Sami languages

states=Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia
region=Sápmi (Lapland)
speakers=Approximately 20,000 - 30,000Fact|date=September 2008
nation=Official status in some parts of Norway; recognized as a minority language in several municipalities of Sweden and Finland.
iso1=se (Northern Sami)|iso2=sma, sme, smi, smj, smn, sms
ll1=Akkala Sami|ll2=Kildin Sami|ll3=Kemi Sami|ll4=Ter Sami|ll5=Inari Sami|ll6=Skolt Sami|ll7=Ume Sami|ll8=Pite Sami|ll9=Northern Sami|ll10=Lule Sami|ll11=Southern Sami

Sami or Saami is a general name for a group of Finnic 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, Samic, Saamic, Lappish and Lappic. The last two are, along with the term "Lapp", considered derogatory by some. [cite book |last=Karlsson |first=Fred |title=An Essential Finnish Grammar |url= |year=2008 |publisher=Routledge |location=Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire |isbn=978-0-415-43914-5 |pages=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 Baltic-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 [] [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 that the similarities may stem from an areal influence on Sami from Baltic-Finnic.

In terms of internal relationships, the Sami languages are divided into two groups: the western and the eastern ones. 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, sharp and absolute 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.

Western Sami languages

* Southern Sami
* Ume Sami
* Pite Sami
* Lule Sami
* Northern Sami

Eastern Sami languages

* Inari Sami
* Kemi Sami (extinct)
* Skolt Sami
* Akkala Sami (extinct)
* Kildin Sami
* Ter Sami

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.

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). However reconstruction of any basic proto-languages in the Uralic family have reached a level close to or identical to Proto-Uralic (T. Salminen 1999). The language is believed to have expanded west and north into Fennoscandia during the Iron Age reaching central-Scandinavia during the Proto-Scandinavian phase (Bergsland 1996). 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 2004Aikio, 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.] , Aikio 2006Aikio, A. (2006). "On Germanic-Saami contacts and Saami prehistory." Journal de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 91: 9–55..] ).

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 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:

* Northern Sami (Norway, Sweden, Finland): With an estimated 15,000 speakers, this accounts for probably more than 75% of all Sami speakers in 2002.Fact|date=February 2007 ISO 639-1/ISO 639-2: se/sme
* Lule Sami (Norway, Sweden): The second largest group with an estimated 1,500 speakers.Fact|date=February 2007 ISO 639-2: smj
* Southern Sami (Norway, Sweden): 500 speakers (estimated).Fact|date=February 2007 ISO 639-2: sma
* Inari Sami ("Enare Sami") (Inari, Finland): 500 speakers (estimated).Fact|date=February 2007 SIL code: LPI, ISO 639-2: smn
* Skolt Sami (Näätämö and the Nellim-Keväjärvi districts, Inari municipality, Finland, also spoken in Russia, previously in Norway): 400 speakers (estimated).Fact|date=February 2007 SIL code: LPK, ISO 639-2: sms
* Kildin Sami (Kola Peninsula, Russia): 650 speakers (estimated).Fact|date=February 2007 SIL code: LPD

The other Sami languages are moribund and have very few speakers left. Ten speakers of Ter Sami were known to be alive in 2004, [Tiuraniemi Olli: "Anatoli Zaharov on maapallon ainoa turjansaamea puhuva mies", "Kide" 6 / 2004.] and Pite Sami and Ume Sami likely have under 20 speakers left.Fact|date=February 2007 The last speaker of Akkala Sami is known to have died in December 2003, [ [ Microsoft Word - Nordisk samekonvensjon hele dokumentet 14112005.doc ] ] and the eleventh attested variety Kemi Sami became extinct in the 19th century.


The Sámi languages use an extended version of the Latin alphabet.

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

Note also that the extra characters used by the Southern Sámi in Norway have the same sound as Southern Sámi in Sweden.

Kildin Sámi uses an extended version of the Cyrillic alphabet: Аа unicode|Ӓӓ Бб Вв Гг Дд Ее Ёё Жж Зз Ии Йй unicode|Ӣӣ Кк Лл unicode|Ӆӆ Мм unicode|Ӎӎ Нн unicode|Ӊӊ unicode|Ӈӈ Оо Пп Рр unicode|Ҏҏ Сс Тт Уу Фф Хх Цц Чч Шш Щщ Ъъ Ыы Ьь unicode|Ҍҍ Ээ unicode|Ӭӭ Юю Яя Јј unicode|Ѣѣ unicode|ʼ. It also uses macrons, which are difficult to show on the Internet due to technical restrictions.

Skolt Sámi 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, and Snåsa.

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

On April 1, 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.

See also: Sami parliaments of Finland, Norway, and Sweden

External links

* [ Kimberli Mäkäräinen] "Sámi-related odds and ends," including 5000+ word vocabulary list
* [ Risten] Sámi dictionary and terminology database.
* [ Sámedikki giellastivra] - Sami language department of the Norwegian Sami parliament (in Norwegian and Northern Sami)
* Finland - [ Sámi Language Act]
* [ Sami Language Resources] All about Sami Languages with glossaries, scholarly articles, resources
* [ Álgu database] , an etymological database of the Sami languages (in Finnish and North Sámi)


* 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.

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