Have you ever looked at a map of Scandinavia and ever wondered if people lived in that northernmost area that encompasses Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia?
Turns out that people do live there. (There are also residents of Slavbard in the Polar North, but that’s another story).
This area is commonly known by Americans as “Lapland”, which nowadays denotes a purely geographical meaning (as opposed to the geopolitical “Samiland”, which is an area with some autonomy from the Sami Parliament).
The inhabitants of Samiland were formerly known as the “Lapps” and the language as “Lappish”, but these terms have fallen out of use (even though derivatives of them still appear in place names). Instead, they are referred to as Sámi People and the Sámi Language, and the land is Sápmi, or Samiland.
How many people live in this area? About 70,000.
What sort of languages are spoken there? In addition to the national languages of the countries that own the territory on a map (Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Russian), there are the Sami Languages, or the indigenous languages of the indigenous Sami People.
(At this point I would like to say that whether or not I used the accent for “Sámi” is completely arbitrary.)
The most commonly spoken of these Sami Languages is Northern Sami, which I wrote about here.
The Sami Languages, all of which are endangered, belong to the Finno-Ugric Language family, and the Northern Sami Language in particular is about as distant from Finnish as English is from German. Both Finnish and Northern Sami use non-Latin versions of the months that denote aspects of that time of the year (unlike Estonian and Hungarian, which use the Latin names the way English speakers do).
There are many similarities in vocabulary besides, although Northern Sami does use fewer cases and more complicated “consonant gradation” (which is shifting a consonant in a word to a weaker form when it declines—in Finnish, “kaikki” [everything] would become “kaiken” [of everything] when declined in the genitive. Note that the “kk” becomes “k”. Northern Sami uses a similar system).
There are other Sami Languages aside from Northern Sami. Don’t ask me about them because I haven’t studied any of them. They are not mutually intelligible with one another, although their vocabularies are similar.
Here is the flag, my personal favorite flag on the face of the earth. I have heard a theory that the colors refer to Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, but…like I know…
The Sami are also well-known for a wordless singing known as “Yoiking”. You may have already heard yoiking before…if you have seen the opening titles for Disney’s Frozen. Yes, this was not an original creation, but rather the “Yoik of the Earth”. Have a listen and refresh your memory:
(Note: the latter portion of this version does involve a mashup with a Norwegian Christmas hymn).
Here is an a cappella version of the national anthem:
I could get into some of the politics of tensions that occur between the Sami and the various countries, but you are welcome to do research on that on your own.
In the meantime, why not treat yourself to some radio:
Or, if you would prefer, why not some television? (This links to the version with Norwegian subtitles, but you can easily find the same with Swedish or Finnish subtitles if you poke around the web, or ask about it in the comments).
I would like to dedicate this post to anyone who asked me about the Sami at any point. This is for you.