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The Sami language

The Kven Language






The Sámi language

The Sámi lanGuaGe belongs to the FinnoUgrian branch of the Uralic languages, and is linguistically related to the BalticFinnic languages (Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian). Th e Sámi language and traditional homeland stretches across the northern parts of Finland, Norway and Sweden, as well as the Kola Peninsula in Russia. In Scandinavia, it stretches as far south as Femunden on the Norwegian side and to Dalarne in Sweden.Northern Sámi is the largest Sámi dialect and is spoken by Sámis in Finland, Norway and Sweden. In 1979, a common written language for the Northern Sámi branch of the Sámi language was adopted. Th e orthography is close to the spoken language. Th e Sámi language is rich in words and expressions describing nature, fauna, formations in nature and snow; terms that are important in hunting, fi shing and reindeer herding societies. Th e changes in the Sámi lifestyle have resulted in loss of many particular terms and expressions which are no longer relevant or in use today. A study conducted by the Sámi Trade and Development Centre in 2000 for the Sámi Language Council estimates Sámi language users in Norway at approximately 25,000. About half of these speak, read and write Sámi. Th ere has been a positive development the past twenty years, particularly in the administrative area for Sámi language and encompassed by the Sámi Language Act in Norway, i.e. the municipalities of Nesseby, Tana, Karasjeok, Porsangr and Kautokeino in Finnmark County, and Kåfj ord in Troms County. Today, Southern Sámi is the most vulnerable Sámi dialect, since the Sámi language is no longer the everyday language in many South Sámi families. Th e Lule Sámi dialect is in a somewhat better position as many children are now learning Sámi at home and in school.



There is probably no other religious movement which has received the same attention as the laestadian movement in modern Norwegian history. Lars Levi Læstadius was the man who started the movement, who lived from 1800-1861.What is certain is that this folk movement from 1850 up until today, has left its mark on countless communities and villages, both Sámi and non-sámi populations. The movement is widespread in much of The Sámi area, with the exception of Russia. One can say that Laestadianism is a conservative and pious movement. The story of its origin and spread contains somewhat mythical elements.
Today, the Laestadian movement is marked by divisions and personal strife, while continuing to appeal to young people.
Source: e.g.. Fossbakk Ole Bjørn, Nord-Troms Museum
View of an Assembly from a chapel in perhaps the 1950-60s. The Assembly sits to listen to someone who speaks the word of God. Such a speech can last for 2 hours. In older times it was usual to interpret the speech of Sami and or Finnish (kven). Today, interpreting is more rare.
Lars Levi Læstadius
Lars Levi Læstadius. He also was a physician.
Net: http://www.saivu.com


Kofte or gákti
Kofte or gákti is the Sámi traditional clothing. The colors, patterns and the jewelry are different from district to district. The male kofte is shorter than the female kofte. As accessories one uses kommaga or skalle as shoes, a belt, silver jewelry, a silk scarf and a hat.
Today the Sámi people use kofte in ceremonial contexts like weddings and other times when one wants to dress up.

Reindeer (bohccot)
Reindeer husbandry is and has been, long considered an important aspect of the Sámi culture. There are only a few families that are allowed to herd reindeer in Norway because of the grazing rights. When one thinks about the Sámi people, one also thinks about reindeer husbandry. There are thousands of words in the Sámi language which are connected to reindeer.
Lavvu and gamme (goahti)
A lavvu is a dwelling that the Sámi used long ago as a place to live. Today the Sámi use lavvu first of all like a tent. In the old days the Sámi used it when they were herding their reindeer.
A gamme is also a dwelling, but unlike the lavvu, you can’t move it around. It is a mud hut that consists of mud and peat.

A “noaidi” is a Sámi shaman and is an important symbol for the old Sámi religion, because he was a nexus between man and God. He ensured that the Sámi people had good crops, healed the sick, and served as a doctor, priest and sage.The noadi’s most important tool was a drum called runebomme. The noaidi struck the drum in a rhythmic and intense manner with a hammer-shaped like a T, made from a reindeer horn. He used these tools to create a bridge between the human world and the  world of the gods.
The “yoik”is a traditional form of vocal Sámifolk music. The roots of the yoik go back to the stone age and it is still used in modern Sámi music. The yoik was banished from the Sámi areas in 1950 because of Christianity, which distrusted the yoik’s connection with the old Sámi religion

Sjøsámer, or “Sea Sami”

describes the Sámi living along the coast and fjords.  The Sámi culture elsewhere is closely linked to reindeer-herding, but for coastal/sea Sámi people, animal husbandry and fishing have  been the means of  livelihood for generations.
The coastal Sámi were exposed early to colonization and assimilisation, because Norwegian settlers first began to settle on the coast and eventually took over the coastal Sámis’ traditional fishing grounds and living places.
Today there are not many Sámi living from traditional professions and Sámi people can be found in all professions.
There was more shame associated with being a Sea Sámi than to being a Sámi from inland. Historical sources tell of sea Sámi settlements in many villages which later denied their Sámi heritage and culture.
The coastal Sámi Festival Riddu Rđđuwas started by youths in Gáivuotna - Kåfjord in 1991. This Festival has helped to raise the status and identity of the Sámi people, especially in the younger generation.

Source: E.g.: Store Norske Leksikon (internet) and Wikipedia
Traditional fishing in a small boat in the fjord.



Yun’s in kofte. A traditional cloth as the cloth were early in 1900. Modell taken from old pictures.





This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the
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The Kven Language

Kven is a language spoken by people of Finnish descent living in the most northern parts of Norway. It belongs to the Ural branch of the Finno-Ugric language family, which includes Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, Komi, Veps, Sami and others. Its nearest relative is “meankieli. ” There are 2 main dialects of kvensk – east and west, but there are many local dialects within these two variants.
The Kvens migrated north to the Troms and Finnmark Counties of Norway from the Tornio River Valley, which is located along the border between northern Finland and Sweden. Although some may have settled in Norway as early as the 800s, most came in the 1700-1800s, escaping war and famine in their homeland. Their language was «meankieli», which is very closely related to Finnish. After settling in Norway, Kvens lived in areas with both Samis and Norwegians and all three languages were often spoken by the population. Finnish was often used as the language of trade, as well as a lingua sacra (sacred language), because it was the language of L?stadianism, a religious revivalist movement in the 1800s (Engen, p. 122). As time passed, the language was affected by both Sami and Norwegian, gradually evolving into Kven, as it known today.
During the latter part of the 1800s, Norway carried out strong assimilation politics, so-called «Norwegianisation.» Government policies were aimed at strengthening Norwegian identity at the expense of both the Kven and Sami cultures and languages. People were forced to speak Norwegian in church, in schools and in official business. In some places they were not allowed to own property unless they could speak Norwegian. People were greatly affected by these policies and many felt ashamed to speak Kven or Sami. This process of Norwegianisation, which continued up until about World War II, deeply affected the identity of the Kven people and very effectively reduced the number of people speaking the language.
Today the Kven are officially recognized as a national minority in Norway, which gives them protection under a Convention of the Council of Europe. In April 2005, the Norwegian government recognized that Kven is an independent language, rather than a dialect of Finnish, ending years of speculation.
The Norwegian Kven Association (Norske Kveners Forbund) estimates that there are currently about 50,000 - 60,000 people of Kven descent living in Norway. A hundred years ago, at least half of the population in northern Norway had Kven as their mother tongue, but today there are few who can speak it. In 2005, there were approximately 10,000 people in Troms and Finnmark who spoke Kven and/or Finnish but of those, perhaps only 2,000 use it in their daily lives. (Engen, p. 123). The language is considered to be extremely endangered, partly because most of the few people who still speak it are elderly.
Because Kven developed as an oral language,there is no written grammar, dictionary or textbook. Therefore, in 2007,the Kven Language Council was created, which has the task to work with preserving the language. It is currently working with gathering together the rules of grammar, creating dictionaries, etc.

There are attempts today to strengthen the status of the Kven language. Children living in Finnmark and Troms Counties have the right to study the language at school. Various short courses are offered periodically to adults. There is a Kven newspaper, Ruijan Kaiku. There are festivals, museums, websites and organisations which promote the Kven culture. Some of these are: the Storfjord Language Center in Skibotn, the Halti Culture Center in Storslett and the Kven Institute in Borselv . Music events such as Kven Idol, Riddu Riddu and Uudet Laulut also promote the Kven language.

The Kven Idol contest, 2010

Anna Seppälä,
leader of the Kven youth organisation “Kveeninuoret”


Kven has 14 nominative cases, many of which are “locative,” used instead of prepositions. There is no grammatical gender: “han” means both “he” and “she.” Here is an example of some differences between Norwegian, English, Finnish and Kven:






Å tenke

To think




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Sources:, Thor Ola, Kulbrandstad, Lars Anders, Tospraklighet, minoritetssprak og minoritetsundervisning. Gyldendal Norsk Forlad, Oslo, 2009.