Southern Sami language

Southern Sami
Åarjelsaemien gïele
Region Norway, Sweden
Native speakers
600 (1992)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Snåsa, Norway
Recognised minority
language in
Norway; Sweden[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 sma
ISO 639-3 sma
Glottolog sout2674[3]

Southern Sami is 1 on this map.
Åarjel-saemiej skuvle (Southern Sami school) and maanagierte (kindergarten) in Snåsa.

Southern Sami (Åarjelsaemien gïele) is the southwestern-most of the Sami languages. It is a seriously endangered language; the strongholds of this language are the municipalities of Snåsa, Røyrvik, Røros and Hattfjelldal in Norway.

Writing system

Southern Sami is one of the six Sami languages that has an official written language, but only a few books have been published for the language, one of which is a good-size Southern Sami–Norwegian dictionary.

Southern Sami uses the Latin script: A/a, B/b, D/d, E/e, F/f, G/g, H/h, I/i, (Ï/ï), J/j, K/k, L/l, M/m, N/n, O/o, P/p, R/r, S/s, T/t, U/u, V/v, Y/y, Æ/æ, Ø/ø, Å/å

An alternative orthography replaces Æ/æ with Ä/ä and Ø/ø with Ö/ö. The variants Ä/ä, Ö/ö are used in Sweden, Æ/æ, Ø/ø in Norway, in accordance with the usage in Swedish and Norwegian, based on computer or typewriter availability. The Ï/ï represents a back version of I/i, many texts do not distinguish between the two.

C/c, Q/q, W/w, X/x, Z/z are used in words of foreign origin.


Southern Sami has two dialects, the northern and the southern dialect. The phonological differences between the dialects are relatively small; the phonemic system of the northern dialect is explained below.


The vowel phonemes of the northern dialect are the following; orthographic counterparts are given in italics:

front central back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
close /i/ i /y/ y /ɨ/ ï/i1 /ʉ/ u /u/ o
mid /e/ e /o/ å
open /ɛ/ æ/ä2/ae3 /ɑ/ a

1The distinction between the vowels /i/ and /ɨ/ is normally not indicated in spelling: both of these sounds are written with the letter i. However, dictionaries and other linguistically precise sources use the character ï for the latter vowel.
2The letter æ is used in Norway, and ä in Sweden.
3Long /ɛː/ is written ae.

The non-high vowels /e/, /ɛ/, /o/ and /ɑ/ contrast in length: they may occur as both short and long. High vowels only occur as short.

The vowels may combine to form ten different diphthongs:

front front to back central to back central to front back to front back
close to mid /ie/ ie /yo/ yø/yö /ʉe/ ue, /ɨe/ ie/ïe /uo/ oe
close to open /ʉa/ ua
mid /oe/ øø/öö
mid to open /eæ/ ea /oæ/ åe /oa/ åa


Sound alternations

A typical feature of Southern Sami is the alternation of first-syllable vowels through Umlaut in the declension and conjugation of words. Often there are three different vowels that alternate with each other in the paradigm of a single word, for example as follows:

The Umlaut is often rendered in a table,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 context gramm. form
A klihtie jeptsie buvrie sjiellie gaevlie gåetie njueslie second syllable ie nominative
B klæhtan japtsan båvran sjeallan gaavlan gåatan njuaslan second syllable a illative
F klihtine jiptsine buvrine sjeelline geevline gøøtine njøøsline third syllable e comitative
meaning: 'mountain shelf''idiot''pillar storehouse''trash''critic''house''bum'
C færhtjoe bahtjoe rånhtjoe bearkoe baarmoe råafoe second syllable oe nominative
E fyrhtjese bohtjese ronhtjese byörkese båårmese rååfese second syllable e illative
meaning: 'girl'?'mountain ridge''meat''mountain side''shed'

On the other hand, Southern Sami is the only Sami language that does not have consonant gradation. Hence consonants in the middle of words never alternate in Southern Sami, even though such alternations are frequent in other Sami languages. Compare, for instance, Southern Sami nomme 'name' : nommesne 'in the name' to Northern Sami namma : namas, with the consonant gradation mm : m.


Southern Sámi has 8 cases:

Case Singular ending Plural ending
Nominative - -h
Genitive -n -i / -j
Accusative -m -jte / -ite / -idie
Inessive -sne / -snie -ine / -jne / -inie
Elative -ste / -stie -jste / -jstie
Illative -n / -se / -sse -jte / -ite / -idie
Comitative -ine / -jne / -inie -igujmie / -jgujmie
Essive -ine / -jne / -inie (no plural form)

Southern Sámi is one of the few Sami languages that still differentiate between the accusative and the genitive morphologically.



Southern Sami verbs conjugate for three grammatical persons:

Grammatical number

Southern Sami verbs conjugate for three grammatical numbers:

Negative verb

Southern Sami, like Finnish, the other Sámi languages and Estonian, has a negative verb. In Southern Sami, the negative verb conjugates according to tense (past and non-past), mood (indicative and imperative), person (1st, 2nd and 3rd) and number (singular, dual and plural). This differs from some other Sami languages, e.g. from Northern Sami, which do not conjugate according to tense.

Southern Sami negative verb, indicative forms
Non-past indicative Past indicative
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
1st im ean ibie idtjim idtjimen idtjimh
2nd ih idien idie idtjih idtjiden idtjidh
3rd ij eakan eah idtji idtjigan idtjin
Southern Sami negative verb, imperative forms
Non-past imperative Past imperative
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
1st aelliem aellien aellebe ollem ollen ollebe
2nd aellieh aelleden aellede ollh olleden ollede
3rd aellis aellis aellis olles olles olles


Like Skolt Sami and unlike other Sami languages, Southern Sami is an SOV language.


  1. Southern Sami at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  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. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Southern Sami". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
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