Revitalization of Inari Saami:
reversal language shift in
changing speech community
4.-5.3.2010 Bodø, SLDR Winter School
Annika Pasanen,
Ph.D.student at University of Helsinki, Department of
Finno-Ugrian Studies
Project coordinator in Anarâškielâ servi (‘Inari Saami
language association’)
Researcher’s position;
I am
• A Finn, speaking Inari Saami and North
• Coming originally from Central Finland,
living in Inari
• Related to Inari Saami language in many
roles: as language activist, project worker,
researcher and mother of language nest
Saami languages of Finland
•Alltogether nine living Saami
•Three of them spoken in Finland:
North, Inari and Skolt Saami
•Inari Saami spoken only in
Finland, in the municipality of Inari
•Inari: officially 4-lingual
Endangerment of language /
linguistic assimilation / language
• A → Ab → AB → aB → B (Haugen 1953)
• Typically happening during three generations
• 50-95 % of the world’s appr. 7000 spoken
languages in danger of disappearing until 2100
Do languages die or fall asleep?
UNESCO 2003: Major evaluative factors of
language vitality
Inter-generational language transmission
Absolute number of speakers
Proportion of speakers within the total population
Trends in existing language domains
Response to new domains and media
Materials for language education and literature
Governmental and institutional language attitudes and
policies, including official status and use
• Community members’ attitudes toward their own
• Amount and quality of documentation
Endangerment of Inari Saami
• Small amount of speakers, endemicity
• Position as a minority of a minority, “double•
Location in the crossroads of many cultures and
Humbleness and tolerance (!?)
Finnish education policy since the beginning of
the 20th century, boarding schools
The II World War and it’s consequences
Since 1940’s diminishing use as a home
Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove & Ole
Henrik Magga (2003: 43)
“Even if schools alone cannot
save languages, schools can
kill them more or less on their
Revitalization / reversal language
shift (RLS)
• (A → Ab → AB → aB → B)
→ aB / AB / Ab
Not returning to the same situation than 50 or
100 years ago – monolingualism – but to
Modernization in minority language
Ideological clarification (Fishman 1991) as an
important element of revitalization: what’s the
goal and by which means can it be reached
Early steps in revitalization of Inari
• 1970s: Instruction of Inari Saami in
primary school of Inari is started
• 1980s: Broadcasts in Sámi Radio begin;
Anarâškielâ servi ry is founded; Journal
Anarâš is founded; language courses for
adults begin
Year 1997 as a watershed of the
revitalization of Inari Saami
• Four speakers under the age of 30
• Very little active speakers under the age of
• Marginal role in school, some use in media
and literature, very little public discussion
• Two language nests were founded, one in
Inari and another one in Ivalo
Language nest: what is it?
• A kind of early, total immersion in a local
minority / indigenous language
Kindergarten or daycare group, in which the
staff uses only the minority language in question
from the first day
Context of the activity: endangerment of the
language, interruption of the inter-generational
language transmission → children don’t learn the
language at home
Impacts of language nests
• Since 2000 Inari Saami as a medium of tuition in primary
school of Inari
Reversal language shift in some families and many other
social networks
Better status and prestige for the language
More visibliness in the community
Bilingualism of the youngest generation: until these days
appr. 50 children learnt Inari Saami in language nests
More use in media and literature; developing children’s
Adults learning the language
Current challenges in the speech
Problem of the lost generation
Lack of teaching materials
Lack of financial and human resources
Few Inari Saami –speaking domains for children
outside language nest and school
Making Inari Saami a natural communication
language among children and youngsters –
realism or uthopy?
Restarting or widening the inter-generational
language transmission at home – how?
Solving the problem of the lost generation:
complementary education of Inari Saami
• Intensive language course for adults, since August 2009
until August 2010
Organised by Giellagas Institute of the Oulu University,
together with Anarâškielâ servi and Sámi Education
Target group: adult members of the community, teachers
and other professionals critical for language transmission
Goal of the education: to produce such language skills,
that after the education participants are able to work in
Inari Saami
Formal language instruction together with innovative
methods like master-apprentice -program
Solving the problem of teaching
materials (?): Oppâkirje-ráp
Inari Saami as a success story in the context
of global revitalization movement – why and
• Small amount of speakers, endemicity?!
• Tolerance toward change: change of the language,
speech community, livelihoods, culture
Acceptance of support coming from outside
Ideological clarification (Fishman 1991) and commitment
of the speakers
Clear focus on language transmission and creating
domains for language use
LANGUAGE – even if it excludes many people
Effective methods chosen: language nest, bilingual
And of course: brave, innovative, hard-working activists
of Anarâškielâ servi
“Language gap” describing intergenerational language transmission
has never
broken off
transmission has
broken off and
been restarted
How would you place
Saami languages ?
has broken off

Revitalization of Inari Saami: reversal language shift in