The Sami languages

October 1, 2008 at 9:38 pm | Posted in Language, Scandinavia | Leave a comment
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It has been a long time ago since I posted about the Sami people, so today it is the turn of the languages. As this is an introductory post, the information comes from the Wikipedia:

The Sami languages

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 Historical documents as well as Finnish and Karelian oral tradition contain many mentions of the earlier Sami inhabitation in these areas (Itkonen 1947).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 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, 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

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 other Sami languages are moribund and have very few speakers left. Ten speakers of Ter Sami were known to be alive in 2004, and Pite Sami and Ume Sami likely have under 20 speakers left. The last speaker of Akkala Sami is known to have died in December 2003, and the eleventh attested variety Kemi Sami became extinct in the 19th century.

Of course the data needs to be continuoslly revised as the sociolinguistic situation is always dynamic. Advice an info in that direction would be very appreciated, so if you are Sami and are reading that, do not hesitate to comment!

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