General information

The Saamic or Lappic languages (Sámegielat) form a dialectal continuum spoken in far northern Europe. The native designation for Northern Saami (i.e. the most widely-spoken Saamic language) is Davvisámegiella meaning “Northern Saami language”. A few municipalities in Finland, Norway, and Sweden designate one of the Saamic languages as official and all three countries recognize them as minority languages. They are the mother tongue of people of Saami ancestry whose traditional homeland called “Sápmi” stretches from central Norway and Sweden through northern Finland to Russia’s Kola Peninsula. Estimates for the number of people of Saami ethnicity (self-designated or otherwise) vary between 80,000 and 135,000 with roughly 25,000 of them being able to speak fluently at least one of the Saamic languages.

Linguists classify the Saamic languages as Uralic and linguistic relatives include Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, and Nganasan. When considering relationships to major standard languages, the Saamic languages show the most similarity to Estonian and Finnish but mutual intelligibility is very low.

Notwithstanding the classification of Saamic within the Uralic family, the Saamis themselves probably descend from waves of migration toward northern Fennoscandia and subsequent mixing between different populations starting after the end of the last glacial period (ca. 10,000 BC). However the Proto-Saamic language has been reconstructed as developing in what are now southern Finland and the Republic of Karelia in Russia around 500 BC and only afterwards did its use spread further north. This implies that the ancestors of the Saami may have used languages that would not be classified as Uralic. Given the harsh living conditions of far northern Europe, the Saamis have developed a broadly nomadic lifestyle mainly by fishing, trapping or domestication of reindeer. Starting in the 16th century, the Saamis began to face increased cultural, political and/or socioeconomic pressure from Finns, Norwegians, Russians and Swedes. By the end of the 19th century matters had become more serious with the effects of Romantic Nationalism (e.g. Norwegianization) and industrialization (e.g. exploitation of iron ore in northern Sweden) competing against traditional culture. Saami culture continued to be under immense pressure for much of the 20th century with the maintenance of Norwegianization (discontinued during the 1980s), collectivization in the USSR and the scorched-earth policy of the retreating German army in World War II. The distinctiveness of the Saamis has only recently become viewed positively and there has been greater outside interest in preserving their heritage and encouraging its survival.

Saamic languages are useful in areas where they are spoken. However UNESCO classifies all existing Saamic languages as endangered. The level of danger varies from being definitely endangered as with Northern Saami (the one with the most speakers at roughly 20,000) to being critically endangered as with Pite Saami (UNESCO estimates 20 speakers remaining). The small number of native speakers is tied to a vicious cycle in which all Saamis also speak the official language of the country where they live (i.e. Finnish, Norwegian, Russian, Swedish) thus discouraging much production of materials for teaching a Saamic language as a second language. The scarcity of such learning materials makes it difficult for outsiders to begin learning them independently.

A background in any Saamic language would acquaint the learner with some features that are characteristic of Uralic (e.g. Estonian, Hungarian) and Altaic languages (e.g. Mongolian, Turkish). However, a prospective learner of a Saamic language should realize that the ancestral Saamic language probably emerged about 2,500 years ago and its descendants have diverged noticeably from their next nearest set of major “relatives” in the form of Estonian and Finnish.


The use of the term “Lappish” (and later “Saami”) to designate all of the languages has given rise to the belief among outsiders that there exists a sole language and that any variants are merely dialects of high mutual intelligibility. Empirical evidence however suggests that they are more accurately viewed as being separate languages resting on continuua with varying degrees of mutual intelligibility. The comparative linguist Ante Aikio has likened the divergence between Saamic “dialects” to the divergence between the Romance languages with mutual intelligibility within Saamic tending to be negatively related to the geographical distance separating one language from another.

The Saamic languages can be divided broadly into two groups: Western and Eastern. Western languages comprise Lule Saami, Northern Saami, Pite Saami, Southern Saami, and Ume Saami. Eastern languages comprise Inari Saami, Kildin Saami, Skolt Saami, and Ter Saami (the eastern languages of Akkala Saami and Kemi Saami went extinct in 2003 and during the 19th century respectively).

Within the various languages there may exist dialects. For example, Northern Saami comprises four dialects: Torne, East Finnmark, West Finnmark, and Maritime.

Learning with a background in other languages

To date I have not found any study or paper giving clues about the time needed for someone to attain professional proficiency in any Saamic language. However as an approximation, I am assuming that with Finnish among the closest language relatives of the Saamic languages, the degree of difficulty of achieving proficiency in a Saamic language is comparable to that of doing the same for Finnish. According to the FSI, it takes approximately 1100 class hours for a monolingual English-speaking learner to achieve professional speaking and reading proficiency in Finnish, with similar time needed for Estonian, Georgian, Hungarian, Thai, and Vietnamese.

While reading grammatical sketches of Saamic in preparing this profile, I found that a background in a Balto-Finnic language (e.g. Estonian, Finnish) was helpful in understanding grammatical and phonological concepts in the group. Therefore learning at least some Estonian or Finnish (which are supported by larger inventories of learning materials) before embarking on studying a Saamic language would be helpful to a certain degree. However this strategy could have a downside since a background in Estonian or Finnish may also cause some interference in assimilating or mastering details of that Saamic language.

Because of Saamic’s use by a very small speech-community and perceived lack of utility, materials in Saamic for foreign learners may be difficult to obtain. Much of what is available in modern educational materials uses Finnish, Norwegian, Russian or Swedish as the intermediary language. There are few such resources that use English.

For native speakers of an Indo-European language, I found the following features to cause the most difficulty when studying Inari Saami and Northern Saami.

  1. Inflection that depends on whether the stem has an odd number of syllables or not
  2. Consonant gradation (excepting Southern Saami which lacks it)
  3. Vocalic alternation
  4. Unfamiliar vocabulary for speakers of most Indo-European languages (this problem is alleviated in varying degrees if you already know another Uralic or Altaic language or are fluent in a Northern Germanic language).

Grammatical overview (N.B. focused on Northern Saami unless indicated otherwise).

In a broad sense, main stress is fixed on the first syllable but a word in Northern Saami is more accurately analyzed as a chain of syllables with one stressed syllable normally being followed by up to two unstressed syllables (up to three unstressed syllables in rare instances) and odd-numbered syllables tending to be stressed. It follows that a word with more than three syllables consists of two syllables that bear stress (albeit with one stressed syllable bearing more intense stress than the second stressed syllable). However there are occurrences where a word can have stressed syllables that are adjacent to each other. Northern Saami also differentiates between short and long sounds and uses palatalized consonants. Orthographic conventions for Saamic are noticeably imperfect reflections of pronunciation practice and these are partially attributable to the first scripts having been devised by non-native speakers of Saamic. Changes in intonation can be used when emphasizing desired elements in a sentence.

As in the kindred Estonian, the Saamic languages do not follow vowel harmony and the pronunciation of all extant Saamic languages (excepting Southern Saami) is affected by elaborate consonant gradation.

Consonant gradation in Northern Saami affects almost all consonants and consonant clusters. The basic principle is that a word belongs to one of three categories but as the word’s inflection changes, its categorization changes as does the quality or quantity of its consonants.

The general rule in Northern Saami is that consonant clusters in the “strong” form of the word (usually the basic form) tend to become single consonants or consonant clusters of a different quality in the “weak” form (usually the inflected form) as the word inflects to mark differences in tense or case.

Here are some examples with comparisons to Estonian and Finnish cognates

  1. álgit “to begin”; álggán “I begin” (-lg- in álgit changes to -lgg- because the present tense suffix for the 1st person singular caused gradation of the hypothetical stem *álggá-)algama “to begin”; algan “I begin” (-lg- stays the same) (Estonian) alkaa “to begin”; alan “I begin” (-lk- changes to -L-) (Finnish)

  2. čalbmi “eye”; čalmmi “of an eye” (-lbm- in čalbmi changes to -lmm- because the historical genitive suffix *-n caused gradation of the hypothetical stem *čalbmi-. N.B. This genitive suffix is no longer used in modern Northern Saami) silm “eye”; silma “of an eye” (no gradation) (Estonian) silmä “eye”; silmän “of an eye” (no gradation) (Finnish)

  3. giehta “hand”; gieđa “of a hand” (-ht- in giehta changes to -đ- because the historical genitive suffix *-n caused gradation of the hypothetical stem *giehta-. N.B. This genitive suffix is no longer used in modern Northern Saami)käsi “hand”; käe “of a hand” (-s- disappears) (Estonian) käsi “hand”; käden “of a hand” (-s- changes to -d-) (Finnish)Note: The Estonian and Finnish words for “hand” arose from an earlier form *käte and as Estonian and Finnish began to develop as distinct languages, -t- changed to -s- thus leading to an outwardly exceptional declensional pattern

  4. gullat “to hear”; gulan “I hear” (-ll- in gullat changes to -l- because the present tense suffix for the 1st person singular caused gradation of the hypothetical stem *gulla-) kuulma “to hear”; kuulen “I hear” (no gradation) (Estonian) kuulla “to hear”; kuulen “I hear” (no gradation) (Finnish)Note: The change of -ll- to -l- in Finnish is superficially similar to the change in Northern Saami. However it is not consonant gradation since the phenomenon in Finnish affects k, p and t (including most clusters with these consonants) whereas in Northern Saami gradation affects almost all consonants.

  5. dovdat “to know (a person); dovddan “I know (a person)” (-vd- in dovdat changes to -vdd- because the present tense suffix for the 1st person singular caused gradation of the hypothetical stem *dovda-) tundma “to know”; tunnen “I know” (gradation of -nd- to -nn-) (Estonian) tuntea “to know”; tunnen “I know” (gradation of -nt- to -nn-) (Finnish)Northern Saami has four tenses (simple past, simple non-past, perfect and pluperfect), two voices (active and passive), three numbers (singular, dual and plural), and four moods (indicative, conditional, imperative and potential). There is also an infinitive. In addition, it does not use separate pronouns for “he” and “she”.

Of note for verbs:

i) Future activity is indicated by using the present tense. Future activity can be determined from the context of a sentence, made explicit by using suitable adverbs or expressed in an analytic construction.


Mun boađán “I come”, “I shall come” Mun boađán ihttin “I come tomorrow”, “I shall come tomorrow” Mun galgan boahtit “I shall come”

ii) Conjugating verbs in negative differs from doing so in the affirmative.


Boađán “I come”, “I’ll come” Boahtá “He/she comes”, “He/she’ll come” In boađe “I don’t come”, “I won’t come” Ii boađe “He/she doesn’t come”, “He/she won’t come”

As it relates to nouns and adjectives, none of the Saamic languages have grammatical gender but they use both prepositions and postpositions. The number of cases in Saamic varies. For example, Southern Saami has 8 cases while Inari Saami, Pite Sami and Skolt Saami have 9 cases each (in practice the number can be considered lower for Inari Saami and Skolt Saami since the endings for the genitive and accusative have largely merged while the partitive of Inari Saami is used only in singular). Northern Saami has 7 cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, locative, illative, comitative and essive but for practical purposes it has 6 since the endings of the genitive and accusative have merged.

Saamic typology is a hybrid of the agglutinative and fusional. In agglutinative languages, each suffix often expresses only one unit of meaning (for example to express the nominative plural of a noun, one would attach a plural suffix to the basic form (usually nominative). If one wanted to express the accusative plural, one would attach two suffixes to the basic form - one suffix for the accusative, another for the plural). In fusional languages, the ending of a noun can change to express different case relations and that ending can express more than one unit of meaning (for example to express the nominative plural, one would change the ending of the noun. If one wanted to express the accusative plural, one would attach a different ending to the basic form - no need to attach a discrete ending for the plural, and then another for the accusative as in an agglutinative language).

Northern Saami’s word order is usually subject-verb-object in main clauses and subject-object-verb in constructions with infinitives or participles. Southern Saami is notable among Saamic languages for generally using the order of subject-object-verb in main clauses. Adjectives often precede the nouns that they modify.

Six of the nine living Saamic languages have writing systems with Pite Saami, Ter Saami and Ume Saami having no such system. For the six languages with writing systems, spelling is complicated by the fact of them having been subjected to several attempts at devising standards. As Saamic languages have been spoken natively in four states, administrators and scholars from each of Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden have devised scripts for the particular Saamic language(s) found on their respective territories. Northern Saami is rather exceptional in this regard for despite being spoken natively in at least three countries, its alphabet is the same regardless of where it is used. Kildin Saami in Russia currently uses a modified Cyrillic alphabet while the remaining Saamic languages use modified Latin alphabets. In the cases of Lule Saami and Southern Saami, each of these languages uses two slightly different scripts. One version is based on the Norwegian alphabet, while the other version is based on the Swedish alphabet.

Northern Saami uses a Latin-based alphabet of thirty letters with the following letters being different from the English alphabet:

Á,á, Č, č, Đ, đ, Ŋ, ŋ, Š, š, Ŧ, ŧ , Ž, ž

Spelling is not phonemic as vowel quantity is not consistently marked while stress placement is never marked. An unusual characteristic in Northern Saami’s orthography for many is that the letters “b”, “d”, “g”, “z” and “ž” are often read or pronounced unvoiced (i.e. “b” often sounds more like “p”, “d” often sounds more like “t”, “g” often sounds like “k”, “z” often sounds more like “ts”, “ž” often sounds more like “č”)

Northern Saami’s current orthographic convention is part of a fairly active process with at least 9 versions already having been devised. The devising of this many orthographic conventions has led to the situation where material printed as late as the 1950s may now be difficult for people to read as the language is now taught using the orthographic convention approved in 1979 and modified last in 1985.

As mentioned earlier, Saamic is classified as belonging to the Uralic family of languages with its grammar and some of its basic vocabulary bearing similarities to what is found in other such languages. However, Saamic has borrowed from Baltic and Germanic languages, in addition to Finnish and Russian.

Loanwords of Baltic origin include:

jávri “lake” (cf. Lithuanian: jūra “sea”. This word was also borrowed by Finnic languages e.g. järv “lake” (Estonian)); suolu “island” (cf. Lithuanian sala “island”. This word was also borrowed by Finnic languages e.g. salo “backwoods” (Finnish))

Loanwords of Germanic origin include:

áiru (cf. “oar”); dápmat (cf. “to tame”); mánnu (cf. “moon”); sávza (cf. “sheep”); vievvsis (cf. “wasp”)

Loanwords of Finnsh origin include:

áigi “time” (cf. aika); lávlut “to sing” (cf. laulaa); oahppat “to learn” (cf. oppia)

Loanwords of Russian origin include:

iskat “to try” (cf. искать “to search”); ohpit “again” (cf. опять); šávká “cap” (cf. шапка)

Nevertheless there are many words within Saamic which have unclear or no known connections to words in other languages.


atnit “to use”; coagis “shallow”; čahppat “black”; jorrat “to spin”; láhppit “to lose”; mánná “child”; nagir “sleep”; ravgat “to fall”; uhcci “small”

This class of words escapes being acquired by learners who try to apply “discounts” from any other languages that they already know.

There is no T-V distinction with the second person pronouns separable into singular, dual and plural forms.

Mutual intelligibility with other languages

Saamic languages as a whole show the most similarity to the Balto-Finnic languages (e.g. Estonian, Finnish) but the similarity is not so great so as to yield substantial mutual intelligibility between the groups. Indeed even within Saamic languages, mutual intelligibility varies with languages at opposite ends of the geographical continuum (i.e. Southern Saami versus Kildin Saami) showing low mutual intelligibility. Certainly speakers of better-known Altaic (e.g. Mongolian, Turkish) or other Uralic languages (e.g. Hungarian) would find certain aspects of Saamic to be easier to grasp than would speakers of languages from other families yet the fact remains that Saamic languages have likely developed as a distinct group for roughly 2000 years thus making them rather unintelligible to outsiders.

There are a few hints that learners can use to understand or at minimum partially demystify some aspects of Saamic. The comparisons here will be with languages that learners are more likely to know already, and so links with lesser-known Uralic languages will be given little attention.

  1. If a word begins with č, tj or tš in a Saamic language then its cognate in Estonian and/or Finnish will begin with s. For Hungarian cognates, the initial č in Saamic may match initial cs, s, sz, z or zero (i.e. initial consonant has presumably disappeared) depending on the reconstructed ancestral form.E.g.

    • čááná (Inari Saami); čadna (Northern Saami) “fungus used as tinder” (Cf. seen “fungus” (Estonian); sieni “fungus” (Finnish))
    • čohčâ (Inari Saami); čakča (Northern Saami) “autumn” (Cf. sügis (Estonian); syksy, syys (Finnish); ősz (Hungarian))
    • čađa (Northern Saami) “through”; čââ´đ “heart” (Skolt Saami); tjïrreh “through” (Southern Saami) (Cf. süda “heart” (Estonian); sydän “heart” (Finnish); szív “heart” (Hungarian))
    • čuoggjat (Northern Saami) “to resound” (Cf. sõitlema “to reproach” (Estonian); soida “to emit sound” (Finnish); zaj “noise” (Hungarian))
    • čuohppat (Northern Saami) “to cut down” (Cf. csap- “to strike” (Hungarian))
    • čyehti (Inari Saami); čuođi (Northern Saami) “hundred” (Cf. sada (Estonian); sata (Finnish); száz (Hungarian))
  2. Words in Estonian or Finnish that begin with h often match words with initial s in Saamic words provided that all words are cognates (this applies best when the ancestral word has been reconstructed with initial *š but it may occur also when the ancestral word has been reconstructed with a different initial consonant)E.g.

    • siida (Northern Saami) “community of Saami; foraging area for reindeer” (Cf. hiis “sacred forest” (Estonian) hiisi “goblin, a kind of spirit” (Finnish))
    • suohpē (Lule Saami); suobies (Southern Saami) “silver” (Cf. hõbe (Estonian); hopea (Finnish))
    • sun (Inari Saami); son (Northern Saami) “he/she” (Cf. hän (Finnish))

    3) Words that begin with k in Estonian and Finnish often match the initial k in Inari Saami cognates but g in Northern Saami cognates (however this “g” is pronounced more similarly to English k than English g despite the spelling convention). Where applicable, Hungarian cognates in these etymologies will begin with h if the root consists of back vowels (i.e. a, o, u) or k if the root consists of front vowels (i.e. e, i, ö, ü)


    • keppis (Inari Saami); geahpas (Northern Saami) “light [in weight]; easy” (Cf. kepeä “light [in weight]” (Finnish); kevés “few” (Hungarian))
    • kielâ (Inari Saami); giella (Northern Saami) “language; tongue” (Cf. keel (Estonian); kieli (Finnish))
    • kuoskađ (Inari Saami); guoskat (Northern Saami) “to touch” (Cf. koskea (Finnish))
    • kulmâ (Inari Saami); golbma (Northern Saami) “three” (Cf. kolm (Estonian); kolme (Finnish); három (Hungarian))
    • kužža (Inari Saami); gožža (Northern Saami) “urine” (Cf. kusi (Estonian, Finnish); húgy (Hungarian))
  3. Consonant clusters of Uralic cognates tend to be most complex in Northern Saami.E.g.

    • čalbmi (Northern Saami) “eye” (Cf. silm (Estonian); silmä (Finnish); szem (Hungarian); сеймы (Nganasan); čalme (Inari Saami); tjälmie (Southern Saami))
    • jietna (Northern Saami) “voice” (Cf. ääni “voice” (Finnish); én: ének “song” (Hungarian); jiena “voice” (Inari Saami))
    • jiekŋa (Northern Saami) “ice” (Cf. jää (Estonian, Finnish); jég (Hungarian); jieŋa (Inari Saami))
    • suorbma (Northern Saami) “finger” (Cf. sõrm (Estonian); sormi (Finnish); suorma (Inari Saami); suorme (Southern Saami))
  4. The direct object in Saamic takes accusative (or accusative/genitive where these cases have merged) rather like in Hungarian but unlike in Balto-Finnic languages which can use one of nominative, accusative, partitive or genitive for marking direct objectsE.g.

    • Mun puurâm kye’le “I eat fish”, “I eat some fish”, “I eat a fish”, “I eat the fish” (Inari Saami)
    • Mun boran guoli “I eat fish”, “I eat some fish”, “I eat a fish”, “I eat the fish” (Northern Saami)
    • Én eszem (a) halat “I eat fish”, “I eat some fish”, “I eat a fish”, (“I eat the fish”) (Hungarian)
    • Minä syön kalaa “I eat fish”, “I eat some fish” (partitive); Minä syön kalan “I eat (up) a/the fish” (genitive) (Finnish)
  5. Saamic languages have fewer cases than in the major Uralic languages with many of the “extra” cases of Estonian, Finnish and Hungarian involving location. The locative in the Saamic languages usually encompasses the ablative, delative, elative, adessive, inessive, and/or superessive cases as they appear in Estonian, Finnish and Hungarian (occasionally also the dative in Hungarian). The illative in the Saamic languages usually encompasses the allative, illative, sublative and/or dative as they appear in the same three languages.E.g. “You have a boat”

    • Tust lii käärbis (Inari Saami) (“you-[locative suffix] is boat”)
    • Dus lea garbes (Northern Saami) (“you-[locative suffix] is boat”)
    • Sinul on paat (Estonian) (“you-[adessive suffix] is boat”)
    • Sinulla on vene (Finnish) (“you-[adessive suffix] is boat”)
    • Neked van csónakod (Hungarian) (“[dative suffix]-[2nd person singular suffix] is boat-[2nd person singular possessive suffix]”)

Literature / Media / Film / Music

There is some authentic material that could enrich the learning experience.

Songs can enhance understanding of the language while also letting learners enjoy the creative efforts of Saami musicians. The musical form associated with Sápmi is the “yoik” which is an improvised spiritual song. Their themes can be highly personal and so their content can vary. Notable performers of yoiks include Wimme Saari, Sofia Jannok and Angleit. Others such as Mari Boine and the Finnish folk metal band Sháman have drawn stylistic or technical inspiration in their works from yoiks. The rapper, Amoc (Mikkâl Antti Morottaja) released a CD in 2006 with songs whose rap-lyrics are in his native Inari Saami while Tiina Sanila is a rock-singer who has released two albums of songs in Skolt Saami.

Saami literature can also be a source of authentic material. The earliest forms of literary expression were based on oral tales and the structure of yoiks. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that modern Saami literature began to assert itself. Johan Turi’s book “Muittalus samiid birra: En bog om lappernes live af den svenske Lap” (“A Tale of Saami life: A Book about Lappish Life by a Swedish Lapp”) from 1910 was a guide for Swedish bureaucrats who harboured stereotypes or ignorance about the reality of Saami life. The book itself was remarkable for having Saami text as well as being a quasi-anthropological text for outsiders who simply curious about life in Sápmi. Another notable literary figure of that time was Pedar Jalvi who published a collection of poems and stories in 1910 called “Muohtačalmmit” (“Snowflakes”). Works from contemporary Saami literature include the short story collection “Juohkásan várri” (“Divided Fells”) by Olavi Paltto, and the novels “Guhtoset dearvan min bohccot” (“Let our Reindeer Run Free” and “Guržo luottat” (untranslatable but title of the Finnish translation is “Juokse nyt, naailin poika” meaning “Run now, Son of Njalla”) by Kirsti Paltto. There are also media in Saami with examples being the quarterly church newspaper “Dærpies Dierie” (Southern Saami), the annual scientific journal “Bårjås” (Lule Saami), and the daily televised news program “Ođđasat” (Northern Saami).

Saami can also be encountered on film in “Ofelaš” (“Pathfinder”) which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1988, “Guovdageainnu Stuimmit” (“The Kautokeino Rebellion”) and “Giehka” (“The Cuckoo”) or on stage through productions by Beaivváš Sámi Teáhter.

Learning material: Books

The largest publishing company of Saamic material is Davvi Girji in Karasjok, Norway. It focuses on publishing fiction, textbooks and dictionaries.

1) Davvin (Inga Guttorm, Johan Jernsletten, Klaus Peter Nickel, Veikko Holmberg)

  • This is a four-volume course comprising 4 textbooks and 4 CDs from the 1980s and made with the cooperation of the national radio broadcasters in Finland, Norway and Sweden.
  • Despite its age and use of a non-standard spelling convention of expressing certain long consonant sounds with a consonant in triplicate, it’s still useful for an independent learner circa 2016.
  • Every chapter consists of a dialogue, list of vocabulary, notes on grammar and exercises. Answer keys are in an appendix of each textbook.
  • Chapters in the second, third and fourth books also include a short passage in the intermediary language describing an aspect of Saamic culture or history of the languages.
  • The course has been issued in Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish editions, and so the learner needs at least some passive knowledge of one of these languages to understand the explanations and instructions.
  • Each volume costs about 20 Euros (book with CD).

2) Cealkke dearvvuodaid 1-5 (Helmi Länsman)

  • This is a five-volume course of Northern Saami comprising 5 textbooks and 5 CDs using Finnish as the intermediary language, and first issued in 2010.
  • It’s somewhat less suitable for an independent learner than Davvin as there are no answer keys, however it’s obviously more up-to-date and its bright and colorful layout may be attractive for some learners. Otherwise it’s rather similar to Davvin with the books’ chapters each containing a dialogue or two, list of vocabulary, notes on grammar and exercises.
  • Each installment of a textbook plus its CD costs about 25 Euros

3) Sämikielâ 1 (Kari Meløy)

  • This is a very short primer of Inari Saami published in Finnish and as far as I can tell is meant for students in primary or middle school.
  • Explanations of grammar are brief, and are arguably incomplete for older or more motivated learners. Some exercises may be difficult to complete when relying only on the book’s brief explanations and word-lists.
  • There is no answer key to the exercises although I suppose that something meant for children would be tacitly designed for use in a classroom anyway.
  • Despite its drawbacks for an independent learner, a learner with passive knowledge of Finnish could find this to be an easy and inexpensive way to learn some rudiments of Inari Saami. It costs roughly 8 Euros.

4) Sámi-suoma-sámi sátnegirji (Pekka Sammallahti)

  • This is a somewhat small two-way dictionary (~ 30,000 entries) between Finnish and Northern Saami which is available in Finland for around 45 Euros.
  • Despite the appendices containing information on consonant gradation in Northern Saami complete with examples, none of the Northern Saami headwords refer to these appendices. Grammatical information or hints are shown only for a few headwords thus lessening its utility for a learner.

The list below comes from the handout used by Ante Aikio for teaching a short course of Northern Saami in 2008.

Lehrbuch der saamischen (Lappischen) Sprache (Hans-Hermann Bartens)

  • According to Aikio, this is the best course book in Saami and usable for independent study.

Samisk grammatikk (Klaus-Peter Nickel)

  • According to Aikio this reference is very useful for those who know Norwegian, however its tables and lists of inflectional patterns would be accessible for people who don’t know Norwegian.

Lærebok I lappisk (samisk) I-III (2. opplag) (Konrad Nielsen)

  • According to Aikio, it gives very in-depth treatment of grammar and is accompanied by texts and a glossary. It uses an older orthographic convention so it’d be best for users to learn the correspondences between spelling per Nielsen and that of current conventions.

Lappisk (samisk) ordbok – Lapp Dictionary (Konrad Nielsen)

  • According to Aikio, this dictionary is important because it’s the only one that gives English equivalents. It uses an older orthographic convention so it’d be best for users to learn the correspondences between spelling per Nielsen and that of current conventions.

Sámi-suoma sátnegirji – Saamelais-suomalainen sanakirja (Pekka Sammallahti)

  • According to Aikio, this is a comprehensive Saami-Finnish dictionary (see 4) above).

The Saami Languages – an Introduction (Pekka Sammallahti)

  • According to Aikio, this is an introductory text about the structure and history of Saamic.

Sámi-duiskka sátnegirji. Samisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch (Pekka Sammallahti & Klaus-Peter Nickel)

  • According to Aikio, this is a comprehensive Saami-German dictionary.

*If one needs to buy books published in Saamic, he/she will have the greatest chance of success of finding anything relevant by going to bookstores in northern Fennoscandia or Saamic cultural centers.

Not specific to one Saamic language

Discussions, posts or logs on involving Saamic

  • Discussion from December 2009 on HTLAL about learning Saami.

Other forums or discussions from other forums

  • Unilang’s discussion forum for Saami

General treatment and descriptions of Saamic’s learning difficulty

  • Wikipedia article on Saamic
  • The Encyclopedia of Saami Culture hosted at the University of Helsinki. Some links in the section under “Languages and Naming” include audio samples of Saamic languages or grammatical sketches.

Collections of links

  • Collection of links for Saamic resources (some (sub-)links are dead, unfortunately)
  • Another collection of links for Saamic resources (some links are dead, unfortunately)
  • Coppélie Cocq’s links from her blog as part of a revitalization project for Saamic languages

Dictionaries and other databases

  • For a database on various language families including Uralic and a source of some of the etymologies.
  • Online etymological database for Saamic languages. This is especially useful if you would like to see the reflexes of a word in all Saamic languages. By necessity it shows cognates in other Uralic languages as long as there is a Saamic cognate in the etymology.

Links related to Saamic courses including institutions that offer classes

Bookstores, publishers and downloadable/streamed media

  • The publishing company Báhko Forlag which publishes and sells books in Lule Saami through the cultural center of the Lule Saami, Árran.
  • The publishing company ČálliidLágádus which publishes and sells books in Northern Saami and carries material in Lule Saami published by Baldusine.
  • The publishing company Davvi Girji which focuses on publishing in Saamic
  • The shop Iđut AS which carries music, movies, games and books in Kven, Norwegian and Saamic languages (textbooks and dedicated learning material is available for Northern Saami only).
  • The shop Kara Bok & Papir AS which carries music, movies, games and books in Saamic languages
  • The shop Sami Duodji ry which carries music and books in Saamic languages in addition to Saami clothing and handicrafts
  • NRK Sápmi (Streamed programs in Saamic languages on Norsk rikskringkasting AS (Norwegian Broadcasting Company). N.B. Some content may be available only to IP addresses in Norway)
  • SVT Sápmi (Streamed programs in Saamic languages on Sveriges Television (Swedish national television broadcaster). N.B. Some content may be available only to IP addresses in Sweden)
  • YLE Sápmi (Streamed programs in Saamic languages on Yleisradio (Finnish national broadcasting company). N.B. Some content may be available only to IP addresses in Finland)
  • Radioođđasat (Streamed radio broadcasts in Northern Saami (any link that includes “ođđasat”) and Inari Saami (any link that includes “Uđđâseh”) on YLE (Finland’s national broadcaster). N.B. Some content may be available only to IP addresses in Finland)

Specific to one Saamic language

Inari Saami

Kildin Saami

Lule Saami

Northern Saami

Pite Saami

  • Blog “Muv árbbe” which contains a Swede’s impressions of the language and notes on grammar and vocabulary
  • Information in Norwegian on the language with links to a sketch of grammar and convention for place-names
  • Descriptive grammar based on corpus of the spoken language.

Skolt Saami

  • Bibliography of learning materials from the Saami Parliament of Finland.
  • Collection of texts (in .pdf) and audio (in .mp3) in Skolt Saami edited by Eino Koponen, Jouni Moshnikoff and Satu Moshnikoff, and hosted by the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland.
  • Comprehensive descriptive grammar of Skolt Saami submitted in 2010 by Timothy Feist as his PhD thesis (P.S. PhD awarded in 2011).
  • Information about Skolt Saami from Siida (Sámi Museum and Northern Lapland Nature Centre) in Inari, Finland.
  • Kimberli Mäkäräinen’s small online Skolt Saami-English dictionary
  • Overview of typological characteristics by Matti Miestamo.
  • Small archive of radio program “Nuõrttsäämas” by YLE - Finland’s national broadcaster. (Click on links to the right under “Nuortsaamas”. N.B. Some recordings load only for Finnish IP addresses)

Southern Saami


This profile was written by Polyglot forum member Chung who’s languages include: SPEAKS: English*, French STUDIES: Finnish, Korean, Tatar MAINTAINING: Polish, Slovak RESURRECTING: German, Hungarian STUDIED: Azeri, BCMS/SC, Czech, Estonian, Latin, Russian, Northern Saami, Slovenian, Turkish, Ukrainian DABBLED: Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Inari Saami, Turkmen, Tuvan, Uzbek

This is a modified verion of my Saamic profile in the “Collaborative Writing” subforum last edited on May 6, 2014 at