Itäisten saamenkielten asema

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State of eastern Saami languages

Up to the beginning of the 1980s the eastern Saami languages ( Inari, Skolt, Akkala, Kildin and Ter Saami) were first and foremost spoken at home. During the last 50–80 years, the position of these languages has worsened. In Russia today, young Saami rarely have a full command of the Saami language. The situation is similar among the Skolt Saami in Finland nowadays. In both Russia and Finland, Saamis born in the 1930s and 1940s have experienced great pressure from the dominant cultures. Some refused to acknowledge their Saami background, or in the Soviet Union they were forced to abandon the Saami language and learn Russian. Saami parents in Russia urged their children to speak Russian, and the Skolt Saami in Finland wanted their children to speak Finnish in order for them to be able to compete with the majority population in meeting the requirements of society.

The position of the eastern Saami languages has been weakening over the last few centuries – first because of the destruction of the traditional siida system, which started already in the nineteenth century; then because of the drawing of national frontiers, the economic and especially during the twentieth century, the assimilationist policies of the states involved – Finland, Norway, Russia –, the forced transfer of the Saami from their traditional habitation areas, and the collapse of traditional ways of life, etc. One can now claim with full justification that the eastern Saami languages are in danger of extinction.

Skolt Sami is still spoken in Sevettijärvi and Nellimö in Northern Finland. There are about 200 Skolt Saami speakers, most of whom are representatives of the old generation; the Skolt Saami of Neiden in Norway lost their language already at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Estimates in 1994 showed that the language situation in Russia was as follows: there were 707 Kildin Saami speakers, 20-30 speakers of the Skolt Saami dialect of Notozero, six speakers of Ter Saami and seven of Akkala Saami (in 2000 there was only one speaker of Akkala left). At present the majority of the Russian Saami live in one place: Lovozero. The Akkala and Ter Saami languages may disappear quickly because there are too few speakers, and members of the younger generation are not learning to speak these languages as their mother tongues.

The literary use of Kildin and Skolt Saami has recently increased: orthographies were made for both languages in the 1970s and 1980s. The Skolt Saami standardized written language is based on the Latin alphabet, whereas Kildin now uses a variant of Cyrillics instead of the Latin-based alphabet used in the 1930s. There are eastern Saami writers (literature), and some books have been published in Kildin and Ter Saami.

Table of contents: Languages and naming

Jelena Porsanger

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