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Environmental Studies

Inari Sami

Sami people feeding reindeer at Sami’s reindeer farm (Wright, Date Unknown).

The Language

Inari Sami is spoken by the Inari Sami people in northern Finland. It is one of ten languages in the Sami family, which is related to other Uralic languages, including Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian. The voculary of Inari Sami reflects the way of life of its speakers: reindeer herding, small scale agriculture, and hunting and gathering. Inari Sami has gained over 10,000 new words, in order to adapt to more modern use. Only 300 speakers remain.

There are aproximately 60,000 t0 100,000 Samis and 20,000 speakers of a Sami language. Languages within the Sami family can be mututally intelligible to a limited degree, with languages in close proximatey to each other being easier to understand between speakers. Inari Sami is centered around Lake Inari in the Inari region of Finnish Lappland.

The Northern Lights over the Inari region of Finnish lapland

The Northern Lights over the Inari region of Finnish lapland (Sanders, 2012).

Distribution of the Sami Languages (Sami Museum, 2006).


The decline in Inari Sami is a result of the marginalization the speakers endured by the dominant Finnish culture. They were regarded as savages and pagans for their naturistic religious practices. As the Finnish people sought to gain independence from Russia in the late 1800s, Finnish nationalism and the desire for a distinct national image from Russia futher marginalized Sami culture. This national identity extended to boarding schools for Sami children. Lessons were conducted in Finnish, and the Sami children were not offered opportunities to further their education on their own language and culture. These Finnish-speaking Samis would then pass Finnish on to their families and children.

Economic oppotunities brought Samis from their villages to Finnish cities, where they began to lose their lingual and cultural ties. Concepts within the Inari Sami language revolve around their lifestyle and their closeness to nature, which makes translation into Finnish extremely difficult. Inari Sami is the least known of the Sami languages, and this lack of information makes education of it difficult.

Preservation and Future

Preservation of Inari Sami has gained momentum in recent decades. The Inari Sámi Language Association (Anarâškielâ servi) was formed in 1986 and continues to preserve the language though immersion programs for children and the publication of books and newpaper in Inari Sami. A few studies in Finnish primary schools have been able to take Inari Sami as a native or foreign language, and some universities now offer classes in the language. A young rap muscian named Amoc (Mikkâl Antti Morottaja) brings Inari Sami into the modern world though his music. He hopes this will allow younger Samito realize that their language and culture can still be relavent . A sample of his music can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCDqAq3S8ws.

Despite having so few speakers, Inari Sami has the adavantage of having an entire movement of people dedicated to its preservation. Although its future cannot be completely known, this lanuage will refuse to go down without a fight anytime soon.


1) Diane Nelson and Ida Toivonen. (2000). Counting and the grammar: Numerals in Inari Sami. In: Foulkesand Nelson (eds.), Leeds Working Papers in Linguistics and Ph, 8.)

2) Sami Museum. (2006). Retrieved from  http://www.samimuseum.fi/anaras/english/yleistietoa/yleistietoa.html

3) Sanders, Paul. The Northern Lights over the Inari region of Finnish lapland. (25 January 2012). The Times. Retrieved from http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/travel/images/article2956620.ece

4) Ridianpää, J. and Pasanen, A. (2009). From the Bronx to the Wilderness: Inari-Sami Rap, Language Revitalisation and Contested Ethnic Stereotypes. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, Vol. 9. No. 2

5) Wright, Alison. Sami people feeding reindeer at Sami’s reindeer farm. (Date Unknown). National Geographic. Retrived from http://www.nationalgeographicstock.com/ngsimages/explore/explorecomp.jsf?xsys=SE&id=1288017.