|Region||Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia|
|ca. 25,000 (1992–2013)|
|Latin (Northern Sami alphabet)
Northern Sami Braille
Finland; Norway; Sweden
Northern or North Sami (davvisámegiella; disapproved exonym Lappish or Lapp) is the most widely spoken of all Sami languages. The speaking area of Northern Sami covers the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland. The number of Northern Sami speakers is estimated to be somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000. About 2,000 of these live in Finland and between 5,000 and 6,000 in Sweden.
- 1 History
- 2 Phonology
- 3 Syntax
- 4 Alphabet
- 5 Dialects
- 6 Grammar
- 6.1 Consonant gradation
- 6.2 Inflection types
- 6.3 Nouns
- 6.4 Adjectives
- 6.5 Personal pronouns
- 6.6 Verbs
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Among the first printed Sami texts is Svenske och Lappeske ABC Book ("Swedish and Lappish ABC book"), written in Swedish and what is likely a form of Northern Sami. It was published in two editions in 1638 and 1640 and includes 30 pages of prayers and confessions of Protestant faith. It has been described as the first book "with a regular Sami language form".
Northern Sami was first described by Knud Leem (En lappisk Grammatica efter den Dialect, som bruges af Field-Lapperne udi Porsanger-Fiorden) in 1748 and in dictionaries in 1752 and 1768. One of Leem's fellow grammaticians was Anders Porsanger, who studied at the Trondheim Cathedral School and other schools, but who was unable to publish his work on Sami due to racist attitudes at the time. Unfortunately, the majority of his work has disappeared.
The roots of the current orthography for Northern Sami were laid by Rasmus Rask who, after discussions with Nils Vibe Stockfleth, published Ræsonneret lappisk sproglære efter den sprogart, som bruges af fjældlapperne i Porsangerfjorden i Finmarken. En omarbejdelse af Prof. Knud Leems Lappiske grammatica in 1832. Rask opted for a phonemic orthographic system. All of the orthographies that have been used for Northern Sami trace their roots back to Rask's system, unlike the orthographies used for Lule and Southern Sami, which are mainly based on the orthographical conventions of Swedish and Norwegian. Following in the tradition of Rask meant that diacritics were used with some consonants (č, đ, ŋ, š, ŧ and ž), which caused data-processing problems before Unicode was introduced. Both Stockfleth and J.A. Friis went on to publish grammar books and dictionaries for Sami. It can be said that Northern Sami was better described than Norwegian was before Ivar Aasen published his grammar on Norwegian.
Northern Sami was and is used in three countries, each of which used its own orthography for years. Friis' orthography was used when work on translating the Bible into Northern Sami commenced, in the first Sami newspaper called Saǥai Muittalægje, and in the Finnemisjonen's own newspaper Nuorttanaste. The groundwork for Northern Sami lexicography was laid by Konrad Nielsen who used an orthography of his own creation in his dictionary Lappisk ordbok. Starting in 1948, the orthographies used in Norway and Sweden were combined into a single Bergsland-Ruong orthography. It was not greatly used in Norway. In addition, the authorities there instituted a policy that prohibited Sami from being used in practice.
In Sweden, classes were taught in Sami in the Sami schools, as the policy of Lapp ska vara lapp (Sami should be a Sami) was applied to those reindeer herders with the intention of keeping them separated from larger society. In 1979, an official orthography for Northern Sami was adopted for use in Norway, Sweden and Finland.
The mass mobilization during the Alta controversy as well as a more tolerant political environment caused a change to the Norwegian policy of assimilation during the last decades of the twentieth century. In Norway, Northern Sami is currently an official language of two counties (Finnmark and Troms) and six municipalities (Kautokeino, Karasjok, Nesseby, Tana, Porsanger and Gáivuotna (Kåfjord)). Sami born before 1977 have never learned to write Sami according to the currently used orthography in school, so it is only in recent years that there have been Sami capable of writing their own language for various administrative positions.
The consonant inventory of Northern Sami is large, consisting of three different series of plosives/affricates (voiceless, voiced and preaspirated) and two series of nasals (plain and glottalized). In addition, length (gemination) is contrastive for almost all consonants.
- /ʋ/ is realised as a labiodental fricative [v] in the syllable onset (before a vowel), and as bilabial [β] or [w] in the syllable coda (before a consonant). Although [v] is a fricative, it behaves phonologically like an approximant, in particular /j/.
All consonants can be geminated (held longer), except for /h/. This distinction is phonemically contrastive and widely productive as a grammatical feature. Geminated glottalized nasals are realised with the glottalization in between the two consonants (/mʔm/, /nʔn/, /ɲʔɲ/). In geminated preaspirated consonants, it is the preaspiration that lengthens rather than the occlusion (/hːp/, /hːt/, /hːts/, /hːtʃ/, /hːk/).
Except for glottalized or preaspirated consonants, /h/, /j/ or /ʎ/, all consonants also possess a third "overlong" length. Overlong consonants are somewhat longer still than regular long consonants. However, vowels are shortened by a following overlong consonant, so it is unclear whether the consonant or the vowel length is contrastive. Overlong consonants are not indicated in the standard orthography, but are commonly denoted with an apostrophe between the two consonant letters (⟨p'p⟩, ⟨m'm⟩ etc.) in reference works when the distinction is relevant.
|Close||i [i]||u [u]|
|Mid||e [e]||o [o]|
|Open||á [a]||a [ɑ]|
Northern Sami is an SVO language.
|Sami||Letter's Name||IPA||English Approximation|
|R r||ár||/r/||(trilled) rat|
An acute accent was placed over the corresponding Latin letter to represent the letters particular to Northern Sami (Áá Čč Đđ Ŋŋ Šš Ŧŧ Žž) when typing when there was no way of entering these letters correctly otherwise. These substitutions are still found in books printed after the common orthography was adopted due to system limitations when typing.
Until the official orthography currently in use was adopted in 1979, each country had its own, slightly different standard, so it is quite possible to come across older books that are difficult to understand for people unacquainted with the orthography:
- Maanat leät poahtan skuvllai.
- Mánát leat boahtán skuvlii.
(The children have come to school.)
The first sentence is from Antti Outakoski's Samekiela kiellaoahpa from 1950; the second one is how it would be written according to the current orthography.
Northern Sami can be divided into four major dialect groups: Torne, East Finnmark, West Finnmark (written standard) and Sea Sami.
Northern Sami is an agglutinative, highly inflected language that shares many grammatical features with the other Uralic languages. Sami has also developed considerably into the direction of fusional and inflected morphology, much like Estonian to which it is distantly related. Therefore, morphemes are marked not only by suffixes but also by morphophonological modifications to the root. Of the various morphophonological alterations, the most important and complex is the system of consonant gradation.
Consonant gradation is a pattern of alternations between pairs of consonants that appears in the inflection of words. The system of consonant gradation in Northern Sami is complex, especially compared to that found in the Finnic languages. A word stem can appear in two grades: the strong grade and the weak grade. Historically, the weak grade appeared when the syllable in which the consonant appeared was closed (ended in another consonant), but the loss of certain vowels or consonants have obscured this in Northern Sami and it is now a more-or-less opaque process.
Consonants show a three-level gradation pattern, with higher level being "stronger" in some sense. A given word can alternate either between level 3 in the strong grade and level 2 in the weak grade, or between level 2 in the strong grade and level 1 in the weak grade. The level of a consonant depends on how it interacts with the preceding vowel: a vowel is always shortened when a level 3 consonant follows. Thus, all consonant clusters (combinations of different consonants) have level 3/2 gradation, only non-clusters can be level 1.
The full three-level patterns apply to short, long and overlong consonants of any type, except for long voiced/voiceless occlusives.
Level 2 → level 1 alternations:
- Short preaspirated occlusives in the strong grade become short voiced in the weak grade. Note however that ⟨ht⟩ gradates to the fricative ⟨đ⟩ rather than the plosive ⟨d⟩.
- Short glottalized nasals in the strong grade become short plain nasals in the weak grade.
- Long non-occlusive non-glottalized consonants in the strong grade become short in the weak grade.
Level 3 → level 2 alternations:
- Long preaspirated occlusives in the strong grade become short preaspirated in the weak grade.
- Long glottalized nasals in the strong grade become short glottalized nasals in the weak grade.
- Overlong non-occlusive non-glottalized consonants in the strong grade become long in the weak grade.
Note that, although ⟨lj⟩ is phonemically a single consonant, it counts as a cluster in terms of syllable structure and therefore only has level 3/2 gradation.
|Level 3||Level 2||Level 1|
Long voiced/voiceless occlusives
Long voiced occlusives alternate with long voiceless occlusives. These behave as clusters, and are therefore level 3/2 in terms of weight.
|Level 3||Level 2|
An exception here is ⟨dj⟩, which has three levels.
|Level 3||Level 2||Level 1|
Clusters ending with glottalized nasal
Clusters ending with glottalized nasals can behave in two ways. If the first member of the cluster is ⟨r⟩, then the nasal changes from long glottalized to short glottalized. In other cases, the nasal changes to long plain.
|Level 3||Level 2|
All other clusters have doubling of the final consonant of the cluster in the weak grade. In clusters beginning with ⟨k⟩, the ⟨k⟩ itself also changes to ⟨v⟩.
|Level 3||Level 2|
|⟨k⟩ + short||⟨v⟩ + long|
All inflected words, whether nouns, adjectives or verbs, can be divided into three main inflectional classes. The division is based on whether there is an even or odd number of syllables from the last stressed syllable to the end of the word.
- Words with even inflection (bárrastávvalsánit, also called "vowel stems") have an even number of syllables from the last stressed syllable of the stem; usually two, but sometimes also four.
- Words with odd inflection (bárahisstávvalsánit, also called "consonant stems") have an odd number of syllables from the last stressed syllable of the stem; usually three, but very rarely one or five.
- Words with contracted inflection (?) have an even number of syllables from the last stressed syllable of the stem, but have the consonant gradation pattern of odd-inflection words. If the gradation has three levels, the strong grade is always level 3.
For nouns and adjectives, the stem is determined from the accusative/genitive singular rather than the nominative, as the latter often drops the final vowel. For verbs, the infinitive is used.
Words with even and contracted inflection can be divided further, based on the final vowel of the stem. For even-inflected words, this vowel is most commonly a, i or u, while for contracted words it is mostly á, e or o. Words with odd inflection always have the same stem-final vowel, a.
Nouns inflect in singular (ovttaidlohku) and plural (máŋggaidlohku), and also for one of 7 cases. The following table shows the general endings; the actual forms can differ based on consonant gradation and the inflection type of the word.
|Genitive (genitiiva)||-∅||-id||Possession, relation|
|Illative (illatiiva)||-i||-ide, -idda||Motion towards/onto/into|
|Locative (lokatiiva)||-s||-in||Being at/on/in, motion from/off/out of|
|Comitative (komitatiiva)||-in||-iguin||With, in company of, by means of|
|Essive (essiiva)||-n, -in||As, in the role of, under condition of (when)|
The accusative and genitive are always identical. There is no singular/plural distinction in the essive, so that for example mánnán is interpreted as either "as a child" or "as children".
Nouns with even inflection
Nouns with even inflection have consonant gradation of the last consonant in the stem. The strong grade appears in the nominative, illative and essive singular, while the weak grade appears in the remaining forms.
Stem in -a-
Stem in -i-
Stem in -u-
|Genitive||gieđa||gieđaid||oaivvi, oaivve||oivviid||ruovttu, ruovtto||ruovttuid|
Nouns with odd inflection
Nouns with odd inflection have consonant gradation. The weak grade appears in the nominative and essive singular, while the strong grade appears in the remaining forms. Some nouns also have other alternations in the stem of the strong grade, such as changes of i to á, u to o, or addition of a consonant.
|ganjal "tear (eye)"||lávlla "song"
Nouns with contracted inflection
Nouns with contracted inflection have consonant gradation. The pattern follows that of odd-inflection nouns, with the weak grade in the nominative and essive singular, and the strong grade in the remainder. If the weak grade is level 1, the strong grade will be level 3. The final syllable is generally altered along with the gradation as well.
Stem in -á-
Stem in -o-
Adjectives inflect the same as nouns do, and have the same cases and inflection types.
Adjectives also have an additional form, the attributive form (attribuhttahápmi). This form is used when the adjective is used attributively, where it precedes the noun. The attributive does not receive any endings, so it does not have cases or number. Its formation is also unpredictable: for some adjectives, it's formed from the nominative singular by adding an extra ending of some kind to the stem, while for others the attributive is formed by removing part of the stem. It may also be identical to the nominative singular. Some examples:
|čielggas||čielggas- (odd)||čielga||clear, transparent|
Not all adjectives have an attributive form. For example, the frequently-used adjective buorre "good" has only case forms. When there is no attributive form, this doesn't mean it can't be used attributively. Instead, the case and number of the adjective matches that of the noun it is an attribute of (as in for example Finnish).
The personal pronouns inflect irregularly, and also have a third number, the dual (guvttiidlohku). The dual is used to refer to exactly two people. The next two tables contain the personal pronouns in the nominative and genitive/accusative cases, respectively.
|1st person nom||mun||moai||mii||I|
|2nd person nom||don||doai||dii||you|
|3rd person nom||son||soai||sii||he, she|
|1st person gen||mu||munno||min||my|
|2nd person gen||du||dudno||din||your, yours|
|3rd person gen||su||sudno||sin||his, her|
The next table demonstrates the declension of a personal pronoun he/she (no gender distinction) in various cases:
The conjugation of Northern Sami verbs resembles that of Finnish. There are three grammatical persons (persovnnat), and three grammatical numbers (logut), singular, dual and plural. There are four or five grammatical moods (vuogit):
- indicative (indikatiiva or duohtavuohki), indicating real events or statements of fact.
- imperative (imperatiiva or gohččunvuohki), indicating commands.
- optative (optatiiva or ávžžuhusvuohki), indicating wishes, things that the speaker would like to see done or realised. The optative is not usually considered a distinct mood, but is generally combined with the imperative.
- conditional (konditionála or eaktovuohki), indicating conditional or hypothetical statements, like the English subjunctive and the verb "would".
- potential (potientiála or veadjinvuohki), indicating ability or possibility.
Tense is also distinguished, but only in the indicative. There are two tenses (tempusat):
- present (preseansa or dálá áigi), which is also used for future events (nonpast tense).
- past (preterihtta or vássán áigi).
Finally, there are several non-finite forms.
Verbs with even inflection
|1st singular||viegan||vihken||vihkon||viegašin, viegašedjen||viegažan|
|2nd singular||viegat||vihket||viega||viegašit, viegašedjet||viegažat|
|3rd singular||viehká||viegai||vihkos||viegašii||viegaža, viegaš|
|1st plural||viehkat||viegaimet||vihkot, viehkkut||viegašeimmet||viegažit, viegažat|
|2nd plural||viehkabehtet||viegaidet||vihket, viehkkit||viegašeiddet||viegažehpet|
|3rd plural||vihket||vihke||vihkoset||viegaše, viegašedje||viegažit|
|1st singular||ealán||ellen||ellon||ealášin, ealášedjen||eležan|
|2nd singular||ealát||ellet||ele||ealášit, ealášedjet||eležat|
|3rd singular||eallá||elii||ellos||ealášii||eleža, eleš|
|1st plural||eallit||eliimet||ellot, eal'lut||ealášeimmet||eležit, eležat|
|2nd plural||eallibehtet||eliidet||ellet, eal'lit||ealášeiddet||eležehpet|
|3rd plural||ellet||elle||elloset||ealáše, ealášedje||eležit|
|1st singular||goarun||gorron||gorron||gorošin, gorošedjen||gorožan|
|2nd singular||goarut||gorrot||goro||gorošit, gorošedjet||gorožat|
|3rd singular||goarru||gorui||gorros||gorošii||goroža, goroš|
|1st plural||goarrut||goruimet||gorrot, goar'rut||gorošeimmet||gorožit, gorožat|
|2nd plural||goarrubehtet||goruidet||gorrot, goar'rut||gorošeiddet||gorožehpet|
|3rd plural||gorrot||gorro||gorroset||goroše, gorošedje||gorožit|
Verbs with odd inflection
Verbs with contracted inflection
Northern Sami, like other Uralic languages, has a negative verb that conjugates according to mood (indicative, imperative and optative), person (1st, 2nd and 3rd) and number (singular, dual and plural).
The negative verb in Northern Sami does not conjugate according to tense.
- Northern Sami at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- "To which languages does the Charter apply?". European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Council of Europe. p. 4. Retrieved 2014-04-03.
- Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Northern Sami". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
- "Samediggi - Saamelaiskäräjät - Sámi language". Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- "The Sami dialects". Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- Original quote: ""med en regelmessig samisk sprogform""; Forsgren, Tuuli (1988) "Samisk kyrko- och undervisningslitteratur i Sverige 1619-1850." Scriptum: Rapportserie utgiven av Forskningsarkivet vid Umeå universitet, ISSN 0284-3161; p. 12
- Bals, Berit Anne; Odden, David; Rice, Curt (2005). "Topics in North Saami Phonology" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-11-08.
- Svonni, E Mikael (1984). Sámegiel-ruoŧagiel skuvlasátnelistu. Sámiskuvlastivra. III. ISBN 91-7716-008-8.
- Kimberli Mäkäräinen A Northern Sámi-English vocabulary (5500+ words in Sámi as of 12 September 2013)
- Northern Sámi - Inari Sámi - Skolt Sámi - English dictionary (requires a password)
- Names of birds found in Sápmi in a number of languages, including Skolt Sámi and English. Search function only works with Finnish input though.
- OAHPA! Online interactive Sámi pedagogical program suite
- Sámi language technology project
- Sámi dictionary and terminology database
- Sámi proofing tools project
- Sátnemeahccái project for children
- Gradation described
- Wordlist with sound files
- Gulahalan, a course on North Sámi in Swedish (has sound files)
- Irja Seurujärvi-Kari talks in Northern Sámi
- Lexin picture themes - Northern Sámi
- Sami alphabet - Flash/Sound