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|Native to||Norway, Sweden, Finland|
|(ca. 25,000 cited 1992–2013)|
|Latin (Northern Sami alphabet)
Northern Sami Braille
Official language in
Northern or North Sami (davvisámegiella; disapproved exonym Lappish or Lapp), sometimes also simply referred to as Sami, is the most widely spoken of all Sami languages. The area where Northern Sami is spoken covers the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland. The number of Northern Sami speakers is estimated to be somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000. About 2,000 of these live in Finland and between 5,000 and 6,000 in Sweden.
- 1 History
- 2 Phonology
- 3 Dialects
- 4 Orthography
- 5 Grammar
- 5.1 Consonant gradation
- 5.2 Changes to word-final consonants
- 5.3 Inflection types
- 5.4 Nouns
- 5.5 Adjectives
- 5.6 Pronouns and determiners
- 5.7 Verbs
- 6 Syntax
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Among the first printed Sami texts is Svenske och Lappeske ABC Book ("Swedish and Lappish ABC book"), written in Swedish and what is likely a form of Northern Sami. It was published in two editions in 1638 and 1640 and includes 30 pages of prayers and confessions of Protestant faith. It has been described as the first book "with a regular Sami language form".
Northern Sami was first described by Knud Leem (En lappisk Grammatica efter den Dialect, som bruges af Field-Lapperne udi Porsanger-Fiorden) in 1748 and in dictionaries in 1752 and 1768. One of Leem's fellow grammaticians was Anders Porsanger, who studied at the Trondheim Cathedral School and other schools, but who was unable to publish his work on Sami due to racist attitudes at the time. The majority of his work has disappeared.
The mass mobilization during the Alta controversy as well as a more tolerant political environment caused a change to the Norwegian policy of assimilation during the last decades of the twentieth century. In Norway, Northern Sami is currently an official language of two counties (Finnmark and Troms) and six municipalities (Kautokeino, Karasjok, Nesseby, Tana, Porsanger and Gáivuotna (Kåfjord)). Sami born before 1977 have never learned to write Sami according to the currently used orthography in school, so it is only in recent years that there have been Sami capable of writing their own language for various administrative positions.
The consonant inventory of Northern Sami is large, contrasting two or three degrees of length for almost all consonants. Some analyses of Northern Sami phonology may include preaspirated stops and affricates (/hp/, /ht/, /ht͡s/, /ht͡ʃ/, /hk/) and pre-stopped or pre-glottalised nasals (voiceless /pm/, /tn/, /tɲ/, /kŋ/ and voiced /bːm/, /dːn/, /dːɲ/, /gːŋ/). However, these can be treated as clusters for the purpose of phonology, since they are clearly composed of two segments and only the first of these lengthens in quantity 3. The terms "preaspirated" and "pre-stopped" will be used in this article to describe these combinations for convenience.
- Voiceless stops have voiced or partly voiced allophones when they occur adjacent to voiced sounds, and sometimes also word-initially. When lengthened, they are always voiceless.
- Stops before a homorganic nasal are realised as unreleased stops. Some, particularly younger, speakers instead realise voiceless stops as a glottal stop [ʔ] in this position, and decompose voiced stops into a homorganic nasal + glottal stop combination ([mʔ], [nʔ] etc.).
- Postaspirated consonants occur only in recent loanwords from the Scandinavian languages, and occurs only before a stressed syllable when not next to another consonant.
- /v/ is realised as a labiodental fricative [v] in the syllable onset (before a vowel), and as bilabial [β] or [w] in the syllable coda (in a consonant cluster). Although [v] is a fricative, it behaves phonologically like an approximant, in particular like /j/.
Consonant length and gradation
Consonants, including clusters, that occur after a stressed syllable can occur in multiple distinctive length types, or quantities. These are conventionally labelled quantity 1, 2 and 3 or Q1, Q2 and Q3 for short. The consonants of a word alternate in a process known as consonant gradation, where consonants appear in different quantities depending on the specific grammatical form. Normally, one of the possibilities is named the strong grade, while the other is named weak grade. The consonants of a weak grade can be quantity 1 or 2, while the consonants of a strong grade can be quantity 2 or 3.
- Quantity 1 includes any single consonant. It originates from Proto-Samic single consonants in the weak grade.
- Quantity 2 includes any combination of consonants (including two of the same) with a short first member. It originates from Proto-Samic single consonants in the strong grade, as well as combinations of two consonants in the weak grade.
- Quantity 3 includes any combination of consonants (including two of the same) with a long first member. It originates from Proto-Samic combinations of two consonants in the strong grade.
Not all consonants can occur in every quantity type. The following limitations exist:
- Single /h/ is restricted to quantity 1, and does not alternate.
- Postaspirated consonants do not occur after a stressed syllable, and thus do not have any quantity distinctions.
- Voiced stops and affricates only occur in quantity 3, whereas voiceless stops and affricates only occur in quantity 1 and 2. In quantity 1, voiced stops are allophones of the corresponding voiceless stops.
- /ɟ/ and /ʎ/ occur in quantity 2 and 3, but not in quantity 1.
When a consonant can occur in all three quantities, quantity 3 is termed "overlong".
Consonant clusters (combinations of two or more different consonants), can only occur in quantity 2 or 3. In quantity 2, the second consonant of the cluster is lengthened if the first consonant is voiced. In quantity 3, if the first consonant is /ð/, /l/ or /r/, the additional length is realised phonetically as an epenthetic schwa, e.g.: muorji /ˈmuo̯rːjiː/, phonetically [ˈmŭŏ̯rejiː], or silba /ˈsilːpa/, phonetically [ˈsilapa]. This does not occur if the second consonant is a dental/alveolar stop, e.g. gielda /ˈkie̯lːta/, phonetically [ˈkĭĕ̯lːta], or sálti /ˈsaːlːhtiː/, phonetically [ˈsaːlːl̥tiː].
Syllable division is an important difference between quantities 2 and 3. In quantity 3, the long first consonant is the coda of the preceding syllable, and the remaining consonants are the onset of the following syllable. In quantity 2, however, only the last consonant belongs to the onset of the next syllable, and the remaining consonants belong to the coda of the preceding syllable. If the last consonant is long, it counts as two consonants and is thus split in half across the syllable boundary. Consequently, the middle of three consonants belongs to different syllables depending on grade. Some examples, with the syllable boundary denoted with a period:
- Q3 lˈl /lː.l/ ~ Q2 ll /l.l/
- Q3 bm /bː.m/ ~ Q2 pm /p.m/
- Q3 dd /dː.d/ ~ Q2 tt /t.t/
- Q3 sk /sː.k/ ~ Q2 skk /s.k/
- Q3 hcc /hː.t͡s/ ~ Q2 hc /h.t͡s/
- Q3 žž /dː.d͡ʒ/ ~ Q2 čč /t.t͡ʃ/
- Q3 lbm /lː.pm/ ~ Q2 lmm /lm.m/
- Q3 ist /jː.st/ ~ Q2 istt /js.t/
In the case of consonant clusters beginning with /r/, the change in syllable division is even the only difference between quantity 3 and 2, other than the long first consonant of quantity 3:
- Q3 rbm /rː.pm/ ~ Q2 rpm /rp.m/
- Q3 rdn /rː.tn/ ~ Q2 rtn /rt.n/
Throughout this article and related articles, consonants that are part of different syllables are written with two consonant letters in IPA, while the lengthening of consonants in quantity 3 is indicated with an IPA length mark (ː).
Northern Sami possesses the following vowels:
|Short vowels||Long vowels||Diphthongs||Half-long/
Vowel length is phonemic, but is not indicated in the orthography. It is, however, often predictable. In stressed syllables, the vowels /i/, /u/, /o/ and /ɑ/ are normally short, while /a/ and the diphthongs are normally long. In syllables following the stressed one, /a/, /i/ and /u/ are normally long, except when followed by /j/. In a second unstressed syllable, no long vowels occur. Throughout this article, macrons will be placed above vowels that are short by default, to indicate their length. Length of ⟨i⟩ and ⟨u⟩ in the syllable after the stressed one is assumed, and not indicated, except in the combinations ⟨ii⟩ and ⟨ui⟩, which are assumed to have a short vowel unless a macron is added.
The Eastern Finnmark dialects possess additional contrasts that other dialects of Northern Sami do not:
- There is a three-way contrast among open vowels between /æ/, /a/ and /ɑ/.
- There is a length contrast between short and long diphthongs. In other dialects, this distinction exists as well, but is allophonic.
A seventh vowel exists as an epenthetic vowel to break up certain consonant clusters. It assimilates in quality to the surrounding vowels:
- Between two rounded vowels (but not the diphthong /uo̯/) in the adjacent syllables, it becomes [o].
- Before a front vowel in the next syllable, it becomes [e].
- Otherwise, it becomes [a].
Closing diphthongs such as ái also exist, but these are phonologically composed of a vowel plus one of the semivowels /v/ or /j/. The semivowels still behave as consonants in clusters.
Diphthong simplification is a process whereby a diphthong loses its second component and becomes a long monophthong:
- ie → ī: viehkat /ˈvie̯hkat/ "to run" → vīhken /ˈviːhken/ "I ran"
- ea → ē: geassi /ˈkea̯ssiː/ "summer" → gēsiid /ˈkeːsijt/ "of the summers"
- oa → ō: goarrut /ˈkoɑ̯rruːt/ "to sew" → gōrro! /ˈkoːrro/ "sew!"
- uo → ū: muorra /ˈmuo̯rra/ "tree" → mūrrii /ˈmuːrrij/ "into the tree"
Historically, diphthong simplification was caused by a short i or u in the following syllable, the same conditioning that still exists in neighbouring Lule Sami. In Northern Sami, these vowels have now become short /e/ and /o/, except when followed by /j/, so simplification can occur when the next syllable contains /e/ or /o/, or the sequences /ij/ or /uj/.
The process is complicated by two factors. Firstly, vowel length is not indicated in the spelling, so it's not possible to tell whether the first vowel in ui is short or long. It is short in the illative singular and thus causes simplification (viessu "house" → vīssui "into the house"), but it is long in the plural forms and does not cause any simplification (viessūide "into the houses"). A second complicating factor is that under some circumstances, original long i and u in unstressed syllables have shortened to e and o (denoted in grammars and dictionaries with an underdot ẹ and ọ to distinguish them). These shortened vowels do not cause simplification, but are indistinguishable from the older originally short vowels that do trigger it. These cases must simply be memorised.
Stressed vowel shortening
All long vowels except for long /aː/ are shortened before a quantity 3 consonant. This is phonemic for the long vowels that result from diphthong simplification. For diphthongs, it is allophonic, except in the Eastern Finnmark dialects where it is phonemic for diphthongs as well.
- eadni /ˈea̯dːniː/, phonetically [ˈĕă̯dːniː] "mother" (nom. sg.) ~ etniid /ˈetnijt/ (gen. pl.)
- guoika /ˈkuo̯jːhka/, phonetically [ˈkŭŏ̯jːhka] "waterfall" (nom. sg.) ~ guikii /ˈkujːhkij/ (ill. sg.)
- oahppa /ˈoɑ̯hːpa/, phonetically [ˈŏɑ̯̆hːpa] "teaching" (nom. sg.) ~ oahpa /ˈoɑ̯hpa/ (acc. sg.)
- guosˈsi /ˈɡuo̯sːsiː/, phonetically [ˈɡŭŏ̯sːsiː] "guest" (nom. sg.) ~ guossi /ˈɡuo̯ssiː/ (acc. sg.)
Long /aː/ is only shortened before a long preaspirate. This is not indicated in the spelling, which keeps the letter ⟨á⟩.
- áhkku /ˈahːkuː/ "grandmother" (nom. sg.) ~ áhku /ˈaːhkuː/ (acc. sg.)
In quantity 2, the last coda consonant is lengthened if the following vowel is long, and the preceding vowel is a short monophthong. Since the coda now contains a long consonant, the resulting consonant is quantity 3 for phonological purposes such as vowel shortening. The new consonant may coincide with its Q3 consonant gradation counterpart, effectively making a weak grade strong, or it may still differ in other ways. In particular, no change is made to syllable division, so that in case of Q2 consonants with a long final consonant, it is actually the first part of this consonant that lengthens, making it overlong. The lengthening is not indicated orthographically.
- jahki /ˈjahːkiː/ "year" (nom. sg.) ~ jagi /ˈjaɡiː/ (acc. sg.)
- ballu /ˈpalːluː/ "fear" (nom. sg.) ~ balu /ˈpaluː/ (acc. sg.)
- submi /ˈsubːmiː/ "sum" (nom. sg.) ~ supmi /ˈsupːmiː/ (acc. sg.); contrast skábma /ˈskaːbːma/ "polar night" ~ skápma /ˈskaːpma/ (acc. sg.)
- čalbmi /ˈtʃalːpmiː/ "eye" (nom. sg.) ~ čalmmi /ˈtʃalmːmiː/ (acc. sg.); contrast bálbma /ˈpaːlːpma/ "palm tree" ~ bálmma /ˈpaːlmma/ (acc. sg.)
- loddi /ˈlodːdiː/ "bird" (nom. sg.) ~ lotti /ˈlotːtiː/ (acc. sg.); contrast bodda /ˈpodːda/ "period" ~ botta /ˈpotta/ (acc. sg.)
Lengthening also occurs if the preceding vowel is a close diphthong /ie̯/ or /uo̯/. In this case, the diphthong also shortens before the new quantity 3 consonant.
- duoddi /ˈtuo̯dːdiː/, phonetically [ˈtŭŏ̯dːtiː] "protection" (nom. sg.) ~ duotti /ˈtuo̯tːtiː/, phonetically [ˈtŭŏ̯tːtiː] (acc. sg.); contrast luodda "track, trail" /ˈluo̯dːda/, phonetically [ˈlŭŏ̯dːda] ~ luotta /ˈluo̯tta/ (acc. sg.) with no lengthening.
- gieddi /ˈkie̯dːdiː/, phonetically [ˈkĭĕ̯dːdiː] "field" (nom. sg.) ~ gietti /ˈkie̯tːtiː/, phonetically [ˈkĭĕ̯tːtiː] (acc. sg.)
Unstressed vowel shortening
Shortening of long vowels in unstressed syllables occurs irregularly. It commonly occurs in the first element of a compound word, in a fourth syllable, and in various other unpredictable circumstances. When shortened, /iː/ and /uː/ are lowered to /e/ and /o/, except before /j/. Shortened vowels are denoted here, and in other reference works, with an underdot: ạ, ẹ, ọ, to distinguish them from originally-short vowels.
When a long vowel diphthong occurs in the stressed syllable before the shortened vowel, it becomes half-long/rising.
- boaráseamọs /ˈpoɑ̯raːse̯amos/ "oldest" (nom. sg.) ~ boarásēpmosa /ˈpoɑ̯raːseːpmosa/ (acc. sg.)
- baluheapmẹ /ˈpaluːhe̯apme/ "fearless" (nom. sg.) ~ baluhēmiid /ˈpaluːheːmijt/ (acc. pl.)
When the consonant preceding the shortened vowel is quantity 3, any lengthened elements are shortened so that it becomes quantity 2. However, as with consonant lengthening, the resulting consonant is not necessarily the same consonant that the original consonant would alternate with in gradation. If the consonant was previously affected by consonant lengthening, this process shortens it again.
- eadni /ˈea̯dːniː/ "mother" → eadnẹspiidni /ˈe̯adneˌspijːtniː/ "mother pig"; contrast the weak grade in eatni /ˈea̯tniː/
- jahki /ˈjahːkiː/ "year" → jahkẹbealli /ˈjahkeˌpea̯lliː/ "half year"
Stress is generally not phonemic in Northern Sami; the first syllable of a word is normally stressed. Like most Sami languages, Northern Sami follows a pattern of alternating (trochaic) stress, in which each odd-numbered syllable is relatively stressed and even-numbered syllables are unstressed. The last syllable of a word is never stressed, unless the word has only one syllable.
Consequently, words can follow three possible patterns:
- A single stressed syllable.
- An even number of syllables: Ending in a stressed odd-numbered syllable followed by an unstressed even-numbered syllable.
- An odd number of syllables: Ending in a stressed odd-numbered syllable followed by an unstressed even-numbered syllable, and an unstressed odd-numbered (final) syllable.
This gives the following pattern, which can be extended indefinitely in theory. S indicates stress, _ indicates no stress:
- S _
- S _ _
- S _ S _
- S _ S _ _
- S _ S _ S _
The number of syllables, and the resulting stress pattern, is important for grammatical reasons. Words with stems having an even number of syllables inflect differently from words with stems having an odd number of syllables. This is detailed further in the grammar section.
Some recent loanwords such as kultuvra "culture" or advearba "adverb" have a stressed second syllable instead. The stress pattern is the same as for words with initial stress, except shifted by one syllable.
In compound words, which consist of several distinct word roots, each word retains its own stress pattern. If the first element of a compound has an odd number of syllables, then there will be a sequence of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one, which does not occur in non-compound words. Hence, stress is lexically significant in that it can theoretically distinguish compounds from non-compounds.
Sammallahti divides Northern Sami dialects as follows:
- Finnmark dialects
- Torne dialects
- Finnish Wedge: western Enontekiö in Finland, Skibotnelva, Gálggojávri and Nordreisa in Norway
- Karesuando: Könkämävuoma and Lainiovuoma in Sweden, Lyngen and Balsfjord in Norway
- Jukkasjärvi: Saarivuoma, Talma, Rautasvuoma and Kaalasvuoma in Sweden, Vågsfjord and Ofotfjord in Norway
- Kaitum: Norrkaitum and Mellanbyn in Sweden
- Sea Sami
The written language is primarily based on the western Finnmark dialects, with some elements from the eastern Finnmark dialects.
Western Finnmark dialects
Features of the western Finnmark dialects are:
- Merging of the velar nasals into the palatal nasals, except before a (plain or preaspirated) homorganic stop.
- Lengthening of short /a/ when the preceding syllable contains a short vowel and a quantity 1 or 2 consonant. This new long /aː/ does not trigger consonant lengthening.
- Kautokeino: Merging of /ɟ/ into /tʃ/.
- Kautokeino: Assibilation of /θ/ into /s/.
Eastern Finnmark dialects
The eastern Finnmark dialects have the following characteristics:
- Lengthening of stressed vowels before quantity 1 and 2 consonants.
- Shortening of the first element of quantity 3 consonants, merging them with quantity 2 consonants unless the second element of the corresponding Q2 consonant is long. Combined with the previous change, this causes Q3-Q2 gradation in Eastern Finnmark to become primarily about vowel length rather than consonant length.
- A distinction between /a/ and /ɑ/, the former spelled ⟨á⟩ and reflecting Proto-Samic *ā, the latter spelled ⟨a⟩ and reflecting Proto-Samic *ë.
- Fronting of /a/ to /æ/ in unstressed syllables.
- Umlaut: fronting of vowels before a following front vowel in the second syllable (including /æ/ produced by the previous change).
- /a/ is fronted to /æ/.
- /ea̯/ is fronted to /eæ̯/.
- /oɑ̯/ is fronted to /oæ̯/.
- /uo̯/ is fronted to /ue̯/.
- Between vowels, lenition of /b/ to /v/, and of /ɡ/ to /ɣ/, which in modern speech becomes /j/ between a stressed vowel and a front vowel, and zero otherwise.
- Raising of the non-close diphthongs /ea̯/ and /oɑ̯/.
- Along the lower Tana river, these merge entirely with standard /ie̯/ and /uo̯/, resulting in /iɑ̯/ and /uɑ̯/ (when not fronted) or /iæ̯/ and /uæ̯/ (when fronted).
- Along the upper Tana, the non-close diphthongs are only raised before single and (original) geminate consonants, and they may or may not merge with original /ie̯/ and /uo̯/.
- In dialects south of Tana bru, only fronted /eæ̯/ and /oæ̯/ are raised to /iæ̯/ and /uæ̯/.
- Jukkasjärvi, Karesuando, Finnish Wedge: Loss of distinction between postalveolar and plain alveolar consonants, with the result being alveolar in Karesuando and postalveolar in the Finnish Wedge.
- Use of -n instead of -s in the locative singular.
- Use of -o instead of -u in the third-person singular present tense.
- Jukkasjärvi and Kaitum: Use of -is instead of -in in the locative plural.
- Karesuando: Long /eː/ and /oː/ from diphthong simplification are re-diphthongised to /ie̯/ and /uo̯/.
- Jukkasjärvi and Karesuando: Raising of short /a/ to /e/ before /j/ and /v/.
- Jukkasjärvi and Karesuando: /ie̯/ and /uo̯/ instead of standard long /iː/ and /uː/ in post-stressed syllables.
- All except Finnish Wedge: /ɡd/ and /ɡdʒ/ instead of standard /vd/ and /vdʒ/ from the Proto-Samic clusters *mt and *mč.
Sea Sami dialects
- Lack of fortition in strong-grade nasals and glides, thus /mː/, /nː/, /ɲː/, /ŋː/ rather than /pm/, /tn/, /tɲ/ and /kŋ/.
- Use of -st instead of -s in the locative singular.
- Eastern Sea Sami: Loss of distinction between postalveolar and plain alveolar consonants.
The roots of the current orthography for Northern Sami were laid by Rasmus Rask who, after discussions with Nils Vibe Stockfleth, published Ræsonneret lappisk sproglære efter den sprogart, som bruges af fjældlapperne i Porsangerfjorden i Finmarken. En omarbejdelse af Prof. Knud Leems Lappiske grammatica in 1832. Rask opted for a phonemic orthographic system. All of the orthographies that have been used for Northern Sami trace their roots back to Rask's system, unlike the orthographies used for Lule and Southern Sami, which are mainly based on the orthographical conventions of Swedish and Norwegian. Following in the tradition of Rask meant that diacritics were used with some consonants (č, đ, ŋ, š, ŧ and ž), which caused data-processing problems before Unicode was introduced. Both Stockfleth and J. A. Friis went on to publish grammar books and dictionaries for Sami. It can be said that Northern Sami was better described than Norwegian was before Ivar Aasen published his grammar on Norwegian.
Northern Sami was and is used in three countries, each of which used its own orthography for years. Friis' orthography was used when work on translating the Bible into Northern Sami commenced, in the first Sami newspaper called Saǥai Muittalægje, and in the Finnemisjonen's own newspaper Nuorttanaste. The groundwork for Northern Sami lexicography was laid by Konrad Nielsen who used an orthography of his own creation in his dictionary Lappisk ordbok. Starting in 1948, the orthographies used in Norway and Sweden were combined into a single Bergsland-Ruong orthography. It was not greatly used in Norway. In 1979, an official orthography for Northern Sami was adopted for use in Norway, Sweden and Finland.
Thus, until the official orthography currently in use was adopted in 1979, each country had its own, slightly different standard, so it is quite possible to come across older books that are difficult to understand for people unacquainted with the orthography:
- Maanat leät poahtan skuvllai.
- Mánát leat boahtán skuvlii.
(The children have come to school.)
The first sentence is from Antti Outakoski's Samekiela kiellaoahpa from 1950; the second one is how it would be written according to the current orthography.
The most recent alphabet was approved in 1979 and last modified in 1985:
|A a||a||/a/||spa||Also /aː/ in Western Finnmark. /ɑ/ or /ɑː/ in Eastern Finnmark.|
|Á á||á||/aː/, /a/||chai||Long by default, shortened before preaspirated stops.|
|B b||be||/p/, /b/||bat|
|D d||de||/t/, /d/||do|
|E e||e||/e/, /eː/||sleigh|
|G g||ge||/k/, /ɡ/||go|
|I i||i||/i/, /iː/, /j/||me||/j/ after a vowel.|
|K k||ko||/k/, /kʰ/||cat||Postaspirated at the beginning of a stressed syllable.|
|O o||o||/o/, /oː/||go|
|P p||pe||/p/, /pʰ/||park||Postaspirated at the beginning of a stressed syllable.|
|R r||ár||/r/||(trilled) rat|
|T t||te||/t/, /tʰ/, /h(t)/||told||Postaspirated at the beginning of a stressed syllable. /h(t)/ word-finally.|
|U u||u||/u/, /uː/||do|
When typing, if there is no way of entering the letters particular to Northern Sami (Áá Čč Đđ Ŋŋ Šš Ŧŧ Žž) correctly, an acute accent is sometimes placed over the corresponding Latin letter as a substitute. These substitutions are still found in books printed after the common orthography was adopted due to system limitations when typing.
Marks used in reference works
Some additional marks are used in dictionaries, grammars and other reference works, including in this article. They are not used in normal writing.
- A vertical mark ˈ or apostrophe or other similar mark is placed between a double consonant to indicate an overlong (quantity 3) consonant.
- The same mark may be used in the combination ⟨lˈj⟩ to indicate the Q3 consonant cluster /lːj/.
- A macron is placed above vowel letters to indicate a long vowel (⟨ē⟩, ⟨ī⟩, ⟨ō⟩, ⟨ū⟩).
- A dot is placed below vowel letters to indicate an unstressed vowel that has been shortened (⟨ạ⟩, ⟨ẹ⟩, ⟨ọ⟩), which in turn hints that preceding vowels are rising/half-long, and preceding Q3 consonants are shortened.
Northern Sami orthography includes many combinations of multiple letters. The diphthongs, as may be expected, are written using a combination of two letters. Length is not indicated, nor is the distinction between normal and rising diphthongs. This distinction can be inferred in reference works by the presence of vowels with an underdot in the next syllable.
Doubling of a letter indicates a long consonant. Overlong consonants are not distinguished from regular long consonants, both are written with a doubled consonant letter. In reference works, overlong consonants are commonly denoted with a vertical line between the two consonant letters (⟨fˈf⟩, ⟨mˈm⟩, ⟨sˈs⟩ etc.).
The combinations ⟨dj⟩, ⟨lj⟩ and ⟨nj⟩ indicate /ɟɟ/, /ʎʎ/ and /ɲ/ respectively. The first letter is doubled to indicate longer versions, and a vertical line is then used for overlong /ɲːɲ/.
Preaspiration is indicated with a preceding ⟨h⟩. Long preaspiration is indicated by doubling the second letter.
Glottalisation of nasal consonants is indicated by a preceding letter for a voiceless stop. Long glottalised (interrupted) nasals are written with a voiced stop in place of the voiceless one.
Other combinations of consonants also exist, indicating consonant clusters. In general, these are written simply with the letters for the individual phonemes in sequence. The last consonant in a sequence may be doubled. This indicates that the consonant cluster is quantity 2, while a cluster with an undoubled last consonant is generally quantity 3. Often, but not always, it also indicates a lengthening of the corresponding consonant.
In the case of ⟨lj⟩, there are two possible interpretations: as a single quantity 2 consonant /ʎʎ/, or as a quantity 3 consonant cluster /lːj/ (e.g. olju), although the latter is rare. By contrast. These two cases are distinguished by their behaviour in consonant gradation. In the first case, ⟨llj⟩ appears in the strong grade while ⟨lj⟩ appears in the weak grade, and these simply represent overlong /ʎːʎ/ and long /ʎʎ/ respectively. In the second case, ⟨lj⟩ appears in the strong grade while ⟨ljj⟩ appears in the weak grade, representing /lːj/ and /ʎːʎ/ respectively. Thus, the pronunciation of ⟨lj⟩ and the spelling of /ʎːʎ/ are decided by whether they appear in a strong or weak grade form.
The letters for stops and affricates are pronounced differently when in a consonant cluster compared to when they occur alone. These changed pronunciations apply only when another stop does not precede; clusters of two stops are spelled and pronounced normally.
|(consonant +) zz||/tt͡s/||(consonant +) c||/ht͡s/||(consonant +) cc||/hːt͡s/|
|(consonant +) žž||/tt͡ʃ/||(consonant +) č||/ht͡ʃ/||(consonant +) čč||/hːt͡ʃ/|
|(consonant +) gg||/kk/||(consonant +) k||/hk/||(consonant +) kk||/hːk/|
|(consonant +) bb||/pp/||(consonant +) p||/hp/||(consonant +) pp||/hːp/|
|(consonant +) dd||/tt/||(consonant +) t||/ht/||(consonant +) tt||/hːt/|
Northern Sami is an agglutinative, highly inflected language that shares many grammatical features with the other Uralic languages. Sami has also developed considerably into the direction of fusional and inflected morphology, much like Estonian to which it is distantly related. Therefore, morphemes are marked not only by suffixes but also by morphophonological modifications to the root. Of the various morphophonological alterations, the most important and complex is the system of consonant gradation.
Consonant gradation is a pattern of alternations between pairs of consonants that appears in the inflection of words. The system of consonant gradation in Northern Sami is complex, especially compared to that found in the Finnic languages. A word stem can appear in two grades: the strong grade and the weak grade. Historically, the weak grade appeared when the syllable in which the consonant appeared was closed (ended in another consonant), but the loss of certain vowels or consonants have obscured this in Northern Sami and it is now a more-or-less opaque process.
Consonants show a three-level gradation pattern, with higher level being "stronger" in some sense. A given word can alternate either between level 3 in the strong grade and level 2 in the weak grade, or between level 2 in the strong grade and level 1 in the weak grade. The level of a consonant depends on how it interacts with the preceding vowel: a vowel is always shortened when a level 3 consonant follows. Thus, all consonant clusters (combinations of different consonants) have level 3/2 gradation, only non-clusters can be level 1.
The full three-level patterns apply to short, long and overlong consonants of any type, except for long voiced/voiceless occlusives.
Level 2 → level 1 alternations:
- Short preaspirated occlusives in the strong grade become short voiced in the weak grade. Note however that ⟨ht⟩ gradates to the fricative ⟨đ⟩ rather than the plosive ⟨d⟩.
- Short glottalized nasals in the strong grade become short plain nasals in the weak grade.
- Long non-occlusive non-glottalized consonants in the strong grade become short in the weak grade.
Level 3 → level 2 alternations:
- Long preaspirated occlusives in the strong grade become short preaspirated in the weak grade.
- Long glottalized nasals in the strong grade become short glottalized nasals in the weak grade.
- Overlong non-occlusive non-glottalized consonants in the strong grade become long in the weak grade.
Note that short ⟨lj⟩ does not occur, and the consonant only has level 3/2 gradation.
|Level 3||Level 2||Level 1|
Long voiced/voiceless occlusives
Long voiced occlusives alternate with long voiceless occlusives. These behave as clusters, and are therefore level 3/2 in terms of weight.
|Level 3||Level 2|
An exception here is ⟨dj⟩, which has three levels.
|Level 3||Level 2||Level 1|
Clusters ending with glottalized nasal
Clusters ending with glottalized nasals can behave in two ways. If the first member of the cluster is ⟨r⟩, then the nasal changes from long glottalized to short glottalized. In other cases, the nasal changes to long plain.
|Level 3||Level 2|
All other clusters have doubling of the final consonant of the cluster in the weak grade. In clusters beginning with ⟨k⟩, the ⟨k⟩ itself also changes to ⟨v⟩.
|Level 3||Level 2|
|⟨k⟩ + short||⟨v⟩ + long|
Changes to word-final consonants
Only a limited number of consonants are allowed at the end of a word. Therefore, consonants will be modified when they come to stand word-finally. The following table shows these changes:
When a consonant cluster appears word-finally, all consonants except the first are removed.
All inflected words, whether nouns, adjectives or verbs, can be divided into three main inflectional classes. The division is based on whether there is an even or odd number of syllables from the last stressed syllable to the end of the word.
- Words with even inflection (bárrastávvalsánit, also called "vowel stems") have an even number of syllables from the last stressed syllable of the stem; usually two, but sometimes also four.
- Words with odd inflection (bárahisstávvalsánit, also called "consonant stems") have an odd number of syllables from the last stressed syllable of the stem; usually three, but very rarely one or five.
- Words with contracted inflection (?) have an even number of syllables from the last stressed syllable of the stem, but have the consonant gradation pattern of odd-inflection words. If the gradation has three levels, the strong grade is always level 3.
For nouns and adjectives, the stem is taken from the accusative/genitive singular rather than the nominative, as the latter often drops the final vowel and sometimes also the preceding consonant. For verbs, the infinitive is used to determine the stem, by removing the infinitive ending -t.
Words with even and contracted inflection can be divided further, based on the final vowel of the stem. For even-inflected words, this vowel is most commonly a, i or u, while for contracted words it is mostly á, e or o. Words with odd inflection are not differentiated by stem-final vowel.
Nouns inflect in singular (ovttaidlohku) and plural (máŋggaidlohku), and also in 7 cases. The following table shows the general endings; the actual forms can differ based on consonant gradation and the inflection type of the word.
|Genitive (genitiiva)||-∅||-id||Possession, relation|
|Illative (illatiiva)||-i||-ide, -idda||Motion towards/onto/into|
|Locative (lokatiiva)||-s||-in||Being at/on/in, motion from/off/out of|
|Comitative (komitatiiva)||-in||-iguin||With, in company of, by means of|
|Essive (essiiva)||-n, -in||As, in the role of, under condition of (when)|
The accusative and genitive are always identical. There is no singular/plural distinction in the essive, so that for example mánnán is interpreted as either "as a child" or "as children".
Nouns with even inflection
Nouns with even inflection have consonant gradation of the last consonant in the stem. The strong grade appears in the nominative, illative and essive singular, while the weak grade appears in the remaining forms.
The most common of this type are the nouns with a stem ending in -a, -i or slightly rarer -u.
Stem in -a
Stem in -i
Stem in -u
|Genitive||gieđa||gieđaid||oaivvi, oaivve||ōivviid||ruovttu, ruovtto||ruovttūid|
Even-syllable nouns with a stem ending in -á, -e or -o also exist, but are much rarer.
Stem in -á
Stem in -e
Stem in -o
Even-syllable nouns with four or more syllables sometimes drop the final vowel in the nominative singular. Consequently, simplification of the final consonant occurs. The stem of these nouns always ends in -a.
|sápmelaš "Sami person"|
Nouns with odd inflection
Nouns with odd inflection have consonant gradation. The weak grade appears in the nominative and essive singular, while the strong grade appears in the remaining forms. Some nouns also have other alternations in the stem of the strong grade, such as changes of i to á, u to o, or addition of a consonant.
|ganjal "tear (eye)"||lávlla "song"
Nouns with contracted inflection
Nouns with contracted inflection have consonant gradation. The pattern follows that of odd-inflection nouns, with the weak grade in the nominative and essive singular, and the strong grade in the remainder. If the weak grade is level 1, the strong grade will be level 3. The final syllable is generally altered along with the gradation as well.
Stem in -á-
Stem in -o-
The possessive suffixes are similar in meaning to the English personal possessive determiners my, your, their and so on. There are 9 possessive suffixes: one for each person in singular, dual and plural. Possessive suffixes attach to the end of a noun, after the case ending. Thus, for example, ruovttus "in a house" may become ruovttustan "in my house".
Like noun case endings, the suffixes have different forms depending on whether they are attached to a stem with an even or odd number of syllables, and (in the case of even-syllable stems) depending on the last vowel of the stem. The following table shows the suffixes:
|1st sg.||2nd sg.||3rd sg.||1st du.||2nd du.||3rd du.||1st pl.||2nd pl.||3rd pl.|
|Even in -a||-an||-at||-as||-ame||-ade||-aska||-amet||-adet||-aset|
|Even in -á||-án||-át||-ás||-áme||-áde||-áska||-ámet||-ádet||-áset|
|Even in -e||-en||-et||-es||-eme||-ede||-eska||-emet||-edet||-eset|
|Even in -i||-án||-át||-is||-áme||-áde||-iska||-ámet||-ádet||-iset|
|Even in -o||-on||-ot||-os||-ome||-ode||-oska||-omet||-odet||-oset|
|Even in -u||-on||-ot||-us||-ome||-ode||-uska||-omet||-odet||-uset|
The suffixes attach to a combination of noun plus case ending, so the stem that the suffix is attached to may not be the stem of the noun. Rather, a new "possessive stem" is formed from the noun with its case ending included. This stem is not always identical to the ending of the noun on its own; some case endings undergo modifications or the addition of a final vowel. Thus, certain cases may have possessive stems that inherently end in -a, other cases may have -i, but this is only significant if the combination has an even number of syllables.
The following table shows the possessive stems for each case, for four of the nouns whose inflection was given above. If the stem ends in a vowel, it is even and the suffixes with the matching vowel are used. If the stem ends in a consonant, it is odd and the odd endings are used.
Even in -a
Even in -i
Even in -u
|Comitative||gieđain-||gieđaid- -guin||ōivviin-||ōivviid- -guin||ruovttūin-||ruovttuid- -guin||lávlagiinni-||lávlagiiddi- -guin|
In the comitative plural, the possessive suffix attaches between the possessive stem and the final -guin.
As can be seen in the table, for the nominative, accusative and genitive singular cases, the possessive stem is identical to the noun stem. The stem also undergoes consonant gradation in the accusative and genitive singular forms, and endings beginning with e or o also trigger diphthong simplification. The noun is in the strong grade with the first-person possessive suffixes, and in the weak grade with the second- and third-person possessives.
The possessive forms of ruoktu are:
|Case/number||1st sg.||2nd sg.||3rd sg.||1st du.||2nd du.||3rd du.||1st pl.||2nd pl.||3rd pl.|
Adjectives inflect the same as nouns do, and have the same cases and inflection types.
Adjectives also have an additional form, the attributive form (attribuhttahápmi). This form is used when the adjective is used attributively, where it precedes the noun. The attributive does not receive any endings, so it does not have cases or number. Its formation is also unpredictable: for some adjectives, it's formed from the nominative singular by adding an extra ending of some kind to the stem, while for others the attributive is formed by removing part of the stem. It may also be identical to the nominative singular. Some examples:
|čielggas||čielggas- (odd)||čielga||clear, transparent|
Not all adjectives have an attributive form. For example, the frequently-used adjective buorre "good" has only case forms. When there is no attributive form, this doesn't mean it can't be used attributively. Instead, the case and number of the adjective matches that of the noun it is an attribute of (as in for example Finnish).
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (February 2015)
Odd inflection in -u
Even inflection in -a
Even inflection in -o
Pronouns and determiners
The personal pronouns inflect irregularly, and also have a third number, the dual (guvttiidlohku). The dual is used to refer to exactly two people. The following table shows the forms.
|Case||mun, mon "I"||don "you (sg.)"||son "he, she"|
|Case||moai "we two"||doai "you two"||soai "they two"|
|Case||mii "we (all)"||dii "you (all)"||sii "they (all)"|
The five demonstrative determiners/pronouns inflect somewhat irregularly as well. The nominative singular and nominative plural are identical, and some other cases have endings not found in nouns.
|dat "it, the (aforementioned)"||dát "this (near speaker)"||diet "that (near listener)"||duot "that (not near either)"||dot "that, yonder (very far)"|
When these words modify a noun rather than standing alone, the demonstrative is in the same case as the noun, with the following exceptions:
- A noun in the illative or locative singular is preceded by a demonstrative in the accusative/genitive singular form.
- A noun in the comitative plural is preceded by a demonstrative in either the comitative or the accusative/genitive plural form.
The interrogative/relative pronouns/determiners gii "who" and mii "what" are likewise irregular.
|gii "who"||mii "what, which"|
In the accusative singular of mii, there are two possible forms. The "regular" form man is used when there is an implication of a choice from a limited number of options. The form máid has no such implication.
These two pronouns, as well as other interrogatives (which inflect regularly) can act as determiners and modify nouns. The rules for which case to use are the same as for the demonstrative. The form máid is followed by a noun in the accusative plural form.
The reflexive pronoun is ieš (dual and plural ieža), meaning myself, yourself, himself, herself and so on. In its base form, the pronoun occurs only in the nominative case and is never used on its own; it always occurs next to the subject of the sentence, where it acts as an adverb to strengthen it. Compare for example sentences such as I myself have never seen it..
The other cases can occur by themselves, but only in the singular, and are always used in combination with a possessive suffix that matches the subject of the sentence (i.e. always I see myself, never I see himself). These forms are irregular as well as suppletive: the illative and locative forms derive from completely different roots. There are also several alternative stems.
|Accusative||ieža- (iehča-)||The stem iehča- is only used with first-person possessives.|
|Illative||alcces-, alcce-, allas- (alcca-)||The stem alcca- is only used with first- and second-person possessives.|
|Locative||alddi-, alddest- (alddiin-, alddán-)||The stems alddiin- and alddán- are only used with dual and plural possessives.|
The conjugation of Northern Sami verbs resembles that of Finnish. There are three grammatical persons (persovnnat), and three grammatical numbers (logut), singular, dual and plural. There are four or five grammatical moods (vuogit):
- indicative (indikatiiva or duohtavuohki), indicating real events or statements of fact.
- imperative (imperatiiva or gohččunvuohki), indicating commands.
- optative (optatiiva or ávžžuhusvuohki), indicating wishes, things that the speaker would like to see done or realised. The optative is not usually considered a distinct mood, but is generally combined with the imperative.
- conditional (konditionála or eaktovuohki), indicating conditional or hypothetical statements, like the English subjunctive and the verb "would".
- potential (potientiála or veadjinvuohki), indicating ability or possibility.
Tense is also distinguished, but only in the indicative. There are two tenses (tempusat):
- present (preseansa or dálá áigi), which is also used for future events (nonpast tense).
- past (preterihtta or vássán áigi).
Finally, there are several non-finite forms.
- infinitive, the dictionary form of a verb.
- Present participle, an adjective indicating a current or ongoing action.
- Past participle, an adjective indicating a past or completed action.
- Action noun, a noun that indicates the action itself. The locative and essive cases of the noun have additional uses in phrasal constructions.
- Action essive, which indicates "in the process of" or "in the act of" and is used as a complement of the verb leat "to be".
- Gerund, an uninflected adverbial form that indicates "while" performing the verb's action.
- Verbal abessive, an adverbial form indicating "without" doing the verb.
- Verbal genitive, an adverbial form often used to indicate the way/method, accompanied by a verb of motion. It only exists for some verbs and is not very productive.
- Supine, which expresses "in order to". It is only used in western Northern Sami dialects.
Verbs with even inflection
|viehkat "to run"||Present
|1st singular||viegan||vīhken||vīhkon||viegašin, viegašedjen||viegažan|
|2nd singular||viegat||vīhket||viega||viegašit, viegašedjet||viegažat|
|3rd singular||viehká||viegai||vīhkos||viegašii||viegaža, viegaš|
|1st plural||viehkat||viegaimet||vīhkot, viehkkut||viegašeimmet||viegažit, viegažat|
|2nd plural||viehkabehtet||viegaidet||vīhket, viehkkit||viegašeiddet||viegažehpet|
|3rd plural||vīhket||vīhke||vīhkoset||viegaše, viegašedje||viegažit|
|eallit - to live||Present
|1st singular||ealán||ēllen||ēllon||ealášin, ealášedjen||ēležan|
|2nd singular||ealát||ēllet||eale||ealášit, ealášedjet||ēležat|
|3rd singular||eallá||ēlii||ēllos||ealášii||ēleža, ēleš|
|1st plural||eallit||ēliimet||ēllot, eal'lut||ealášeimmet||ēležit, ēležat|
|2nd plural||eallibehtet||ēliidet||ēllet, eal'lit||ealášeiddet||ēležehpet|
|3rd plural||ēllet||ēlle||ēlloset||ealáše, ealášedje||ēležit|
|goarrut - to sew||Present
|1st singular||goarun||gōrron||gōrron||gōrošin, gōrošedjen||gōrožan|
|2nd singular||goarut||gōrrot||goaro||gōrošit, gōrošedjet||gōrožat|
|3rd singular||goarru||gōrui||gōrros||gōrošii||gōroža, gōroš|
|1st plural||goarrut||gōruimet||gōrrot, goar'rut||gōrošeimmet||gōrožit, gōrožat|
|2nd plural||goarrubehtet||gōruidet||gōrrot, goar'rut||gōrošeiddet||gōrožehpet|
|3rd plural||gōrrot||gōrro||gōrroset||gōroše, gōrošedje||gōrožit|
Verbs with odd inflection
|muitalit - to say||Present
Verbs with contracted inflection
This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (February 2015)
Northern Sami, like other Uralic languages, has a negative verb that conjugates according to mood (indicative and imperative), person (1st, 2nd and 3rd) and number (singular, dual and plural). It does not conjugate according to tense.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (October 2017)
Northern Sami is an SVO language.
- Northern Sami at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- "To which languages does the Charter apply?". European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Council of Europe. p. 4. Retrieved 2014-04-03.
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Northern Sami". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- "Samediggi – Saamelaiskäräjät – Sámi language". Retrieved 2008-09-21.
- "The Sami dialects". Archived from the original on 20 January 2009. Retrieved 21 September 2008.
- Original quote: ""med en regelmessig samisk sprogform""; Forsgren, Tuuli (1988) "Samisk kyrko- och undervisningslitteratur i Sverige 1619–1850." Scriptum: Rapportserie utgiven av Forskningsarkivet vid Umeå universitet, ISSN 0284-3161; p. 12 
- Bals, Berit Anne; Odden, David; Rice, Curt (2005). "Topics in North Saami Phonology" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-11-08.
- Sammallahti, Pekka (1998). The Saami Languages: An Introduction. Kárášjohka: Davvi Girji. pp. 8–20.
- Svonni, E Mikael (1984). Sámegiel-ruoŧagiel skuvlasátnelistu. Sámiskuvlastivra. III. ISBN 91-7716-008-8.
|Northern Sami edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
- Northern Sami to Norwegian Bomål online machine translation (translates text, docx, urls)
- Interactive morphology-enriched Northern Saami <-> Norwegian / Finnish dictionary
- Dependency-parsed searchable 25m word Northern Saami corpus
- Kimberli Mäkäräinen A Northern Sámi-English vocabulary (5500+ words in Sámi as of 12 September 2013)
- Names of birds found in Sápmi in a number of languages, including Skolt Sámi and English. Search function only works with Finnish input though.
- OAHPA! Online interactive Sámi pedagogical program suite
- Sámi language technology project
- Sámi dictionary and terminology database
- Sámi proofing tools project
- Sátnemeahccái project for children
- Gradation described
- Wordlist with sound files
- Irja Seurujärvi-Kari talks in Northern Sámi
- Lexin picture themes – Northern Sámi
- Sami alphabet – Flash/Sound