Saami - Orientation



Identification. Saami speak various dialects of the Saami language, and/or the national languages, within northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia's Kola Peninsula, and nominally follow the religions of the dominant society. "Sapmi," or "Same-eatnam," refers to traditional Saami Regions others have called "Lapland." The terms "Lapp" and "Lapland" were used mainly by non-Saami, and the derivations of both "Lapp" and "Saami" are contested. Contemporary areas designated "Finnmark" and "Lappmark" constitute but a small portion of Sapmi.


Location. Saami inhabit much of the tundra, taiga, and coastal zones north of 62° N in Norway and Sweden, 66° N in Finland, and 67° N on the Kola peninsula. These arctic and subarctic regions enjoy a climate moderated by the gulf stream, with winters seldom dipping below —40° C (in the far north, without sun for up to two months), and summers occasionally reaching 25° C (sometimes with midnight sun for up to two months).


Demography. There have been no adequate censuses of Saami. Any estimate of their population depends on the operational definition of Saamihood as much as on quality of sampling, but they number very roughly 1 percent of the Populations in their overarching countries. Representative figures around 1982 suggest a total of 40,000 to 60,000 in Norway, 15,000 in Sweden, 4,000 in Finland, and less than 2,000 in Russia—of which about 70 percent speaks Saami and 10 percent breeds reindeer. All in all, the roughly 7,000 Saami dependent on reindeer management as a livelihood herd and husband around 450,000 head. While the majority of Saami resides in the traditional northern regions, the largest concentrations of Saami are today in their national capital cities, to which migration has been most intense in the period since World War II.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Saami language is in the Western Division of the Finno-Ugric Branch of the Uralic Family. Its dosest linguistic relatives include Finnish, Estonian, Livonian, Votic, Veps, Mordvin, Mari, and Permian. Northern, southern, and eastern dialects of Saami mirror traditional habits of resource utilization, cutting across contemporary national boundaries. Saami inflection (of nouns, verbs, pronouns, and adjectives) involves infixes, from alteration of intersyllabic consonant values as well as suffixes. Morphology is highly productive through noun-noun apposition, nuanced verbal and adverbial forms, prepositions, postpositions, and other deictic constructions. Stress is on the first and alternating syllables. Orthographies inspired by Scandinavian, Finnish, and Russian conventions were first devised and disseminated by missionaries in the sixteenth century. Mid-twentieth century efforts for Nordic Saami solidarity have resulted in refinement and consolidation of these orthographies by linguists and native speakers. This writing system follows the Roman alphabet with supplemental symbols and diacritics.

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