Nils Vibe Stockfleth

Nils Joachim Christian Vibe Stockfleth (11 January 1787 in Fredrikstad, Norway 26 April 1866 in Sandefjord) was a Norwegian cleric who was instrumental in the first development of the written form of the Northern Sami language. Stockfleth compiled a Norwegian-Sami dictionary, wrote a Sami grammar and translated a portion of the Bible into the Sami language.

Education and early career

His parents were Dean Niels Stockfleth (1756–1794) and his wife was Anne Johanne Vibe (1753–1805). He was a student in Copenhagen from 1803 to 1804, when he was hired as an undersecretary in the Danish Chancery office (Danske Kancelli). He attended lectures on law, and for a time he studied carpentry.

In 1808 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Danish Army; he took part in the Battle of Sehested (Schleswig-Holstein) during the Napoleonic Wars. After the Denmark-Norway union ended in 1814, Stockfleth joined the Norwegian Army as an officer posted to Valdres.[1] He resigned from the army in 1823 to study theology, graduating in 1824. In March of the following year he became pastor of Vadsø, transferring to Lebesby in 1828 so that he could more easily meet with the nomadic Sami.

Linguistics research and field work

From 1836 Stockfleth taught Sami languages and Finnish in Christiania (now the University of Oslo). In 1838 he travelled to Finland and gained the support of Finnish philologists Gustaf Renvall (1781–1841), Reinhold von Becker (1788–1858), Andreas Sjögren (1794–1855) and Elias Lönnrot (1802–1884).[1]

In 1839 he ended his pastoral duties to devote himself fully to understanding Sami culture, travelling several times to Sami and Finnish settlements in both Norway and Sweden. Influenced by Enlightenment thinkers like Johann Gottfried Herder, he worked assiduously for the betterment of the Sami people, especially in the literary field. Stockfleth and the Danish polyglot and philologist Rasmus Christian Rask cooperated to develop a means of accurately recording a written form of the Sami language so that it could be used as a medium for the publication of religious books.

At a time when powerful people, both in government and in the press, believed that the Sami people should be forced to attend schools with Norwegian being the sole language of instruction and that Sami-language teaching would delay efforts to modernize and assimilate the Sami people, Stockfleth succeeded in publishing several Sami readers and a Sami grammar.

Kautokeino 1851-52

In 1851 Stockfleth travelled for the last time to the Finnmark region of Norway. The Lutheran bishop of Oslo immediately encouraged him to go to Kautokeino in the hope that Stockfleth who knew the Sami culture, was fluent in Sami and was respected among the Sami because of his books would be able to reconcile a group of Laestadian Sami schismatics with the official Lutheran state church. He did meet many of the Sami at one of their religious meetings, but they were in the grip of an experiential ecstasy which was quite foreign to the learned theologian. At one point he lost his temper and began to beat the ecstatic participants with his hands and with a stick, but to no avail. Although he found the uproar of this first meeting frightening, some of the Sami people did continue to meet with him afterwards, but little came of their talks and Stockfleth travelled away from Finnmark a few months before the Kautokeino Uprising. In 1853 he was awarded a state pension and moved to Sandefjord.

Selected works


  1. 1 2 3 Karl Vilhelm Hammer, "Stockfleth, Nils Joachim Christian Vibe" in Nordisk familjebok,2nd ed., v. 26, columns 1454-1455, Stockholm: Gernandts boktryckeri, 1917.
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