Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

How to Revitalize an Indigenous Language? Adults' Experiences of the Revitalization of the SÁMi Language

Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

How to Revitalize an Indigenous Language? Adults' Experiences of the Revitalization of the SÁMi Language

Article excerpt


The purpose of the research: Language revitalization means that an extinct language is taken in active use. Language revitalization can also save an endangered language from extinction. The Sámi form an indigenous people whose language is endangered. A marginal group of people with Sámi ancestry has revitalized the Sámi language. The materials and methods: This study focused on these adult Sámi-speaking people (N=10) who had revitalized the language. They were interviewed of their language revitalization process, especially how they became language revitalizers. This was a narrative study. The results: The results show that language revitalization is a process that demands strong motivation and courage at the individual level. The process includes difficult experiences and the support from the community is not any obviousness. The study contributes information about a less studied and topical viewpoint to the revitalization of indigenous languages.

Key words: Indigenous people; Language revitalization; Linguistic diversity; Language maintenance; Identity; Motivation


This article discusses the phenomenon of language revitalization based on the narratives of Sámi language revitalizers. During the past few decades, language revitalization has aroused more and more interest because indigenous peoples' awareness of the significance of language has strengtehened and concern of the extinction of small languages has increased.

Michal Krauss (1992; 1998) was the first to pay attention to language extinction. His work started the scientific discussion about and research on endangered languages at the beginning of the 1990s (Krauss, 1992; 1998). Minority and indigenous populations have critably starter to revitalize their languages because the decrease in the number of language-speakers has been worrying (see Buss & Lauren, 1997; Dorian, 1994; Harrison & Papa, 2005; Reyhner, 1999; Rohani et al., 2012; Zuckermann & Walsh, 2011).

Successful language revitalization necessitates that the nation state has an official language policy supporting minority languages. In addition to this, the society should have positive or neutral attitude toward minority languages and an active mouthpiece who is interested and enthusiastic about language revitalization and who becomes heard (Fishman, 1991; Huss, 2012). However, language revitalization does not begin with anyway near as benign circumstances as described above.

The Sámi language belongs to the Finno-Ugric languages. Traditionally, linguistics distinguihes ten different Sámi languages. Nine of them are still spoken in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, and all of them are endangered. According to the definition of endangered languages, the North Sámi language (15,000-25,000 speakers) is endangered; Lule Sámi (2,000 speakers), South Sámi (700 speakers), Inari Sámi (300 speakers), and Skolt Sámi (430 speakers) languages are seriously endangered, and Ter Sámi (< 20), Pite Sámi (20 Speakers) and Urne Sámi (20 speakers) are critically endangered. The last speaker of Akkala Sámi died in 2003 (SeurujärviKari, 2011; Unesco Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, 2011; Ylikoski, 2009). Earlier, there were even more Sámi languages: for example, Kittilä Sámi, Kemi Sámi, and Kuolajärvi Sámi have already disappreared (Aikio, 2000; Itkonen, 1948a; Itkonen & Äimä, 1918; Saarikivi, 2011; Tegengren, 1952).

This article focuses on the North Sámi language. At the moment, North Sámi is spoken in the northern parts of Finland, Sweden, and Norway by approximately 15,00025,000 speakers. It is that largest Sámi language, and according to some estimations, as much as 75 % of Sámispeakers speak North Sámi (Ylikoski, 2009).


Language revitalization can be defined from various points of view. Basically, it refers to action that aims at revitalizing a language in areas where it is in danger of disappearing. …

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