note that the above figures are approximate.

  Geographic distribution

The Sami languages are spoken in Sápmi in Northern Europe, in a region stretching over the four countries Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, reaching from the southern part of central Scandinavia in the southwest to the tip of the Kola Peninsula in the east. The border between the languages does not follow the political borders.

During the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age now extinct Sami languages were also spoken in the central and southern parts of Finland and Karelia and in a wider area on the Scandinavian peninsula. Historical documents as well as Finnish and Karelian oral tradition contain many mentions of the earlier Sami inhabitation in these areas (Itkonen 1947). Also loanwords as well as place-names of Sami origin in the southern dialects of Finnish and Karelian dialects testify of earlier Sami presence in the area (Koponen 1996; Saarikivi 2004; Aikio 2007). These Sami languages, however, became later extinct under the wave of the Finno-Karelian agricultural expansion.


The Proto-Sami language is believed to have formed in the vicinity of the Gulf of Finland between 1000 B.C. to 700 A.D. derived from a common Proto-Sami-Finnic language (M. Korhonen 1981[13]). However reconstruction of any basic proto-languages in the Uralic family have reached a level close to or identical to Proto-Uralic (Salminen 1999[14]). The language is believed to have expanded west and north into Fennoscandia during the Iron Age reaching central-Scandinavia during the Proto-Scandinavian period (Bergsland 1996.[15]). The language assimilated several layers of unknown Paleo-European languages from the early hunter gatherers, first during the Proto-Sami phase and second in the subsequent expansion of the language in the west and the north of Fennoscandia that is part of modern Sami today. (Aikio 2004,[16] Aikio 2006[17]).

  Written languages and sociolinguistic situation

At present there are nine living Sami languages. The largest six of the languages have independent literary languages; the three others have no written standard, and of them, there are only few, mainly elderly speakers left. The ISO 639-2 code for all Sami languages without its proper code is "smi". The six written languages are:

The other Sami languages are critically endangered or moribund and have very few speakers left. Pite Sami has about 30–50 speakers,[19] and a dictionary and an official orthography is under way. Ume Sami likely has under 20 speakers left,[citation needed] and ten speakers of Ter Sami were known to be alive in 2004.[20] The last speaker of Akkala Sami is known to have died in December 2003,[21] and the eleventh attested variety, Kemi Sami, became extinct in the 19th century.


  Sami Primer, USSR 1933

The Sami languages use Latin alphabets.

Northern Sami: Áá Čč Đđ Ŋŋ Šš Ŧŧ Žž
Inari Sami: Áá Ââ Ää Čč Đđ Šš Žž
Skolt Sami: Ââ Čč Ʒʒ Ǯǯ Đđ Ǧǧ Ǥǥ Ǩǩ Ŋŋ Õõ Šš Žž Åå Ää (+soft sign ´)
Lule Sami in Sweden: Áá Åå Ńń Ää
Lule Sami in Norway: Áá Åå Ńń Ææ
Southern Sami in Sweden: Ïï Ää Öö Åå
Southern Sami in Norway: Ïï Ææ Øø Åå

Note that the letter Đ is a capital D with a bar across it (Unicode U+0110) also used in Serbo-Croatian etc., and is not the capital eth (Ð; U+00D0) found in Icelandic, Faroese or Old English, to which it is almost identical.

Note also that the different characters used on the different sides of the Swedish/Norwegian border merely are orthographic standards based on the Swedish and Norwegian alphabet, respectively, and don't denote different pronunciations.

Kildin Sami now uses an extended version of Cyrillic (in three slightly different variants): аА а̄А̄ ӓӒ бБ вВ гГ дД еЕ е̄Е̄ ёЁ ё̄Ё̄ жЖ зЗ һҺ/ʼ иИ ӣӢ йЙ јЈ/ҋҊ кК лЛ ӆӅ мМ ӎӍ нН ӊӉ ӈӇ оО о̄О̄ пП рР ҏҎ сС тТ уУ ӯӮ фФ хХ цЦ чЧ шШ (щЩ) ъЬ ыЫ ьЬ ҍҌ эЭ э̄Э̄ ӭӬ юЮ ю̄Ю̄ яЯ я̄Я̄

Skolt Sami uses ˊ (U+02CA) as a soft sign; due to technical restrictions, it is often replaced by ´ (U+00B4).

  Official status


Adopted in April 1988, Article 110a of the Norwegian Constitution states: "It is the responsibility of the authorities of the State to create conditions enabling the Sami people to preserve and develop its language, culture and way of life". The Sami Language Act went into effect in the 1990s. Sami is an official language of the municipalities of Kautokeino, Karasjok, Gáivuotna (Kåfjord), Nesseby, Porsanger, Tana, Tysfjord, Lavangen and Snåsa.


  A bilingual street sign in Enontekiö in both Finnish (top) and Northern Sámi

In Finland, the Sami language act of 1991 granted Sami people the right to use the Sami languages for all government services. Three Sami languages are recognized: Northern, Skolt and Inari Sami. The Sami language act of 2003 made Sami an official language in Enontekiö, Inari, Sodankylä and Utsjoki municipalities.


On 1 April 2002, Sami became one of five recognized minority languages in Sweden. It can be used in dealing with public authorities in the municipalities of Arjeplog, Gällivare, Jokkmokk and Kiruna. In 2011 this list was enlarged considerably. In Sweden the Umeå and Uppsala Universities have courses in North Sami, and Umeå University has also Ume Sami and South Sami.


In Russia, Sami has no official status. Beginning 2012 Sami will be taught at the Murmansk University; before that Sami has been taught at the Institutе of Northern People (Институт народов севера) in (Leningrad) St Petersburg.

  See also


  1. ^ Karlsson, Fred (2008). An Essential Finnish Grammar. Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire: Routledge. pp. 1. ISBN 978-0-415-43914-5. 
  2. ^ T. Salminen: Problems in the taxonomy of the Uralic languages in the light of modern comparative studies. — Лингвистический беспредел: сборник статей к 70-летию А. И. Кузнецовой. Москва: Издательство Московского университета, 2002. 44–55. AND [1]
  3. ^ Ethnologue report for Southern Sami
  4. ^ Ethnologue report for Ume Sami
  5. ^ Ethnologue report for Pite Sami
  6. ^ Ethnologue report for Lule Sami
  7. ^ Ethnologue report for Northern Sami
  8. ^ Ethnologue report for Inari Sami
  9. ^ Ethnologue report for Skolt Sami
  10. ^ Ethnologue report for Kildin Sami
  11. ^ Pravda - The 5 Smallest Languages of the World
  12. ^ Ethnologue report for Ter Sami
  13. ^ Korhonen, Mikko 1981: Johdatus lapin kielen historiaan. Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seuran toimituksia ; 370. Helsinki, 1981
  14. ^ : Problems in the taxonomy of the Uralic languages in the light of modern comparative studies. — Лингвистический беспредел: сборник статей к 70-летию А. И. Кузнецовой. Москва: Издательство Московского университета, 2002. 44–55.
  15. ^ Knut Bergsland: Bidrag til sydsamenes historie, Senter for Samiske Studier Universitet i Tromsø 1996
  16. ^ Aikio, A. (2004). An essay on substrate studies and the origin of Saami. Irma Hyvärinen / Petri Kallio / Jarmo Korhonen (eds.), Etymologie, Entlehnungen und Entwicklungen: Festschrift für Jorma Koivulehto zum 70. Geburtstag, pp. 5–34. Mémoires de la Société Néophilologique de Helsinki 63. Helsinki.
  17. ^ Aikio, A. (2006). On Germanic-Saami contacts and Saami prehistory. Journal de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 91: 9–55..
  18. ^ Russian Census (2002). Data from http://demoscope.ru/weekly/ssp/rus_nac_02.php?reg=0
  19. ^ According to researcher Joshua Wilbur and Pite Sami dictionary committee leader Nils Henrik Bengtsson, March 2010.
  20. ^ Tiuraniemi Olli: "Anatoli Zaharov on maapallon ainoa turjansaamea puhuva mies", Kide 6 / 2004.
  21. ^ Microsoft Word - Nordisk samekonvensjon hele dokumentet 14112005.doc
  • Fernandez, J. 1997. Parlons lapon. - Paris.
  • Itkonen, T. I. 1947. Lapparnas förekomst i Finland. - Ymer: 43–57. Stockholm.
  • Koponen, Eino 1996. Lappische Lehnwörter im Finnischen und Karelischen. - Lars Gunnar Larsson (ed.), Lapponica et Uralica. 100 Jahre finnisch-ugrischer Unterricht an der Universität Uppsala. Studia Uralica Uppsaliensia 26: 83-98.
  • Saarikivi, Janne 2004. Über das saamische Substratnamengut in Nordrußland und Finnland. - Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen 58: 162–234. Helsinki: Société Finno-Ougrienne.
  • Sammallahti, Pekka (1998). The Saami Languages: an introduction. Kárášjohka: Davvi Girji OS. ISBN 82-7374-398-5. 

  External links



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