Overview of the North Sami Language

Translated from “Norðurlandamálin með rótum og fótum” which you can download for free here in Scandinavian, Faroese, and Icelandic. Neetainari gave a lot of corrections on typos/where the paper got it wrong.

*Translation Note: “Flatlands” was suggested as a better alternative by Neetainari as the actual translation “plains/prairies” is totally wrong and they don’t even have those things (too big – so the flatlands are just small areas too). “boplatserna/búsvæðin” was translated into “camp sites” because of a discussion I found on the word, debating “camp site” versus “settlement”, where it was pointed out that Sami people didn’t really have “settlements”.

The Icelandic chapter was translated from the Swedish version. The Icelandic version was missing some things and unclear on some things (namely the Sami names for Nordic places and some vocabulary) so I compared the Swedish to the Icelandic in those cases to get the translation.

Again this is intended for Sami-language learners, so I didn’t translate many of the cultural/historical notes, just the language notes. In the Greenlandic chapter there were mistakes in what it was teaching, and now it’s been shown to have mistakes in the Sami chapter too, so if you see any more mistakes just tell me so I can fix them.


The Sami languages are usually broken down into three distinct languages with dialects within: Eastern Sami, Middle Sami, and Southern Sami. These Sami languages are not mutually intelligible.

(Note: Neetainari says the dialect break-down is wrong. They also got the Greenlandic dialects wrong, so maybe they just don’t do good research.)

Eastern Sami languages include:
Inari Sami which is spoken around Finland and the lake Inari
Skolt Sami which is spoken in Finland and Russia
Kildin, Akka, and Ter Sami which are spoken in the Kola Peninsula.

Middle sami includes:
Northern Sami, spoken on the beach of Norway
Finnmark Sami, spoken in Finnmark in Norway (Kautokeino and Karasjokk) and spoken in some nearby areas of Finland (Utsjoki)
Torne Sami, Spoken in the north of Gällivare in Sweden, and nearby areas in Finland and Norway.  (Note: this seems to be very outdated/wrong, “Torne Sami” might be something from the 1700’s if anything, but it doesn’t seem to exist as a modern language and there seem to be only two sources {in Swedish] that used the term on the internet. It might be a miscategorization of one of the dialects.)
Lule Sami, spoken in Jokkmokk in Sweden and near Tysfjord in Norway
Pite Sami, spoken in the area of Arjeplog

Southern Sami includes:
Ume Sami, spoken in Västerbotten
Southern Sami, spoken in Southern-Västerbotten and in Jämtland.

Places with Sami people often have Sami names, for example:
Giron (Kiruna – Sweden)
Guovdageaidnu (Finnmark Sami, Kautokeino – Norway)
Kárášjohka (Finnmark Sami, Karasujok – Norway)
Ohcejohka (Finnmark Sami, Utsjoki – Finland)
Jiellevárri (Torne Sami, Gallivare – Sweden)
Jåhkåmåhkke (Lule Sami, Jokkmokk – Sweden)
Divtasvuodna (Lule Sami, Tysfjord – Norway)
Guoládat (Northern Sami, Ко́льский полуо́стров / Kola Peninsula – Russia)

In Sami are words that can be traced back to more than 6.000 years ago, for example the words njuolla (scar), juoksa (arc, curve, bow, now an archaic word), suotna (sinew, tendon), guolli (fish), njoammil (hare).  These examples are from North Sami. There are words from the Uralic and West-Siberian languages too.

goahti – tent
liepma – meat broth
njuovvat – slaughter
lohkat – read/calculate
beana – dog
gáma – shoe
reahpen – smoke-hole in a tent
mádjit – beer (Neetainari’s note: “Never heard this word being used of beer.”)
suotna – sinew (Indo-European loanword)
bassi – holy (Germanic loanword)
dohppa – knife sheath (Germanic)
áiru – oar (the book claimed this means “year” – the real word for year is “jahki”)
gáica – goat (Old Norse – compare Icelandic geit)
gussa – cow (Old Norse)
vuostá – cheese (Old Norse – compare Icelandic ostur)
bálká – salary (Old Finnish)
boallu – button (Old Finnish)
dávdá – disease/illness (Old Finnish)
oastit – buy (Old Finnish)

(T.N.: Neetainari and I agree that they might just be pulling this etymology out of their asses, to me especially because they don’t list the similar words and are very unspecific – if you know what they’re talking about, please comment)

Some parts of modern Swedish words have been taken from Sami:
sarvvis – Swedish: sarv (meaning male reindeer)
ráidu – rajd (reindeer)
noaidi – nåjd (Sami Shaman)

Many Finnish words about reindeer have also been taken from Sami, especially Northern Sami:
varit – Finnish: urakka, Swedish “hanren i tvåårsåldern” (male reindeers in their second winter)
suohpan – suopunki (lasso, snare)

Sami is a language with cases. Verbs change by subject and they get nine varying forms in the present because Sami isn’t merely “singular and plural”, but also has “dual”. The word shown earlier, “borrat (eat)” is shown here again. All the examples are taken out of Northern Sami (saN).

(mon) boran – (I) eat
(don) borat – (you) eat
(son) borrá – (he/she) eats
(moai) borre – (us two) eat
(doai) borrabeahtti – (you two) eat
(soai) borraba – (those two) eat
(mii) borrat – (we) eat
(dii) borrabehtet – (you plural) eat
(sii) borret – (they) eat

Mutation in length and validity

In Sami there is a unique phenomenon, a so-called mutation in length and sound value, that means that consonants essentially change with conjugation/declination either in length like in “borat – borrá” in the example above, or in characteristic (for example “loddi – bird” to “lotti – the bird’s). Many examples are of sound-mutations which basically change in verbs and nouns. The fact that Southern Sami is the only type of Sami without mutations in length or validity supports the idea that Southern Sami was separated from the other Sami languages early on in its history.


In Sami words get cases – that is to say names, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, and numbers are often distinct in conjugation/declination patterns when there are prepositions, for example (saN) “váris – on the mountains” which is the locative-declined form of “várri – mountains”. In Sami there are seven cases. Northern Sami has genitive (possessive form) and accusative case together, likewise for elative and inessive (together called locative).

Nominative case (dictionary form) – sápmi – a Sami
Genitive case (possessive form) – sámi – a Sami’s
Accusative (subject of sentence) – sámi – a Sami
Illative – sápmái – to a Sami
Elative – sámis – from a Sami
Inessive – sámis – with a Sami
Comitative – sámiin – with a Sami
Essive – sápmin – like a Sami

(Neetainari note: “While the word sápmi (sámi, sámit) gets used about the Saami people generally when spelled with a lower-case s, the uppercase Sápmi refers to the Saami area. When referring to an individual Saami person, the more specific word sápmelaš is used.”)

There are no articles in Sami, neither definite (“the”) or indefinite (“a”) and for example “sápmi” means Sami, the Sami, or a Sami and the translation depends on context.

Unique prepositions are in Sami, for example “birra dálu – around the house”, but a natural translation is to use suffixes that go on after the main word, for example “dálu duohken – behind the house”, literally “house behind”.

The declension system has its own word order and isn’t so important (like how it is in English) for the meaning to be clear. In the sentence “Niila oaidná Máhte” (Níls sees Matthias) it’s Níls who sees Matthias even if the word order were different, for example “Máhte oaidná Niila”. The word Máhte is changed to accusative and is the object of the sentence but Niila stands in nominative and is the subject of the sentence. (Which case the words are in determines the meaning of the sentence, not where the words are placed in the sentence.) Often though, the object is nearer to the end of the sentence.

Many declination/conjugation forms are also generated from existing possibilities to form new words with so-called derived-endings. From the verb borrat (eat) it is, for example, possible to form the following new words with derived-endings:

borralit – eat fast
borastit – eat little
boradit – eat (a meal)
borahit – spoon-feed
borahallat – to be bitten
borrojuvvot – eating
borramuš – the thing to eat (ex. food)

New words in Sami can be derived from old words, for example:
dieđáhus (information) from dieđihit (illuminate/inform/educate),
bagadeaddji (supervisor/ advisor) from bagadit (give advice),
čoavddus (solution) from čoavdit (loosen/solve),
čálán (writer/printer) from čállit (write).

There are special verbs – negative verbs – that are used in sentences with negations, for example “mon in dieđe – I know not”. Negative verbs conjugate according to person, but the main verb dieđe (from diehtit – know) stands in infinitive and is unconjugated. In the past tense a different conjugation pattern is used.

mon in dieđe – I don’t know (I know not)
mii eat dieđe – we don’t know
mon in diehtán – I didn’t know
mon in diehtán – we didn’t know

Time and mood:

Although present and past tense are the same, word-forms in the perfect and pluperfect/past perfect tenses (in the indicative mood) form with the helper-word leat. In Sami, helper words decline based on person, number, and mood.

son lea oastán odda biila – he/she has bought a new car
mon lean oastán odda biila – I have bought a new car
son leai oastán odda biilla – he/she had bought a new car
mon ledjen oastán odda biilla – I had bought a new car

The indicative mood is a mood that says that which is being said is understood to be the truth (factual statements/positive beliefs). Another mood in Sami is the imperative which says that what is being said is understood to be a request or command, ex. Boađe sisa! – (Come in! – said to an individual). This is done in another way if said to two people: Boahtti sisa! (Neetainari’s note: this is used, but the correct form is actually “boahttit”) And if said about more than two: Bohtet sisa!

In addition verbs can be in the conditional mood, which talks of conditions, ex. mon vuolggášin dohko, jus … (I would go there if…) and the potential (potentialis), a mood that governs possibility and doubt, ex. in dieđe bođeš go son ihttin (I don’t know if he’s coming tomorrow). In this manner Sami verbs can take many forms, like how borrat (eat) can be conjugated in 45 different ways.

Written customs and language sounds:

In Northern Sami the alphabet is the following:
a á b c č d đ e f g h i j k l m n ŋ o p r s š t ŧ u v z ž

The sound á is a longer sound and distinguishes pronunciation, ex. “manná – he goes” and “mánná – child”. The sound o is pronounced like the Icelandic o-sound (in English: oa in oar, o in more, ou in four) and u is pronounced like the Icelandic ó-sound (in English: o in sew, row, foe), ex.:

loddi [låd.di] – bird
unni [on.ni] – little
The period is to introduce a new syllable.

C stands for the “see” sound and č for the “tee” sound, Z and ž are similarly voiced sounds, for example:
čáhci [tjah.tsi] – water
vázzit [vad.dsit] – walk/go
oažžut [oad.dtjot] – recieve

š stands for the “ss” sound, ex.:
šaddu [sjad.do] – fruit

đ and ŧ (Icelandic ð and þ) are voiced and unvoiced fricatives, for example (the th sounds in bathe versus bath):
lieđđi [liedh.dhi] – red
muoŧŧá [muoth.tha] – mother’s sister (aunt on the mother’s side)

(Neetainari’s note: This paper is outdated and the publications it talks about are no longer made, however “the Internet is, believe it or not, TOTALLY a thing. Some Saami publications and news sources worth checking out:

  • Ávvir (newspaper published in Norway)
  • Š (a youth magazine published in Norway)
  • Anarâš (Inari Saami publication from Anarâškielâ servi, not exactly a news source)
  • Ságat (Saami section at Lapin Kansa, published both in print and online in Finland—mostly in North Saami, with some Skolt and Inari Saami articles)
  • YLE Sápmi
  • NRK Sápmi
  • SVT Sápmi

I’m missing some, for example there’s an excellent magazine published by the Sáminuorra in Sweden, but I forget its name and couldn’t find it online. Feel free to add, yo.”)
By Paulus Utsi:
Reagganan ráhkisvuohta / Painful love

Nu go roankesoahki / Like a crooked birch
orru duottarravddas / on a brown mountain
nu lea biegga botnjan / my life is
mu nai eallima / shaken by the wind
Nu go soagi mátta / Like the birch’s trunk
bievlla vuostá čuovgá / shines on naked earth
nu ohcalan váriide / I long for the mountains
láguide ja oruhagaide / flatlands* and camp sites* (see T.N. at the top)
Dat lea mu eallin / Such is my life
man mon ráhkistan / that I love