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Skolt Sami language

Skolt Sami
Region Finland and Russia
Ethnicity Skolts
Native speakers
ca. 400  (2007–2010)[1]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Finland; Norway[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 sms
ISO 639-3 sms
Glottolog skol1241[3]
Skolt Sami is 6 on this regional map of Sami languages.

Skolt Sami (sääˊmǩiõll 'the Saami language' or nuõrttsää’mǩiõll if a distinction needs to be made between it and the other Saami languages) is a Uralic, Sami language spoken by approximately 400 speakers in Finland, mainly in Sevettijärvi, and approximately 20–30 speakers of the Njuõˊttjäuˊrr (Notozero) dialect in an area surrounding Lake Lovozero in Russia. Skolt Sami also used to be spoken in the Neiden area of Norway. It is written using a Roman orthography that was made official in 1973.


  • History 1
  • Status 2
  • Writing system 3
  • Phonology 4
    • Vowels 4.1
    • Consonants 4.2
    • Suprasegmentals 4.3
    • Stress 4.4
  • Grammar 5
    • Cases 5.1
      • Nominative 5.1.1
      • Genitive 5.1.2
      • Accusative 5.1.3
      • Locative 5.1.4
      • Illative 5.1.5
      • Comitative 5.1.6
      • Abessive 5.1.7
      • Essive 5.1.8
      • Partitive 5.1.9
    • Pronouns 5.2
    • Verbs 5.3
      • Person 5.3.1
      • Mood 5.3.2
      • Grammatical number 5.3.3
      • Tense 5.3.4
      • Verbal nouns 5.3.5
      • Negative verb 5.3.6
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Skolt Sami was spoken in four villages on Finnish territory prior to the Second World War. In Petsamo, Skolt Sami was spoken in Suonikylä and the village of Petsamo. This area was ceded to Russia in the Second World War, and the Skolts were evacuated to the villages of Inari, Sevettijärvi and Nellim in the Inari municipality.


Skolt Sami is spoken by approximately 400 individuals, nearly all of whom live in Finland; very few speakers remain today on the Russian side. On the Finnish side of the border, the language is recognized by the government as one of the official Sami languages used in Lapland and can thus be used by anyone conducting official business in that area. It is an official language in the municipality of Inari, and elementary schools there offer courses in the language, both for native speakers and for students learning it as a foreign language. Only a small number of youths do learn the language and continue to use it actively. Skolt Sami is thus a seriously endangered language, even more seriously than Inari Sami in the same municipality, which has a nearly equal number of speakers.

From 1978 to 1986, the Skolts had a quarterly called Sää´mođđâz published in their own language.[4] To date, this is the only magazine or newspaper that has appeared in Skolt Sámi.

In 1993, language immersion programs for children younger than 7 were created. At present, however, no funding has been forthcoming for these programs in years and as a result they are on hold. These programs were extremely important in creating the youngest generation of Skolt Sami speakers.

Like Inari Sami, Skolt Sami has recently borne witness to a new phenomenon, namely it is being used in rock songs sung by Tiina Sanila, who has published two full-length CDs in Skolt Sami to date.

In addition, 2005 saw the first time that it was possible to use Skolt Sámi in a Finnish matriculation examination, albeit as a foreign language.

Writing system

Skolt Sami uses the ISO basic Latin alphabet with the addition of some special characters:

А а Â â B b C c Č č Ʒ ʒ Ǯ ǯ D d
Đ đ E e F f G g Ǧ ǧ Ǥ ǥ H h I i
J j K k Ǩ ǩ L l M m N n Ŋ ŋ O o
Õ õ P p R r S s Š š T t U u V v
Z z Ž ž Å å Ä ä ˊ

The letters Q/q, W/w, X/x, Y/y and Ö/ö are also used, although only in foreign words or loans.

The caron marks postalveolars (Š [ʃ], Ž [ʒ], Č [tʃ], Ǯ [dʒ]) and palatal sounds (Ǧ [ɟ͡ʝ] and Ǩ [c͡ç]). The letters Đ and Ǥ mark fricatives [ð], [ɣ]. The letters Ʒ [dz] and Ǯ [dʒ] mark voiced affricates. Skolt Sami has a separate glyph, Ŋ, for the velar nasal [ŋ] ("eng"). Additionally, suprasegmental palatalization is marked by a free-standing acute accent (´) added after the vowel.

A short period of voicelessness or h, known as preaspiration, before geminate consonants is observed, much as in Icelandic, but this is not marked, e.g., joˊkke ‘to the river’ is pronounced [jo̟hk̟k̟e]. The epenthetic vowels are not phonemic or syllabic, and are thus not marked, e.g., mieˊll [miellɘ̯] ‘sandbank’ cf. mielle [mielle] ‘to the mind’.


Special features of this Sami language include a highly complex vowel system and a suprasegmental contrast of palatalized vs. non-palatalized stress groups; palatalized stress groups are indicated by a “softener mark”, represented by the free-standing acute accent (ˊ).


The system of vowel phonemes is as follows; their orthographic representations are given in brackets.

front central back
close i (i) u (u)
close-mid e (e) ɘ (õ) o (o)
open-mid ɛ (e) ɐ (â) ɔ (å)
open a (ä) ɑ (a)


  • The difference between /e/ and /ɛ/ is not indicated in the standard orthography, where both of these sounds are spelled e.
  • /ɘ/ is pronounced much like Estonian õ.

Long and short vowels contrast phonologically: cf. leˊtt ‘vessel’ vs. leeˊtt ‘vessels’. All vowels can occur as both long and short.

The vowels can combine to form twelve opening diphthongs:

front front to central back to front back to central back
close to close-mid ie (ie) iɘ (iõ) ue (ue) uɘ (uõ)
close to open-mid iɛ (ie) iɐ (iâ) uɛ (ue) uɐ (uâ) uɔ (uå)
close to open ua (uä)
close-mid to open-mid eɐ (eâ)
close-mid to open ea (ea)

All diphthongs can occur as both long and short, although this is not indicated in spelling. Short diphthongs are distinguished from long ones by both length and stress placement: short diphthongs have a stressed second component, whereas long diphthongs have stress on the first component.


The inventory of consonant phonemes is the following; their orthographic representations are given in brackets:

Labial Dental / Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar
plain sibilant sibilant
Nasal m (m) n (n) ɲ (nj) ŋ (ŋ)
Stop and
unvoiced1 p (p) t (t) t͡s (c) t͡ʃ (č) c͡ç (ǩ) k (k)
voiced2 b (b) d (d) d͡z (ʒ) d͡ʒ (ǯ) ɟ͡ʝ (ǧ) g (g)
Fricative unvoiced f (f) s (s) ʃ (š) x (h)
voiced v (v) ð (đ) z (z) ʒ (ž) ʝ (j) ɣ (ǥ)
Trill r (r)
Lateral l (l) ʎ (lj)
Approximant w (u) j (i)

1Unvoiced stops and affricates are pronounced preaspirated after vowels and sonorant consonants.

2Voiced stops and affricates are usually pronounced just weakly voiced.

3/x/ has the allophone [h] in initial position.

Consonants may be phonemically short or long (geminate) both word-medially or word-finally; both are exceedingly common. Long and short consonants also contrast in consonant clusters, cf. kuõskkâd 'to touch' : kuõskâm 'I touch'.


There is one phonemic suprasegmental, the palatalizing suprasegmental that affects the pronunciation of an entire syllable. In written language the palatalizing suprasegmental is indicated with a free-standing acute accent between a stressed vowel and the following consonant, as follows:

vääˊrr 'mountain, hill' (suprasegmental palatalization present)
cf. väärr 'trip' (no suprasegmental palatalization)

The suprasegmental palatalization has three distinct phonetic effects:

  • The stressed vowel is pronounced as slightly more fronted in palatalized syllables than in non-palatalized ones.
  • When the palatalizing suprasegmental is present, the following consonant or consonant cluster is pronounced as weakly palatalized. It should be noted that suprasegmental palatalization is independent of segmental palatals: inherently palatal consonants (i.e. consonants with palatal place of articulation) such as the palatal glide /j/, the palatal nasal /ń/ (spelled nj) and the palatal lateral approximant /ĺ/ (spelled lj) can occur both in non-palatalized and suprasegmentally palatalized syllables.
  • If the word form is monosyllabic and ends in a consonant, a non-phonemic weakly voiced or unvoiced vowel is pronounced after the final consonant. This vowel is e-colored if suprasegmental palatalization is present, but a-colored if not.


Skolt Sami has four different types of stress for words:

  • Primary stress
  • Secondary stress
  • Tertiary stress
  • Zero stress

The first syllable of any word is always the primary stressed syllable in Skolt Sami as Skolt is a fixed-stress language. In words with two or more syllables, the final syllable is quite lightly stressed (tertiary stress) and the remaining syllable, if any, are stressed more heavily than the final syllable, but less than the first syllable (secondary stress).

Using the abessive and the comitative singular in a word appears to disrupt this system, however, in words of more than one syllable. The suffix, as can be expected, has tertiary stress, but the penultimate syllable also has tertiary stress, even though it would be expected to have secondary stress.

Zero stress can be said to be a feature of conjunctions, postpositions, particles and monosyllabic pronouns.


Skolt Sami is a synthetic, highly inflected language that shares many grammatical features with the other Uralic languages. However, Skolt Sami is not a typical agglutinative language like many of the other Uralic languages are, as it has developed considerably into the direction of a fusional language, much like Estonian. Therefore, cases and other grammatical features are also marked by modifications to the root and not just marked with suffixes. Many of the suffixes in Skolt Sami are portmanteau morphemes that express several grammatical features at a time.


Skolt Sámi has 9 cases in the singular, although the genitive and accusative are often the same:


Like the other Uralic languages, the nominative singular is unmarked and indicates the subject or a predicate. The nominative plural is also unmarked and always looks the same as the genitive singular.


The genitive singular is unmarked and looks the same as the nominative plural. The genitive plural is marked by an -i. The genitive is used:

  • to indicate possession (Tuˊst lij muu ǩeˊrjj.: You have my book.)
  • to indicate number, if said the number is between 2 and 6. (Sieˊzzest lij kuõˊhtt põõrt. My father’s sister (my aunt) has two houses.)
  • with prepositions (rääi + [GEN]: by, beyond something)
  • with most postpositions. (Sij mõˊnne ääkkäd årra.: They went to your grandmother’s (house). They went to visit your grandmother.)

The genitive has been replacing the partitive for some time and is nowadays more commonly used in its place.


The accusative is the direct object case and it is unmarked in the singular. In the plural, its marker is -d, which is preceded by the plural marker -i, making it look the same as the plural illative. The accusative is also used to mark some adjuncts, e.g., obb tääˊlv (the entire winter).


The locative marker in the singular is -st and -n in the plural. This case is used to indicate:

  • where something is (Kuäˊđest lij ǩeˊrjj: There is a book in the kota.)
  • where it is coming from (Niõđ puõˊtte domoi Čeˊvetjääuˊrest. The girls came home from Sevettijärvi.)
  • who has possession of something (Suˊst lij čâustõk: He/she has a lasso.)

In addition, it is used with certain verbs:

  • to ask someone s.t. : kõõččâd [+loc]


The illative marker actually has three different markers in the singular to represent the same case: -a, -e and -u. The plural illative marker is -d, which is preceded by the plural marker -i, making it look the same as the plural accusative. This case is used to indicate:

  • where something is going
  • who is receiving something
  • the indirect object


The comitative marker in the singular is -in and -vuiˊm in the plural. The comitative is used to state with whom or what something was done:

  • Njääˊlm sekstet leeiˊnin. The mouth is wiped with a piece of cloth.
  • Vuõˊlǧǧem paaˊrnivuiˊm ceerkvest. I left church with the children.
  • Vuõˊlǧǧem vueˊbbinan ceerkvest. I left church with my sister.

To form the comitative singular, use the genitive singular form of the word as the root and -in. To form the comitative plural, use the plural genitive root and -vuiˊm.


The abessive marker is -tää in both the singular and the plural. It always has a tertiary stress.

  • Vuõˊlǧǧem paaˊrnitää ceerkvest. I left church without the children.
  • Sij mõˊnne niõđtää põˊrtte. They went in the house without the girl.
  • Sij mõˊnne niõđitää põˊrtte. They went in the house without the girls.


The dual form of the essive is still used with pronouns, but not with nouns and does not appear at all in the plural.


The partitive is only used in the singular and can always be replaced by the genitive. The partitive marker is -d.

1. It appears after numbers larger than 6:

  • kääuˊc čâustõkkâd: eight lassos

This can be replaced with kääˊuc čâustõõǥǥ.

2. It is also used with certain postpositions:

  • kuäˊtted vuâstta: against a kota

This can be replaced with kuä'đ vuâstta'

3. It can be used with the comparative to express that which is being compared:

  • Kåˊlled pueˊrab : better than gold

This would nowadays more than likely be replaced by pueˊrab ko kåˊll


The personal pronouns have three numbers - singular, plural and dual. The following table contains personal pronouns in the nominative and genitive/accusative cases.

  English nominative English genitive
First person (singular) I mon my muu
Second person (singular) you (thou) ton your, yours tuu
Third person (singular) he, she son his, her suu
First person (dual) we (two) muäna our muännai
Second person (dual) you (two) tuäna your tuännai
Third person (dual) they (two) suäna theirs suännai
First person (plural) we mij our mij
Second person (plural) you tij your tij
Third person (plural) they sij their sij

The next table demonstrates the declension of a personal pronoun he/she (no gender distinction) in various cases:

  Singular Dual Plural
Nominative son suäna sij
Genitive suu suännai sij
Accusative suu suännaid siˊjjid
Illative suˊnne suännaid siˊjjid
Locative suˊst suännast siiˊst
Comitative suin suännain siˊjjivuiˊm
Abessive suutää suännaitää siˊjjitää
Essive suuˊnen suännan --
Partitive suuˊđed -- --



Skolt Sami verbs conjugate for four grammatical persons:

  • first person
  • second person
  • third person
  • fourth person, also called the indefinite person


Skolt Sami has 5 grammatical moods:

Grammatical number

Skolt Sami verbs conjugate for two grammatical numbers:

Unlike other Sami varieties, Skolt Sami verbs do not inflect for *dual number. Instead, verbs occurring with the dual personal pronouns appear in the corresponding plural form.


Skolt Sami has 2 simple tenses:

  • past (Puõˊttem škoouˊle jåhtta.: I came to school yesterday.)
  • non-past (Evvan puätt mu årra täˊbbe. John is coming to my house today.)

and 2 compound tenses:

Verbal nouns

Skolt Sami verbs have 6 nominal forms:

  • the infinitive
  • the gerund
  • the active participle (progressive)
  • the abessive
  • the present participle
  • the past participle

Negative verb

Skolt Sami, like Finnish, the other Sámi languages and Estonian, has a negative verb. In Skolt Sami, the negative verb conjugates according to mood (indicative, imperative and optative), person (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th) and number (singular and plural).

Person Indicative Imperative Optative
1 Singular jiõm - -
Plural jeäˊp - jeäl'lap
2 Singular jiõk jeä´l
Plural jeä´ped jie´l'led
3 Singular ij - jeälas
Plural jie ~ jiâ - jeäl'las
4 jeä´t -

Note that ij + leat is usually written as iˊlla, iˊlleäkku, iˊllää or iˊllä and ij + leat is usually written as jeäˊla or jeäˊlä.

Unlike the other Sami languages, Skolt Sami no longer has separate forms for the dual and plural of the negative verb and uses the plural forms for both instead.


  1. ^ Skolt Sami at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ "To which languages does the Charter apply?". European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Council of Europe. p. 5. Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Skolt Sami". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ "Sää´mođđâz-lehti" (in Finnish). Saa´mi Nue´tt ry. Retrieved April 27, 2011. 
  • Feist, Tim: A grammar of Skolt Saami. Manchester, 2010.
  • Korhonen, Mikko. Mosnikoff, Jouni. Sammallahti, Pekka. Koltansaamen opas. Castreanumin toimitteita, Helsinki 1973.
  • Mosnikoff, Jouni and Pekka Sammallahti. Uˊcc sääm-lääˊdd sääˊnnǩeârjaž = Pieni koltansaame-suomi sanakirja. Jorgaleaddji 1988.
  • Mosnikoff, Jouni and Pekka Sammallahti. Suomi-koltansaame sanakirja = Lääˊdd-sääˊm sääˊnnǩeˊrjj. Ohcejohka : Girjegiisá 1991.
  • Moshnikoff, Satu. Muu vuõssmõs sääˊmǩeˊrjj 1987.
  • Sámi Language Act

External links

  • Kimberli Mäkäräinen A very small Skolt Sámi - English vocabulary (< 500 words)
  • Northern Sámi - Inari Sámi - Skolt Sámi - English dictionary (requires a password nowadays)
  • Names of birds found in Sápmi in a number of languages, including Skolt Sámi and English. Search function only works with Finnish input though.
  • Sääˊmjieˊllem Sámi Museum site on the history of the Skolt Sámi in Finland
  • Zita McRobbie-Utasi A number of linguistic articles on Skolt Sámi.
  • Erkki Lumisalmi talks in Skolt Sámi (mp3)
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