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Encyclopedia > Skolt Sami

Skolt Sami (Sää´mǩiõll) is a Finno-Ugric, Sami language spoken in Finland and nearby parts of Russia. It has about 400 remaining speakers. It is written using an official Roman orthography. Approximate geographical distribution of areas where indigenous Finno-Ugric languages are spoken. ... Sami is a general name for a group of the Uralic languages spoken in parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, in Northern Europe. ... The orthography of a language is the set of rules of how to write correctly in the writing system of a language. ...



In the Finnish side of the border, the language is officially supported. It is an official language in the municipality of Inari, and the elementary schools offer courses in the language. However, most youths have Finnish as their first language, such that it must be taught like a foreign language. These youths do learn the language and some continue to use it actively. Skolt Sami is thus an endangered language, unlike the neighboring Inari Sami with the same number of speakers, in the same municipality. Inari (Aanaar in Inari Sami, Anár in Northern Sami, Aanar in Skolt Sami, Enare in Swedish) is a municipality in Finland. ... An endangered language is a language with so few surviving speakers that it is in danger of falling out of use. ... Inari Saami (Säämegiella) is spoken in northern Finland. ... The municipalities (kunta in Finnish, kommun in Swedish) represent the local level of self government in Finland and also act as the basic regional administrative units of the country. ...

According to Roger Took, author of several books focusing on the Sa'ami, there are about 1,000 remaining native speakers of Skolt Sa'ami in Russia.

As an historic note, this region was hit hard by the first of the great drought/famines of the 19th Century which happened about 1913. Most people moved out of this Northernmost area to the Americas or parts of Scandinavia much further South as a consequence.

For those interest in doing Sa'ami-American research, check York county, Pennsylvania. This area had 5 Sa'ami settlements since the 17th Century. Many Smolt Sa'ami fled there to escape the famine mentioned above.


Special features of this Sami language include the most complex vowel system in Finnic languages, and various soft consonants. There is a "softener mark", represented by the free-standing acute accent (´), which marks phonemic fronting of the preceding vowel, and also palatalizes the following consonant. Vowels may be phonemically long or short. The vowel system is as follows:

Front Central Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
Close i u
Close-mid õ´
Mid õ (õ) o
Near-open e â, â´
Open ä´ ä (å´) a, a´ å, å´
  • õ is a central vowel, but very much like Estonian 'õ'
  • õ´ differs from õ by being more closed
  • â is slightly compressed (not rounded), and is best described as being half-way between a and õ.
  • â reduces towards õ in unstressed syllables.
  • â´ is considerably fronted, almost like ä or e
  • å´ differs from å principally by exhibiting more rounding, but may be centralized.
  • is only slightly centralized with respect to a.
  • Epenthetic vowels are not marked.

There are 13 phonemic segmental diphthongs: ui, uo/uõ, ue, uå, uâ, uä, oä, iõ, ie, iâ, iä, ea, eä. The total number of diphthongs is 18, but all do not phonemically contrast, e.g. 'oa' and 'oä'. Most diphthongs may also be affected by the softener mark. Also, the first vowel may be long or short.

Consonants may be phonemically long or short word-medially or word-finally; both are exceedingly common. A typical Sami feature is that also consonant clusters may be long or short, e.g. ju´rdded "to think", kuoskkâd "to touch".

In consonants, all voiced plosives are half-voiced (weak voicing). Alveolar affricates are denoted Ʒ [dz] (voiced) and C [ts] (voiceless). The caron is used inconsistently for postalveolar articulation in Č [tʃ], Ǯ [dʒ], Š [ʃ], Ž [ʒ], and for the palatal or velar palatalized stops Ǧ [ɟ] and Ǩ [c]. The latter (Ǩ, Ǧ) are in between K and T with respect to place of articulation. (Notice the disagreement between Skolt Sami orthography and IPA, and the difference between historical and synchronic palatalization.) The strike indicates fricative articulation; D is a dental stop, Đ is a dental fricative.

Palatalization is distinguished for three degrees. The plain form is velarized and receives no overt marking, the palatalized form is recognized by an adjacent softener mark, and full palatal articulation receives overt marking by digraphs in 'j'. For example, plain L is velarized with the tip of the tongue barely touching the back of the teeth, the softened ´L is constricted by keeping the tongue wider against the teeth, and the fully palatal LLJ has the middle of the tongue touching the hard palate. The same distinction is found for N, ´N and NJ. Palatalization means pronouncing a sound nearer to the hard palate, making it more like a palatal consonant; this is towards the front of the mouth for a velar or uvular consonant, but towards the back of the mouth for a front (e. ...


A short period of voicelessness or 'h' before geminate consonants is observed, but this receives no marking, e.g. jo´kke "to the river" is pronounced [jo̟hk̟k̟e]. The epenthetic vowels are not phonemic or syllabic, and thus not marked, e.g. mie´ll [miellɘ̯] "sandbank", cf. mielle [mielle] "to the mind". A Roman alphabet is used: A/a, Â/â, B/b, C/c, Č/č, Ʒ/ʒ, Ǯ/ǯ, D/d, Đ/đ, E/e, F/f, G/g, Ǧ/ǧ, Ǥ/ǥ, H/h, I/i, J/j, K/k, Ǩ/ǩ, L/l, M/m, N/n, Ŋ/ŋ, O/o, Õ/õ, P/p, R/r, S/s, Š/š, T/t, U/u, V/v, Z/z, Ž/ž, Å/å, Ä/ä, ´ (softener mark). The letters Q/q, W/w, X/x, Y/y and Ö/ö are also used in words of a foreign origin.


  • Korhonen, Mikko. Mosnikoff, Jouni. Sammallahti, Pekka. Koltansaamen opas. Castreanumin toimitteita, Helsinki 1973.

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