Say your first words in Sámi

Twist your tongue with ten useful expressions in the language spoken by northern Finland’s indigenous Sámi people.

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The kids and teachers at the Sámi-language daycare Máttabiegga Giellabeassi (South Wind Language Nest) in Helsinki taught us several useful expressions in Northern Sámi, the most widely spoken of the three quite different Sámi languages used in Finland.

Northern Sámi has more than 2,500 speakers in Finland, and many more in Norway and Sweden; while the other two Sámi languages spoken in Finland – Skolt Sámi and Inari Sámi – only have a few hundred speakers each. These minority languages almost died out during the 20th century, but they are now enjoying a revival thanks to dedicated teachers and support from educational and cultural authorities.

The family of Sámi languages, spoken across the top of Finland, Sweden and Norway and part of Russia, once included ten distinct variants, of which at least six still survive. Linguistically, they occupy a branch of the same language tree as Finnish, Estonian and (more remotely) Hungarian, but the similarities are seldom obvious, as you’ll see below. For more about the daycare where we learned these words, see our article Sámi languages making gains in Finland.

[Editor’s note: In summer 2018, Máttabiegga Giellabeassi had to close when funding ran out. However, the City of Helsinki announced plans to open a Northern Sámi–language daycare group at another nearby location.]

Beginning Sámi phrases

Northern Sámi Finnish English
Bures! Hei! Hello!
Oaidnaleapmai! Näkemiin! Goodbye!
Giitu! (pronounced “Kiihtu”) Kiitos! Thank you!
Ándagassii! Anteeksi! Sorry!
Mun ráhkistan du! Minä rakastan sinua! I love you!
Okta, guokte, golbma, njeallje… Yksi, kaksi, kolme, neljä… One, two, three, four…
Muohta Lumi Snow
Boazu Poro Reindeer
Guovssahasat Revontulet Northern Lights
Juovllastállu Joulupukki Santa Claus


By Fran Weaver, February 2014

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