Anthropology, Arctic, Awareness, Culture, Genealogy, Heritage, Indigenous, List, Outfit, People, Photography, Saami, Sámi, Sápmi, Uralic

Endangered and extinct: Sámi languages today

Photo coloured by Per Ivar Somby. In the photo: Brita Somby, wearing traditional dress (gakti) with traditional wool shawl.


The nine remaining Sámi languages are spoken here in the north of Europe (see map and gallery below) in a cross-border region which includes Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. This region is generally called Sápmi – mostly by sámis, and is sometimes referred to as Lapland. Laponia in swedish Lapland is the World’s largest unmodified UNESCO nature area still cultured by natives. Sámis are indigenous to Sápmi and Scandinavia, our heritage and ancestry goes back to Siberia.

Sámi languages speakers estimate:

Southern Sámi 300 – 500 speakers

Ume Sámi – less than 20 speakers

Lule Sámi 2 000 – 3 000 speakers

Pite Sámi – less than 20 speakers

Northern Sámi – 20-30 000 speakers. There are three main North Sámi dialects.
Northern Sámi is the most accessible language, both in terms of literature, news broadcasts, and other material for those who want to learn a Sámi language as a foreign language.*

Kemi Sámi  extinct

Inari Sámi 300 – 500 speakers

Akkala Sámi – considered mostly extinct since 2003*

Kildin Sámi 300 – 700 speakers

Skolt Sámi 300 – 500 speakers in Finland, fewer than 20 speakers in Russia

Ter Sámi – less than 5 speakers left, all elderly

Out of the 11 historically attested Sámi languages, 9 are still spoken/used.

Today we are around 90 000 Sámis, but as you can see from the numbers they do not match up to speakers of Sámi languages. Roughly 4/10 Sámis speak and use Sámi today.

Why is this so?

To avoid humiliation and to give their children “better chances in life”, indigenous and minority parents often decide to speak a dominant or official language with their children. Sámi parents have not been an exception to this rule, especially in the very near past.

For the sake of how long this post would be in order to include all four countries’ history with the Sámi people, I will mainly focus on Norway.

Title: Samiske barn undervises i norsk / Sámi children learning norwegian
Opphaver: Fotograf Sverre A. Børretzen
Rettighetshaver: Leverandør NTB scanpix


Up to the 17th century, Sámi society lived pretty much its own life, with little interference from the outside. But with the new borders of the Nordic countries, interference was inevitable. Historically, the language situation can be divided into three distinct periods: a missionary phase; a harsh assimilation phase; and the present phase, with potential for integration and revitalisation.

The 17th and 18th centuries characterise the beginning of missionary activities, with some very positive projects for the benefit of the Sámi languages: teaching was conducted through the medium of Sámi and religious texts were translated into Sámi. From the middle of the 19th century however, a new policy based on national romanticism and ‘vulgar Darwinist ideas’ led to a harsh suppression of Sámi and the languages. The Norwegian Parliament and government pursued overtly a policy aiming at assimilating the whole Sámi population in Norway in the course of one generation.

The “dark century,” 1870 to 1970 ca, had detrimental effects which can still be felt on both the languages themselves and on their status and speakers. In the coastal areas of Norway (and elsewhere), negative attitudes were transmitted by the Sámi themselves as a result of the policies, and inter-generational transfer of the language ceased in only a few generations.

Approx distribution of the languages/dialects today. The biggest blue area is mainly Troms and Finnmark.

New efforts in maintaining the languages were revived in the 1970s and still continues to this day. However, one of the most striking failures of the Sámi strategies is that the smaller Sámi languages (in numbers of speakers as listed above) have not seen success in improving their situation or even in defending their previous position. This failure is partly due to the fact that most speakers live apart from the larger Sámi groups. Dispersed among Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, and Russians, they do not have the demographic concentration that would enable them to use their language in the workplace and in official situations, including schools.

A language’s development, aging, and dying was considered “natural,” out of human reach. Languages were not killed, they “died of old age.” This agentless “model” for the prediction of the future of languages is still found among politicians, and legitimates their way of treating minority languages.

In Norway, many municipalities with a Sámi population had developed procedures to give the Sámi some local linguistic rights. Yet, when the Sámi language law (in force since 1992) designated certain areas as belonging to the Sámi administrative districts, many of the municipalities left outside these official districts – often municipalities where the speakers of the smaller Sámi languages lived – withdrew services in Sámi, claiming that the law did not require them. Even today, there is strong resilience towards using official Sámi names in for example Norwegian towns and municipalities.

Sámi name for Bodø not welcome, 2011.

*Currently, education, official documents and the media use Northern Sámi almost exclusively. This variant is used as a de facto “official language” and the most significant efforts have gone into the development of this particular language, to the detriment of other Sámi languages.

Opinions also differ on whether the different versions of Sámi are actual languages or dialects, and how to designate their speakers. “The Song of the Sámi Family” is the official Sámi anthem. To demonstrate the differences among the Sámi languages, here is how the Sámi anthem titles look in Northern Sámi: “Sámi Soga Lávlla,” in Inari Sámi: “Säämi suuvâ laavlâ,” and in Skolt Sámi: “Sää´msooǥǥ laull.” In Finnish, the title would be the somewhat similar; “Saamen suvun laulu.”

Sápmi flag by artist Astrid Båhl from Skibotn, Troms. Photo: Ørjan Bertelsen


Most Sámis today speak either Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Russian, or even English as their everyday tongue (some migrated to the USA). Many are bilingual as well. Another factor is that some Sámis do not identify as Sámi or even know that they are due to the assimilation in the past. They do not have any relationship with the language(s).

**Akkala Sámi is the most endangered Eastern Sámi language. On December 29, 2003, Maria Sergina – the last remaining fluent native speaker of Akkala Sámi – died. However, as of 2011 there were at least two people, both aged 70, with some minor knowledge of Akkala Sámi.

Unlike the Indo-European languages spoken in most of Europe, the Sámi languages belong to the Uralic language family, and are most closely related to the Baltic-Finnic branch, which includes Finnish, Hungarian and Estonian, although opinions vary as to the closeness of the relationship.
Photo I took at the main square in Tromsø 2019. Demonstration against violence and discrimination towards sámi.

Sámi women and a man in Sweden. Colourised photo by Per Ivar Somby.
Many young Sámis today use the traditional handwoven wool shawl as an everyday garment in a more urban way in order to still show our Sámi identity, and belonging. I think it’s a small yet beautiful act. Wool shawls like this are however sold commercially many places as well. (Photo by NatGeo of Jokkmokk Sámi Ella-Li Spik, herder).

Norway, Sweden and Finland was in 2019 urged by the UN to increase public funding of Sámi parliaments as a response to the dire state of the disappearing languages. But even if the situation seems dire for many languages, it is still possible to revitalise them and start using them more often. Which languages survive and which do not ultimately seems to be a question of human will, not of any rules of nature.

I know that languages and cultures come and go, but I do feel it a great loss to lose what has been native for Sápmi and Lapland for literally thousands of years, in only a few generations, when it can be perserved. I am happy that some schools and institutions are giving sámi language courses to anyone who wishes to learn it (although this is mostly in Northern sámi), and I do also secretly wish that my children will learn it, which I never did due to the Norwegianization process in Finnmark. Language is a huge part of culture and when it’s taken away, people get confused about their own community and sense of belonging, and even turn on each other as a result of feeling alienated.

Me keeping warm and optimistic about the future of the languages and culture.



Thanks for reading! xx


Sources and texts used in this post:

https://site.uit.no/sagastallamin/

http://www.sorosoro.org/en/sami-languages/#:~:text=Yes.,beginning%20of%20the%2021st%20century.

https://blogs.loc.gov/international-collections/2019/12/will-the-sami-languages-disappear/

https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/saami-languages-present-and-future

Awareness, Health, Neurodiversity, Neurological

Stuttering and how it affects me

“Stuttering or stammering, in its simplest form, is any disruption to speech fluency. This could be repetitions, prolongations, or blocks and may occur anywhere in the word or phrase. Nerves or anxiety does not cause stuttering. Stuttering is a neurophysiological disorder. Oftentimes, it is the stuttering that causes anxiety.”

“Stuttering is believed to occur due to dysfunctional blood flow in certain areas of the brain.”

How stuttering has manifested for me:

Blockages; going mute. Also known as stutter blocks. I’ll know exactly what I want to say, but I physically cannot get the words out. They are stuck in my chest, head or throat/jaw. This has made it quite hard to communicate a lot of the time, and to make friends or be social in general. I often rehearse sentences in my head, and get overjoyed if I manage to say it out loud with fluency. This takes a lot of effort, and is why I prefer writing or any other form of communication. I also struggle some with phone calls.

The blocks makes me say “Uummm” a lot too, to kind of fill in the time because I really want to get the next word out, which is quite stressful. I do fear it makes me sound dumb or slow, and it does kill my confidence, especially if I am with people I want to talk a lot with or I know I have a lot to say on the topic we are discussing. I usually have no problem talking to animals, close old friends, chant buddhist mantras or in certain situations where I don’t feel a pressure to say anything. But those situations are rare, and I would love to learn how to “unblock” my speech, which is why I am doing speech therapy too,

Do you have a speech problem, and/or something similar? Let me know how you deal with it.

Thank for reading

Monica xx

Skulsfjord, 2019
Arctic, Beauty, Dzogchen, Indigenous, Landscape, Meditation, Outfit, Photography, Saami, Sámi, Sápmi, Sewing, Vajrayana, Yoga

Pastel coloured skies

My favourite shawl. Head dress I made by hand.
A tantric Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal statue I helped repaint for a friend. The union of wisdom and compassion. Wish I had a similar one! Hopefully one day I will afford one 🙏🏻

You know how you need to pretend to sleep in order to fall asleep? And at some point it just happens. Maybe it’s the same with other areas of life. Fake it till you make it, kind of, not in a bad way – just a dedicated one. I have noticed at least that the same applies to yoga and meditation sometimes. If I feel stressed, anxious and restless, I force myself to do the practice anyway. And at some level it still does its magic, of that I am 100% sure. In between the sleepless thoughts and rough emotions – they become like clouds in the pastel coloured sky.

Wishing all a lovely calm Polar night, and remember that it’s in darkness you shine the brightest 🌌✨🎆

Acrylic painting, Adventure, Animals, Arctic, Art, Beauty, Indigenous, Landscape, Photography, Sámi, Sápmi

Always shifting

“Just like water, snow and ice, life is always shifting, changing forms.” (This photo is from february 2017).
Beautiful texture and shapes in the frozen water.

One of my paintings inspired by the icy landscape:

My little pregnant polar bear. Wrote a post earlier about this painting 💜 Here she is framed.
Adventure, Arctic, Everyday life, Landscape, People, Photography, Poems, Saami, Sámi, Sápmi

Away, away..

Senja island. The pointy peak is Segla. Hiked it once, amazing view. Apologies for grainy mobile shot, it doesn’t do it justice.
I love driving. One of my happy places, for sure.

“Away, away,—to the mountains away,
Where the pine trees murmur and sway,
And the foamy waterfalls sing and spring
Over the boulders gray.

Hills—
Blue and green hills, near and far,
The farther they lie, the better they are.
The near ones I can climb and see
But the beautiful far ones call to me”

Unknown

Arctic, Culture, DIY, Everyday life, Food, Health, Heritage, Indigenous, Knitting, Outfit, People, Photography, Pregnancy, Saami, Sámi, Sápmi

Vinterbaby, part 2

Gleder meg ihjel til å kle mini-me’en i de gamle klærne ho bestemor laga til oss da vi var små ❤ Mine gamle lobber i grå og blå.
Fikk et nydelig marinoullpledd fra mamma og søster. Samt andre babyting med dyretema fra venninner 🙌🏻 Selen kjøpte jeg helt ærlig til meg selv 😅 Kjempemyk og søt!
Kan brukes som pute og sofapynt 😄 Kan hende beiben får låne den 😉
Viktig å spille litt musikk for han 😁🎧
Har også brukt en del tid på å se gjennom gamle baby -og barnebilder av meg selv og min barndom. Det er kanskje sånn som skjer automatisk når man er gravid 😄❄ Blir nok ikke å legge ut noen bilder offentlig av podden, men gøy å dele tiden fram til han kommer ☺
Ble overraska av de beste jentene jeg vet om med babyshower 💎 Helt fantastisk.. de greide til og med å lure meg! En av de desidert største høydepunktene i 2020. Tusen takk! Tenk å ha slike venner.
De hadde til og med laga bleiekake – helt selv fra scratch. Med lamabamse 🤩
Må også dele bilde fra noen uker siden da jeg fant ut at antrekket mitt ligna litt for mye på en viss kar 🙄
Min største gravid-craving så langt 🥝
Ikke så mange uker igjen nå, syns ukene og månedene har gått ekstremt fort. Kommer til å savne å se ut som mummitrollet 😛
Acrylic painting, Arctic, Art, Everyday life, Indigenous, Landscape, People, Photography, Sámi, Sápmi

Magic Monday // My art exhibition

Come see my little exhibition of 13 paintings at Magic Ice Tromsø ❄ Most paintings are for sale 🙏🏻 They also have the cosiest tiny coffee place there, an impressive ice sculpture gallery by Lithuanian artists and a cocktail bar – all ice, even the glasses ☃️🥂🌌

Traditional sámi wool shawl by NativeInNorway, Nordkjosbotn, Balsfjors.