Sami languages

Sami is a general name for a group of Finno-Ugric languages spoken in parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, in Northern Europe. Very often Sami is erroneously referred as one language for all Lappic people. There are several terms in use for Sami languages: Samic, Saamic, Lappish and Lappic. The latter two are, along with the term Lapp, considered derogatory by some.

Sami (Sámegiella)
Spoken in: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia
Region: Lapland
Total speakers: Approximately 20,000
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Uralic languages

  Finno-Ugric languages

Official status
Official language of: None. Official status in some parts of Norway; recognized as a minority language in several municipalities of Sweden and Finland.
Regulated by: None.
Language codes
ISO 639-1se (Northern Sami)
ISO 639-2sma, sme, smi, smj, smn, sms
See also: LanguageList of languages


The Sami languages belong to the Finno-Ugric languages group.

Geographic distribution

The Sami languages are spoken by the Sami people living in Lapland in Northern Europe. The Lapland region stretches over the four countries Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

It may be that, before Indo-European languages spread to northern Europe, languages related to Sami were spoken in the whole of Norway and Sweden and into Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein: for example, a few words of Saamic / Finnic origin occur in the Norse languages, for example Norse eld = "fire" (noun) / Saamic aalte-ke-sse: see substratum.

Official status

Adopted in April 1988, Article 110a of the Norwegian Constitution states: "It is the responsibility of the authorities of the State to create conditions enabling the Sami people to preserve and develop its language, culture and way of life." The Sami Language Act went into effect in the 1990s. Sami is an official language of the municipalities of Kautokeino, Karasjok, Kåfjord, Nesseby, Sør-Varanger and Tana.

In Finland, the Sami language act of 1991 granted Sami people the right to use the Sami languages for all government services. The Sami language act of 2003 made Sami an official language in Enontekiö, Inari, Sodankylä and Utsjoki municipalities.

On April 1, 2002 Sami became one of five recognized minority languages in Sweden. It can be used in dealing with public authorities in the municipalities of Arjeplog, Gällivare, Jokkmokk and Kiruna.

Geographic distribution of the majority dialects
Geographic distribution of the majority dialects

See also: Sami parliaments of Finland, Norway, and Sweden

Languages and dialects

In 2001 there were around ten known Sami languages. Six of these have a standard written language, the four others are literally not in use – i.e. there are fewer than 100 people that speak them. The ISO 639-2 code for all Sami languages without its proper code is "smi". The six written dialects are:

The remaining living 4 Sami languages have very few speakers and are in danger of extinction. It is believed that they have fewer than 500 speakers combined. They are Akkala (Babino) Sami, Ter Sami, Pite Sami and Ume Sami. Another Sami language, Kemi Sami, has been extinct for over 100 years.

The Sami languages in the Scandinavian Peninsula form a continuum where dialects from areas close to each other are mutually intelligible but the distance in language increases with geographical distance. Therefore dialect from Southern or Northern reaches of the continuum are actually separate languages without a clearly defined border. By contrast Inari Sami and Skolt Sami are completely separate languages with clearly defined linguistic and geographical borders.


The Northern Sami dialect has had more than one orthography, but in 1948 a common orthography was created. It was last modified in 1985.

The Lule Sami dialect has a common orthography but with fewer special characters, only a-acute and n-acute. The character n-acute (Ń/ń) is the eng sound found in the English word "song". Instead of n-acute (found in Unicode, but not in ASCII), many use ñ or even ng.

Northern Sami uses seven characters not found in the Scandinavian languages or the Finnish language:

  • a-acute (Á/á)
  • c-caron (Č/č)
  • d-stroke (Đ/đ)
  • eng (Ŋ/ŋ)
  • s-caron (Š/š)
  • t-stroke (Ŧ/ŧ)
  • z-caron (Ž/ž)

Southern Sami uses written using Norwegian or Swedish characters, some variants of Swedish (ä, ö) or Norwegian (æ, ø) characters. Inari Sami uses seven special characters. Kildin Sami uses Cyrillic typesetting, Russian characters with some special characters.

External links

eo:Samea lingvo et:Saami keeled fi:Saamelaiskielet fr:Same nn:Samiske språk no:Samiske språk pl:Język lapoński sv:Samiska


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