Radio Inspire

How To Learn Sign Language

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!

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