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 Historical documents as well as Finnish and Karelian oral tradition contain many mentions of the earlier Sami inhabitation in these areas (Itkonen 1947).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

Sámi Duodji

July 21, 2008 at 12:15 pm | Posted in Handicrafts, Scandinavia | 1 Comment
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When I was in Sweden last December, I traveled all the way to the arctic circle, to Sápmi (Lappland is the wrong name, remember!). One of my interests was to find out about their linguistic, cultural and social situation. And while searching that, I also discover the Sámi Duodji or Sámi handicrafts. It was a wonderful surprise, as they are the symbol of a millenarian culture. They are colorful and sober, and they combine utility and beauty. Wikipedia offers this definition for the Sámi Duodji:

Duodji, is a centuries old Sami handicraft, that dates back to a time when the Sami were far more isolated from the outside world than they are today. Duodji tools and clothing accoutrements served their purpose to be functional and useful, however this does not means that the Sami handicraft is unartistic. Sami doudji artist are able to bring function and art together in such a delicate way to create beautiful works of art in their own right.

These functional items include, knives, cases, ladies bags, wooden cups, certain articals of clothing, etc. Duodji items were made and meant to be used in an everyday work environment. Traditionally Sami handicraft was divided into two sub-groups, – men’s and women’s handicraft – men used mostly wood and antlers as well as other bones from reindeers when crafting, women used leather, and roots. The traditional Sami colours are red, green, blue and yellow.

I had the chance to visit a Sámi home, and saw some handicrafts and traditinal costumes. I asked to take pictures:


At least in Sweden, there is an association who brings together most of the Sámi artisans, to guarantee they authenticity of the products. Finding products with their certification label is a safe way to buy Sámi handicrafts, though if you are really interested on them the better thing you can do is to attend the Sámi Marknad, a winter fair that takes place in Jokkmokk every February and that is considered one of the most important Sámi events.

I was there in December so I could not assist, though I managed to buy some certified crafts and reindeer meat. If you are interested on the Sámi handcrafts but Sápmi is to far from your place, here you have some interesting links to contact Sámi artisans:

Árran: Sámi Artisans in North America
Sameslöjdstiftelsen: certified Sámi Duodji from Sweden.

First encounter with the Sámi people

March 10, 2008 at 12:50 am | Posted in Scandinavia | 1 Comment
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Before I came with the idea of the around-the-world journey, I was already interested in the situation of the Sámi, the indigenous people from Sápmi (wrongly named as Lapland), their land, that crosses Norway, Sweden, Finnish and the Kola peninsula in Russia. The story telling how I got interested on them is lond, and its origins are probably a bit unconscious, from some things I saw or read when I was a child. I will talk about it another day. But even now, I find fascinating that a nomade hunter-gatherer society still survives in Europe in the 21st century.

For that reason, the last december I visited them. With temperatures around 15 celsius degrees below zero and only three hours of daylight, it was probable that there were almost no tourists and it was easier for me to ask for the things I was looking for. Everything achieved from that trip was positive, much more than I had thought. In other posts I will write about everything I learned there; now, I just wanted to share some photos I brought back home.

Who they are: start dealing with naming

March 7, 2008 at 12:54 am | Posted in Naming | Leave a comment
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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the word ‘eskimo’ in an English composition. My teacher pointed to me that this was considered a politically incorrect and pejorative word. I had wrote it because, as a non-native English speaker, I liked how it sounded, and it was also pretty similar to the word I use in my own language, ‘esquimal’. Besides, in Linguistics there’s a group of languages called Eskimo-Aleut spoken in Canada, Alaska and Greenland, so I didn’t make me suspicious about being insensitive. But that worried me; it was a bad beginning for my trip starting naming contemptuously the people who I wanted to visit.

Basically -that’s pretty funny I guess – it’s a problem of terminology and naming, and now that I’ve started investigating it, it’s too much for me. I’m copying here everything I’ve founded in Dictionary.com, classified by geographical areas. Of course, opinions, corrections and comments are more than appreciated.

Alaska, Canada and Greenland
Eskimo
1.a member of an indigenous people of Greenland, northern Canada, Alaska, and northeastern Siberia, characterized by short, stocky build and light-brown complexion.
2.either of two related languages spoken by the Eskimos, one in Greenland, Canada, and northern Alaska, the other in southern Alaska and Siberia.Compare Inuit, Yupik.Usage note The name Inuit, by which the native people of the Arctic from northern Alaska to western Greenland call themselves, has largely supplanted Eskimo in Canada and is used officially by the Canadian government. Many Inuit consider Eskimo derogatory, in part because the word was, erroneously, long thought to mean literally “eater of raw meat.” Inuit has also come to be used in a wider sense, to name all people traditionally called Eskimo, regardless of local self-designations. Nonetheless, Eskimo continues in use in all parts of the world, especially in historical and archaeological contexts and in reference to the people as a cultural and linguistic unity. The term Native American is sometimes used to include Eskimo and Aleut peoples. See also Indian.
Inuit
1.a member of the Eskimo peoples inhabiting northernmost North America from northern Alaska to eastern Canada and Greenland.
2.the language of the Inuit, a member of the Eskimo-Aleut family comprising a variety of dialects.
Also, Innuit.
Also called Inupik.
Usage Note: The preferred term for the native peoples of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland is now Inuit, and the use of Eskimo in referring to these peoples is often considered offensive, especially in Canada. Inuit, the plural of the Inuit word inuk, “human being,” is less exact in referring to the peoples of northern Alaska, who speak dialects of the closely related Inupiaq language, and it is inappropriate when used in reference to speakers of Yupik, the Eskimoan language branch of western Alaska and the Siberian Arctic. See Usage Note at Eskimo.

Aleut
1.also, Aleutian. a member of a people native to the Aleutian Islands and the western Alaska Peninsula who are related physically and culturally to the Eskimos.
2.ahe language of the Aleuts, distantly related to Eskimo: a member of the Eskimo-Aleut family.

Husky
1.Eskimo dog.
2.Siberian Husky.
3.Canadian Slang.
a. an Inuit.

b. the language of the Inuit.
Usage note: Origin: 1870–75; by ellipsis from husky dog, husky breed; cf. Newfoundland and Labrador dial. Husky a Labrador Inuit, earlier Huskemaw, Uskemaw, ult. < the same Algonquian source as Eskimo.

Norway, Sweden, Finland and Kola peninsula

Sami
1.A member of a people of nomadic herding tradition inhabiting Lapland.
2.Any of the Finnic languages of the Sami.

Lapp
1.Also called Laplander . A member of a Finnic people of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and adjacent regions.
2.Also called Lappish. any of the languages of the Lapps, closely related to Finnish.
Also called Sami.

Siberia

Ostyak
1.a member of the nomadic Ugrian people living in northwestern Siberia (east of the Urals)
2.a Ugric language (related to Hungarian) spoken by the Ostyak [syn: Khanty]

Chukchi
1.a member of a Paleo-Asiatic people of northeastern Siberia.
2.the Chukotian language of the Chukchi people, noted for having different pronunciations for men and women.

Evenki
1.a member of a Siberian people living mainly in the Yakut Autonomous Republic, Khabarovsk territory, and Evenki National District in the Russian Federation.
2.the Tungusic language spoken by the Evenki.

Samoyed
1.a member of a Uralic people dwelling in W Siberia and the far NE parts of European Russia.
2.Also, Samoyedic. a subfamily of Uralic languages spoken by the Samoyed people.

Usage Note Siberian Mongolian people, 1589, from Rus. samoyed, lit. “self-eaters, cannibals” (the first element cognate with Eng. same, the second with O.E. etan “to eat”). The native name is Nenets. As the name of a type of dog (once used as a working dog in the Arctic) it is attested from 1889.

Nenets
1.A member of a reindeer-herding people of of extreme northwest Russia along the coast of the White, Barents, and Kara seas.
2.The Uralic language of this people.

In both senses also called Samoyed.

Japan

Ainu
1.A member of an indigenous people of Japan, now inhabiting parts of Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands.
2.The language of the Ainu.
3.caucasoid people in Japan and eastern Russia, 1819, from Ainu, lit. “man.”

As it uses to happen, not only is the problem solved, but is it’s bigger. As far as I know, and though it’s not on the dictionary, ‘lapp’ and ‘lappish’ aren’t the right words, though I don’t know if it’s because its pejorative or just inadequate. I’ve put my head around Wikipedia, but the maps where so colorful and the words so complicated that I’ve decided that mt head was not prepared enough to hold out for such a terminological invasion. I’ll carry on another day.

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