Renar i sommarskymning. Foto: Anna-Karin Drugge.
In the Sami languages there are words that do not exist in other languages, words describing nature, differenst kinds of reindeer or the old traditional way of living. Photo: Patrik Trädgårdh

A language with deep roots

The languages in Europe belong to a number of different linguistic families. The distribution of the languages is a result both of the migration and settlement of different groups of people and languages, as well as linguistic changes due to exposure to external or higher influences. Areas with navigable coasts and rivers have facilitated contact and linguistic exchange. At one time the Sami inhabited the majority of Finland and Karelia. Historical documents and Sami place names bear witness to the original area's outer boundaries. Research into loan words is a type of linguistic archaeology that can teach us a great deal about the contact that different groups of people had with each other.

The Indo-European language family is the dominant family in Europe. This can in turn be divided into a number of subgroups. The Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, French, etc.) are descendants of Latin, the language of the Romans. The main Germanic languages are English and German. The Scandinavian languages are Northern Germanic languages. Indo-European languages are also spoken in Western Asia. Sami belongs to the Finno-Ugric language family. Finnish, Estonian, Livonian and Hungarian belong to the same language family and are consequently related to each other. Various other languages with which we are relatively unfamiliar also belong to the same group, and are spoken by people as far away as the Ural Mountains in Russia, such as Udmurtian, the Mordvinic languages, Mari and Komi.

A common Finno-Sami protolanguage
Finnish and Sami probably originate from a common protolanguage, early Finno-Sami. From this protolanguage, Finnish and Sami developed in separate directions around 1000 BC or earlier. When the Sami branch changed into proto-Sami, the language was relatively uniform across the entire area inhabited by the Sami's forefathers. The subdivision into the various dialects had probably come a fairly long way by the 9th century AD, and all the typical features that we now have in the various Sami dialects were probably present. The Sami in northern Scandinavia became linguistically splintered due to the fact that they were nomads who moved along the river valleys and lake systems with their reindeer. Southern Sami, on the other hand, probably has a slightly different history. It may have its origins in an early migration from the south into the Scandinavian peninsula. The various Sami groups then met up again much later. One piece of evidence for this is said to be the fact that Southern Sami lacks consonant gradation, which is present in both Finnish and the other Sami dialects. (Consonant gradation is where a group of consonants inside a word change between an unstressed and a stressed spelling, for example `pm' in /Sápmi/ changes to `m' in /sámi/.)

Sami place names
The national borders were drawn up around 250 years ago. Before then, the Sami population lived across a very extensive area with no national boundaries. The first settlers were dependent on the Sami people's ability to survive in nature and the harsh climate. This can be seen for example in the Sami elements that have been retained in the language of those who settled there. Fishermen and farmers of non-Sami origin appeared relatively early along the coastline in the north and in the lower river valleys. From the 17th century onwards, more and more people dared to settle in the Sami region. The colonisation was gradually completed thanks to forestry, mining and the development of hydroelectric power. Even though this colonisation is a recent phenomenon, it has wiped out much of northern Sweden's Sami past. Through linguistic research we are able to rediscover the region's early history. When you look at the map, you can see that the inland area is covered with Sami names for towns, mountains and lakes. Place names such as Luleå, Skellefteå and Umeå also have a Sami origin, although we do not normally consider this. In most cases, the Swedish names for the major rivers in northern Sweden refer back to their Sami equivalents. If the Sami had not been living by the coast when the Swedes arrived, the waterways would naturally have been given Swedish names. The rivers are now named in a way that has been adjusted to suit Swedish pronunciation. One example of this is Skellefteå (Skellopta in the 13th century), which derives from the Southern Sami name Syöldahte. Luleå derives from the Lule Sami name Luleju. A final `å' (Swedish for river or stream) has subsequently been added to these place names.

Current linguistic situation
The current situation of the Sami language is affected by people moving about internally and by the dominance of the majority languages during the 20th century. In recent decades, tens of thousands of new words have entered the Sami language, both loan words and new formations. Examples include: sihkkel - bicycle, mánáidgárdi - day nursery (literally "children's corral''), dihtor - computer. Languages develop continuously in line with society and its needs. For obvious reasons, all Sami-speaking people are naturally bilingual. In the countries where the Sami live, school education has always been provided from the majority languages. är en webbplats för dig som vill veta mer om samerna och sápmi.

Om oss    |    Översikt    |    Kontakt    |    Lättläst

In English

Selected information in English - Manually translated pages.

På använder vi cookies för att webbplatsen ska fungera på ett bra sätt för dig. Genom att fortsätta surfa godkänner du att vi använder cookies. Vad är cookies?