Introduction to the Sami Languages


Hi, my name is Adam, and welcome
to this video introducing the Sami languages, which in English can be written
with either of these three spellings. Now, the first thing I want to point out,
which may already be clear from the title, is that there is not one Sami language. Rather, Sami is a language family, consisting of no less than ten distinct
but related languages. The Sami languages are spoken in a wide area covering northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. This map shows the approximate traditional spread
of the Sami languages, but in the Nordic countries
there are also notable concentrations of speakers in northern urban areas outside of this area,
as well as in the capital regions. Altogether, Sami languages are spoken
by almost 30 000 people, although figures about the number of speakers
of Sami are often unreliable, and should always be taken with a grain of salt. This means that speakers of Sami languages
actually constitute a linguistic minority in the traditional area, which is a direct result
of historical oppression of the Sami and of conscious efforts
to discourage the use of their language. In fact, most Sami people of today
do not speak a Sami language at all, but rather speak the national language
of the country that they live in. From southwest to northeast, the Sami languages are: It might be tempting to view these languages
as being of proportionally equal size, but this is far from the case. North Sami is the largest Sami language by far,
with about 25 000 speakers, which counts for between 75 and 90 %
of all Sami speakers. Because of its size, North Sami is without doubt
the strongest and most prominent Sami language, and most present-day Sami language media
is indeed in North Sami. Most of its speakers live in Norway, but significant numbers also live in Sweden
and Finland, in that order. The second largest Sami language is Lule Sami,
which has about 2000 speakers – which is quite a step down in absolute numbers. About two thirds of Lule Sami speakers live in Sweden, and the remaining third live in Norway. The third largest Sami language is South Sami, and at this point it starts getting a bit unnerving, because South Sami only has about 500 speakers. Of these, about half live in Sweden, and half in Norway. Next, we have three languages
with about 300 speakers each. These are: Inari, Skolt, and Kildin. Inari Sami is spoken around Lake Inari
in northern Finland, and is the only Sami language
exclusive to this country. Skolt Sami was, as you can see on the map,
traditionally spoken in Russia, but today it’s mostly spoken in Finland. The reason for this is that the traditional Skolt lands
were once divided between Finland and the Soviet Union, and when Finland was forced
to cede this territory to the Soviets in the aftermath of World War 2, most of the Skolt Sami population
was evacuated to Inari Sami territory, where their descendants still live today. Kildin Sami was and is still spoken in Russia. Somewhat tellingly,
it is Russia’s major Sami language by far. Moving on to the really small languages,
next up is Pite Sami. This language has about 40 speakers,
most of whom are above the age of 50. Having disappeared from Norway,
Pite Sami is now spoken exclusively in Sweden. Its neighbor, Ume Sami, is in a similar situation. Also gone from Norway,
Ume Sami is spoken by about 25 people, who live in Sweden, and who are generally
above the age of 60. And these two languages
might seem as small as they get, but they are actually significantly stronger
than the currently smallest Sami language: Ter Sami. Ter Sami is spoken in Russia, and only has
two native speakers left, both elderly, meaning it’s currently on the very brink of extinction. Finally, the last Sami language, Akkala Sami,
has no native speakers left at all. The last one, Maria Sergina, died in December 2003. There are, however, a handful of people
who still have knowledge of the language. As this overview shows, the Sami languages
are definitely in a tight spot. Centuries of oppression have taken their toll, and many speakers can still recall
how they were punished or shamed for speaking their language at school or in church. In fact, all Sami languages are currently
on UNESCO’s list of endangered languages, where they are classified as
either definitely endangered, severely endangered, critically endangered or extinct. North Sami is the only definitely endangered language; South, Lule, Inari, Skolt and Kildin Sami
are considered severely endangered; Ume, Pite and Ter Sami are classified
as critically endangered, and Akkala Sami is considered extinct. But despite all this, and even though
there is certainly still room for improvement, it must be said that many of the Sami languages
are in a much better position today than they’ve been in for many years. As you know by now, the Sami languages
are spoken in four different countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. In the former three, Sami is recognized
as a minority language, and is co-official in a number of municipalities. In Russia, Sami has yet to receive
any official recognition whatsoever. What the official status actually means
differs from state to state, but at the very least it includes
the nominal right to use Sami with authorities, and the right to have certain services offered in Sami. In Norway, Sami was recognized in 1992, and is co-official in these 10 municipalities. In Sweden, Sami was recognized in the year 2000, and is co-official in these 19 municipalities. In Finland, Sami was also recognized in 1992, and is co-official in these 4 municipalities. As you can see from this, quite a lot has happened
in a relatively short amount of time, and much remains to be seen regarding how the status and use
of the Sami languages will continue to develop. But this aside, grassroots support and activism
for the revitalization of the languages is strong and ongoing,
especially in the Nordic countries, and many of the languages are now
finally catching a break. When it comes to writing,
there is again a lot of variation. South, Ume, Lule, North, Inari, and Skolt Sami all have standardized orthographies
based on the Latin alphabet. Pite and Kildin Sami
do not have standardized orthographies, but they do have alphabets
that are generally agreed upon, and there are standardization processes in
progress. Pite Sami also uses the Latin alphabet, but Kildin Sami instead uses Cyrillic, just like Russian. Ter and Akkala Sami do not have any established
or traditional alphabets, but are generally also written with the Cyrillic script. I’ll now show you all of the special letters
used in the various Sami languages. As you’re about to see, all alphabets are different, but many letters do reappear in many of them, so try to see if you can keep track of them! South Sami uses four extra letters. But, since people in Norway and Sweden
can’t agree on sticking to a common system, different versions of two of the letters
are used depending on the country. Ume Sami uses the following nine letters. Ume Sami is by far
the youngest standardized Sami language, being officially recognized as recently as April 2016. Pite Sami doesn’t have an official alphabet yet, but these 4 extra letters are the ones generally used
when writing the language, and at this point, it’s looking likely
that its officiality is only a matter of time. Lule Sami also has four extra letters, and just like South Sami, one of the letters is different depending on whether you’re using
a Norwegian or a Swedish standard. North Sami has seven extra letters, and has
the only Sami Latin alphabet that doesn’t use any special letters that are also found
in Norwegian, Swedish or Finnish. Inari Sami uses the following eight extra letters, and it follows a trend that we get more extra letters
the further east we go. Skolt Sami uses 15 extra letters, making it
the largest of the Sami Latin alphabets, containing several letters not used
in any other Sami language. And finally, for those of you familiar
with the Cyrillic script, Kildin Sami uses the following 19 extra letters,
with variations shown around slashes. The Sami language family forms a linguistic continuum, which means that speakers of one language can usually understand their neighbors’ languages
well enough, but are unable to understand the varieties
from further away. The main linguistic division within the Sami family
is the one between west and east, and speakers from either side of this line are generally unable to understand
the Sami of the other side. There are also two subgroups within each group, and speakers from these groups can usually communicate with each other with a little effort. To show you all what it can look like, let’s have a look at a couple of words
in the different Sami languages. Let’s put the languages in geographical order, all the way from south to northeast. This way you’ll be able to get a small glimpse
both of how the different languages look, and also how they relate to each other. So. The words are, from left to right: the nouns ‘bird’, ‘water’, and ‘tree’; followed by the attributive form of the adjective ‘dry’,
and finally the verb ‘to come’. To make it a bit easier, we’ll use a Latin transcription
for the Kildin and Ter Sami words. There are a lot of things to say about these words, but we’ll try to stick to what’s central. First of all, there are a couple of spellings
that look different, but actually represent the same, or very similar sounds. For example, we have tj in South, Ume, Pite
and Lule Sami versus the č of the other languages. In the same word, ts and c are also identical. We also have initial g and b in the western languages, being pronounced more or less the same
as k and p in the eastern ones. On a more general note, the a with a circle
represents an o-like sound, and what looks like an apostrophe
denotes palatalization. Relationship wise, we can see in these words that the Eastern languages Skolt, Kildin
and Ter have dropped the final vowel. In the word ‘bird’, we can also see how Kildin
and Ter have kept an /n/ that has disappeared in the other languages. Another difference is found in the word ‘dry’, where the /j/ sound in the Western languages
corresponds to a /ʃ/ sound in the Eastern ones. Also remember that all of these words are related, which makes the languages look more similar
than they actually are. As a counterexample, we can take the word ‘to say’, where we instead find a lot of variation
in which word is preferred by the different languages. On a greater scale, the Sami languages form
their own linguistic branch within the Uralic language family. Their closest relatives are found in the Finnic branch, which consists of Finnish and Estonian, among others. This historical relationship can be seen
in several common words, for example these North Sami ones: Grammar wise, a characteristic
of many Sami languages is how the core part of a word often changes
depending on what endings are attached to it. In North Sami, for example,
there is such alternation in the consonants: so from the verb ‘boahtit’, meaning ‘to come’, we get ‘boađán’, meaning ‘I come’, and the participle ‘boahtti’, meaning ‘coming’. In South Sami, by contrast,
alternation is instead found in the vowels: so from the verb ‘båetedh’, also meaning ‘to come’, we get ‘båatam’, meaning ‘I come’, and ‘böötim’, meaning ‘I came’. Another grammatical feature of all Sami languages,
is the presence of a negative verb. So instead of having a word that means ‘not’,
Sami has an inflected verb, doing the same job. It’s actually not too different from English, where the negative form of ‘I come’
usually is ‘I don’t come’, rather than the archaic ‘I come not’. So. Using North Sami as our sample language once again, we have ‘boađán’ and ‘boađát’,
meaning ‘I come’ and ‘you come’, respectively. With the negative verb, we then get
‘in boađe’ and ‘it boađe’, meaning ‘I don’t come’, and ‘you don’t come’. And, if you look at the final consonants, you’ll see how the negative verb ‘ii’
conjugates just like the regular verb ‘boahtit’, when that’s the main verb of the sentence. To round off, I’m going to let you listen
and read along to a short text in North Sami, read by a native speaker of the Torne dialect, which is spoken in the southwestern part
of the North Sami area. The text in question is the opening part
of the work ‘An Account of the Sami’, published in 1910 by Johan Turi. It’s original title is ‘Muitalus sámiid birra’,
and it is a classic work among the Sami, being the first book ever published in a Sami language. And so, this introduction to the Sami languages is over. Stay tuned, for more videos about Sami, and for introductions to other language families. Thank you for watching!

66 Replies to “Introduction to the Sami Languages

  1. All these alterations according to inflections and for other reasons seem pretty natural to a finnish speaker, as I am. Finnish has ones similar too. It's very easy to think these languages are related. Though I can't understand a word. To me it's much more foreign than the Savonian language (or dialect). But, keep it up!

  2. I really like this video! It does a nice job with the overview and mentioning the oppression they faced.

    Though I wish it would mention how (southern) Sapmi wasn't a monolingual Sami area before the oppression, as many foreigners seem to think. Both Germanic and Sami people have shared the area through the Iron age after all, just using different habitats. Norse people would live along the coast and the fertile valleys, while sami people would move between mountains, forests and coast.

  3. It's so sad that so many of these languages are dying or dead, I hope they can make a comeback in the future. Every time a language dies we lose a set of data about how human language works, and as someone very interested in linguistics, I hate to see that happen.

  4. Great video. As a native speaker of Estonian I definitely recognise some cognates, but most words are elusive.

    Consonant gradation exists in the other Uralic languages aswell. E.g the word for "bird" in Finnish: "lintu", in Estonian: "lind". The genitive case of these words are "linnun", and "linnu", respectively. nt -> nn.

  5. Ah, this is great 😀 awesome!! Your accent is very nice and so is the pronunciation!
    I made videos about learning Northern Sami (but atm I'm not active due to finals, work, etc)

  6. it's really astonishing how every language has it's own tone ! it has always amazed in a way . the tone of the sami language is very interesting and kind of seem difficult in order to get the accent right ! just listening to the native speaker kind of made me out of breath haha .

  7. Good job one this video, only thing to say is that on the part where you compare the word to say in the diffent languages. by speaking north sami, the words from south is very close to how i say sound (jietna) and kilden is very close to how i say greet (cealkit)

  8. Man, you are awesome!!!! I'm watching all your videos! You are very didactic. Please do more videos about those different and beautiful languages! 🙂

  9. At us in Russia in districts there is no such practice in general.
    It does not even exist in all the Republics. For example, in Karelia the karelian and vepsian languages are also not official. In the only republic in Russia. We are fighting for this right, but everything is stagnant.

  10. Hello, this is Barbie. I am currently working on a play that has a segment talking about a word in the Sammi language that is “guovssahasah”. Is there any way you might be able to help me with the pronunciation of the word? I would really like to pronounce it correctly to respect the language(s).

  11. Nortm Sami really sounds like Finnish, although occasionally there are sounds that Finnish doesn't seem to have. Is Adam a native Sami speaker?

  12. Has there ever been contact between the Innuit people and the Sami or if there were, would it have been so long ago (think ice age) that no detectable influence is detectable?

  13. As a Swede I want to learn Ume sami. I think it's only fair that I learn a sami language since they have to learn swedish.
    And I don't want the Ume version to go extinct.
    Does anyone know the best way to go about it, since I doubt it will show up on duolingo anytime soon.

  14. Tror du att du kan göra en introduktionvideo om de andra nordiska språk som islenska, faröiska och danska? Tack ! Kiitos

  15. Great pronounciation! It's nice seeing some educational videos on the sami, most videos only talk about the finnish and just briefly mention the sami. Northern sami also has a coastal dialect, my family lived off the sea and small scale farming along with other coastal sami communities, and we had our own dialect which according to my parents and other relatives sounded a bit different than what you would expect from a dialect. Many words like "Manat" (children) would end with a K instead of a T.

    Text in norwegian about the coastal sami dialect(s) http://altasg.no/norsk/forside/content_3/text_95d9056a-d2cb-4ae9-8e73-cc9f81688778/1440765673030/sj_samisk_i_altafjordomr_det_august2015.pdf
    According to this text, a few of the words would have alot in common with eastern sami languages

  16. I'm sympathetic to the loss of the Saami languages. But I'm enraged that we're told to mourn dying langues and cultures of other groups and yet supposedly the world will be better off it the gene pool of native Europeans is bred out of existence.

  17. The karelian language is better
    minä pagizeen karjalakse
    karjalaun kieli on parembi kuin saamen
    karjalaun kieltä pagiztaan venäs da suomes yle uudizet on mugaze karjalaun kielel
    karjalaun kieltä pagiztaa enemmä kui saame
    minä suvaichen suomi uugrizii kieli

  18. 5:00 Just a side note. In Norway the sami language and Norwegian are equitable and not just a minority language. In the regions in Norway you mentioned , the Sami language are official language. Every signs on the roads and official buildings and so on the Sami will come first and then Norwegian.

  19. Thank you for sharing. Our language is also a dying language too. Our people have many dialects too but I'm as of now I'm unsure of how many dialect we have. I only know of 4 but other people of my kind from China told me that there are more than 4. Different dialect are hard to understand if you do not live with them.

  20. Sami people are very similar to my people, the H'Mong people. We too have many spoken dialect which we can't understand each other as well. I believe at one point all Shamanism people may have came into contact with one another and influence each other culturally.

  21. 11:04 I'm a native speaker of northern sami and I gotta tell you, NIGGUH you completely nailed the pronunciation on all words (If it was you, lmao)

  22. 7:45 Finnish language has Šš and Žž. Those letters are not commonly used and almost always dropped from alphabets, but they still are included in Finnish orthography. The most common Finnish words to have Š in them are Tšekki, šekki, šokki and šakki. For example, Ž is used in Azerbaidžan, Fidži and džonkki.
    Yes, Ž is very useful yes.

    Ps. Nice job with background work and I think that pronunciation went pretty well even I don't speak any Sami, but heard it (mainly Northern Sami) in the news or internet. I have met them as well 🙂

  23. Im Swedish and in school we got to learn that the sami were the first people living in Sweden. Or maybe im misrememvering.

  24. What makes me really sick is the false information or ignorance. Well, you can say that Sami is not a language, but lets be a abut unbiased and say that neither English of Swedish or any other language you have heard about are only one language. I mean as to Swedish there are many dialects in Sweden and sometimes it's difficult to understand each other, but there is a standard Swedish language which we call Swedish and thus we claim that Swedish is one language. I'd just like to correct you, Sami is one language with many dialects. We have no standard Sami language due to the oppression the Sami people went through. To have a standard language one needs an own country and own bombs and own tracks such as USA. Neither Sami, nor Basque or any other minority language have that. At last, the only thing we can do is to try to be unbiased and logic. Thanks for your interest in Sami and I hope your next video is going to be more logical.

  25. Unbelievably impressive video making. For a long time I thought quality language channels on YouTube were only NativLang and Langfocus. Nothing against them (I’m the “this is a banger” guy on all of Paul’s videos). So refreshing!

  26. There is a Sámi news repport in Norway, Sweden and Finland. (Its the same one in all countries) most sami people in norway live i Oslo btw. My great grandmother and great grandfather were of sami blood. At least my gret grandmother was really ashamed of her heritage but i am really proud of being a little sami. The sami people are the indiginous people of the areas displayed. In Norway they have usually lived of reindrer herding or fishing. Right as i write this comment i can hear the sami news (Oddssat) in the background.

  27. Shaming native speakers of minority languages is common around the world. I call it “linguicide”. All the Celtic languages have suffered from it in their homelands as well as abroad. While it has pretty much stopped for most Celtic languages, Breton is still under that kind of pressure, where the French government still refuses to support any language other than Standard French. In parts of Canada, French was subject to the same pressure, as were all the First Nations languages, though that has changed somewhat, and some native languages now have degree of government support, though not much.

  28. As a swede it's a bit embarrassing how little I knew/know about the Sami languages. It sounds indistinguishable to Finnish for me, maybe a bit more chill.

  29. We need and have to do something or anything to save and protect these languages and their people and the culture it is so bad and sad come on guys

  30. Russia must do something in their langugage polotics for these peoples languages and culture and the other countries

  31. I’ve been visiting Sápmi for 3 years now I want to learn Northern Sami are there any learning resources in english? Great video!

  32. I was wondering what would be the unofficial capital of Sami? I've been searching it up but can't find any results :/

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