Where in the World is Samiland?

sapmi

Have you ever looked at a map of Scandinavia and ever wondered if people lived in that northernmost area that encompasses Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia?

Turns out that people do live there. (There are also residents of Slavbard in the Polar North, but that’s another story).

This area is commonly known by Americans as “Lapland”, which nowadays denotes a purely geographical meaning (as opposed to the geopolitical “Samiland”, which is an area with some autonomy from the Sami Parliament).

The inhabitants of Samiland were formerly known as the “Lapps” and the language as “Lappish”, but these terms have fallen out of use (even though derivatives of them still appear in place names). Instead, they are referred to as Sámi People and the Sámi Language, and the land is Sápmi, or Samiland.

How many people live in this area? About 70,000.

What sort of languages are spoken there? In addition to the national languages of the countries that own the territory on a map (Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Russian), there are the Sami Languages, or the indigenous languages of the indigenous Sami People.

(At this point I would like to say that whether or not I used the accent for “Sámi” is completely arbitrary.)

The most commonly spoken of these Sami Languages is Northern Sami, which I wrote about here.

The Sami Languages, all of which are endangered, belong to the Finno-Ugric Language family, and the Northern Sami Language in particular is about as distant from Finnish as English is from German. Both Finnish and Northern Sami use non-Latin versions of the months that denote aspects of that time of the year (unlike Estonian and Hungarian, which use the Latin names the way English speakers do).

There are many similarities in vocabulary besides, although Northern Sami does use fewer cases and more complicated “consonant gradation” (which is shifting a consonant in a word to a weaker form when it declines—in Finnish, “kaikki” [everything] would become “kaiken” [of everything] when declined in the genitive. Note that the “kk” becomes “k”. Northern Sami uses a similar system).

There are other Sami Languages aside from Northern Sami. Don’t ask me about them because I haven’t studied any of them. They are not mutually intelligible with one another, although their vocabularies are similar.

Here is the flag, my personal favorite flag on the face of the earth. I have heard a theory that the colors refer to Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, but…like I know…

sapmi

The Sami are also well-known for a wordless singing known as “Yoiking”. You may have already heard yoiking before…if you have seen the opening titles for Disney’s Frozen. Yes, this was not an original creation, but rather the “Yoik of the Earth”. Have a listen and refresh your memory:

(Note: the latter portion of this version does involve a mashup with a Norwegian Christmas hymn).

Here is an a cappella version of the national anthem:

I could get into some of the politics of tensions that occur between the Sami and the various countries, but you are welcome to do research on that on your own.

In the meantime, why not treat yourself to some radio:

http://radio.nrk.no/direkte/sapmi

Or, if you would prefer, why not some television? (This links to the version with Norwegian subtitles, but you can easily find the same with Swedish or Finnish subtitles if you poke around the web, or ask about it in the comments).

http://tv.nrk.no/serie/oddasat-tv

I would like to dedicate this post to anyone who asked me about the Sami at any point. This is for you.

 

The Polyglot Barrrrr!

Good thing I forgot to write this yesterday, otherwise I would have realized the wonderful title opportunity too late. (Happy International Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day! Arr! True story: I first heard about International Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day through a Playbill for the New York City Opera’s The Pirates of Penzance)

The second time at the NYC Polyglot Bar didn’t nearly have as many Yiddish speakers, with German- and Spanish-speakers dominating instead (although Yiddish did have a significant presence).

Apparently there was someone who interviewed me for a story. More on that later, because this post is about my reflections from Wednesday Night:

  • I remember Ernest Hemingway having noted that in every port of the world there are at least two Estonians.

 

No Estonians were present at this gathering, and I was the only Estonian-speaker present, but there were at least six other people who said that they knew/lived with/met with one Estonian (or more).

 

Some things don’t change…

 

  • This time I wasn’t the only speaker of a Native American Language present (there was a Quechua speaker who was very intrigued by Greenlandic. True story: if I were on the 2013 Peru trip with my family instead of in a German Village, I probably would speak Quechua very well by now. But I didn’t, so I had other interests. Maybe one day…who knows?)

 

  • Nor was I the only speaker of a Scandinavian Language present. There was a fellow Danish-speaker present as well. Fairly interesting: he found Swedish and Norwegian quite elusive (given as he didn’t study either of them), despite the fact that these languages are so similar. So similar, in fact, that I made a discovery this week that the singing voice of “The Little Mermaid” was done by the same person (Sissel Kyrkjebø, a Norwegian singer) in the Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish dubs.

 

  • While on the topic of Scandinavian Languages, I had my tag on and I was speaking in Hebrew with a colleague on the subway on the way back. Apparently I got asked by someone leaving the subway if I spoke all of those languages. That someone was a Swede, who was extraordinarily overjoyed that her mother tongue was on my tag. And you can probably guess what language the remainder of that conversation was in (hint: not English)

 

  • My command of Danish and German I felt was strong, I wasn’t grasping for words although I might have slipped up some grammar points (did that in English, too). Yiddish was slightly weaker but still good (despite one time in which I misheard something and answered a completely irrelevant question). My Spanish and Hebrew leave a lot to be desired. Specifically, I felt myself pausing too often and making grammatical mistakes more than I would in any of my comfortable languages. Confidence, too, was an issue. My ability to understand everything in all four of these languages was perfect, however. There were at most three words that I missed between the four as far as the conversations went.

 

  • One nickname I got was “the guy with the Faroese book”. It made its appearance when people asked me how I learned the language. Obviously the book wasn’t the only thing.

 

  • The Northern Sami phrasebook also seemed to be quite popular. Interestingly, nobody asked me to speak any of it. The one language I get most commonly asked to speak for people to hear is, obviously, Greenlandic.

 

  • Apparently someone told me that spoken Dutch sounds like someone talking with a potato stuffed in his or her mouth. Any Scandinavian will definitely recognize this idea as having been applied one-too-many-times to refer to the Danish Language. Asked to say something about Danish, I recalled the not particularly politically correct observation of one of my German colleagues that “Danish sounds like vomiting”.

 

  • Portuguese and Dutch were a lot better off than Spanish and Hebrew. I made significant progress with both ever since I got back to the United States. I’m at a point where if I don’t have enough media of both in my life, however, my knowledge of both will lapse significantly. I was told with both that my accent is really good (heard the same for Yiddish).

 

  • I was asked what my favorite language is. I gave an answer in multiple capacities. That is a post for another time.

 

  • Got asked my favorite language for cursing. This one I can give: Finnish. Without a doubt. I’m not going to teach you any Finnish bad words here. Send me a private message or, better yet, meet me at a polyglot event. But if you know me in person and spent any time around me, you’ll definitely recognize a few (unfortunately, I tend to use them quite frequently when agitated).

 

  • Now here’s the biggest improvement: I wasn’t mixing up any German and Yiddish this time! Boom! But while German/Yiddish and Swedish/Norwegian are out of the picture, now I have a new culprit: Spanish and Portuguese. Who knew?

 

There were some people who took my picture / interviewed me / asked me questions etc. Quite exciting! If anything comes of such things, they will make their way to this blog in due time.

 

Anyhow, a diagnostic on what I need to do from this time until the next:

 

  • Make Spanish and Hebrew television a part of my life, and keep it that way until I feel that I get good with both. I did this with the Scandinavian Languages for the past year and I don’t regret it one bit. Now I have to do the same for the languages I learned in school.

 

  • To a lesser extent, given as I have only recently gotten quite good with both Dutch and Portuguese, I need to cement their “entrance into the echelons” with media as well, and training myself to think in these languages in all situations.

 

 

  • My skills in Russian, Polish and Northern Sami really, REALLY leave a lot of room for improvement. I’m not even close to conversational anymore, and a lot of this has to do with the fact that I’ve neglected them for other buddies. Plan 1: Ođđasat (the News in Northern Sami) every day. Plan 2: Bring back the Russian and Polish Music. Plan 3: Don’t skim the Russian and Polish posts on Facebook. Plan 4: don’t shy away form Slavic YouTubing. Plan 5: Don’t neglect my Nothern Sami Notes (from Gulahalan, etc).

 

  • Now it comes for a time for me to really wonder: how many languages do I actually have time for? Do I have time for learning a new one? Can I actually maintain close to twenty languages and be ready to converse in them readily on a casual level? Will people even believe me? Will people doubt my resume?

 

My local friends (and many others) tell me that I can definitely manage this, and already I seem to have skewed the odds in my favor by choosing languages in various family groups (Scandinavian / West Germanic / Finnic / Romance Languages).

 

Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll know when it will be time to drop one of my language projects when I fall out in love with it.

 

For now, however, I won’t stop my new acquisitions. And if the day comes in which I lose my attachment to one of my projects, then I will find no major problem with letting them go (I could relearn them whenever I want, and a “good head start” will certainly be useful should I choose that path).

 

But I’ve noticed that one video a day in various languages is usually enough for me to ensure that I don’t forget anything (or…as much). And the journey of learning new vocabulary never stops…not even for my native language…

 

For that matter, my journey of peering into new worlds won’t stop either…

Polyglot Report Card for September 2014 (Part 3)

Part 2 is here: https://worldwithlittleworlds.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/polyglot-report-card-for-september-2014-part-2/

I had felt my interest for Northern Sami crash ever since I moved into New York about a week ago. That isn’t to say that I intend on forgetting everything, but that I am allocating my energy towards other projects at the moment.

There are a number of reasons for this. For one, I am quite irritated by Ođđasat’s excessive use of subtitles in languages other than Sami, although maybe there are shows in which it would be toned down. On the other hand, the relatively low number of speakers could also be a thing. Maybe I’ll get lucky in New York City and meet someone who speaks the language (not entirely unthinkable). Maybe one day I’ll get to Samiland (also possible).

For now, it seems that my goal with Northern Sami was to realize its connections to its culture and the other Nordic Languages.

sapmi

I feel that I have accomplished that, although it will definitely slip away without practice and I may find myself enchanted by the prospect of learning it very intensely yet again, as I had over the course over the past few months.

In contrast to Nothern Sami is Estonian, the rising star among my weakest languages.

eesti

I’m struggling with getting the past tense down, but certainly the idea that there is no true future tense in Estonian (or in any of the Finno-Ugric Languages) is a relief.

I expected the cases to be really easy after my Finnish venture had required me to master those ones, but “easy” barely exists in regards to learning any language at all. The plural declensions really trip me up, even now. On the plus side, I know that with enough flash cards and enough immersion these problems can go away.

Only during my last few days in Connecticut did I really master the “õ” sound, and if it weren’t for the songs in “Lumekuninganna ja Igavene Talv” (The Snow Queen and the Eternal Winter”…oh, what on earth could THAT be?), then I think I’d still have an issue with it.

Luckily it occurred to me that the sound wasn’t quite as nasal as I thought it was…

Listen for the words “Kas kõik on korras?” (is everything okay?) at around 1:17 to sample this mystifying phoneme:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-62nRWxOi0

Speaking of nasal vowels, it occurs to me that, thanks largely to Facebook and the time I spent in the country, my ability to forget elementary Polish leaves a lot to be desired (Saturday I went to the Columbia bookstore to browse and, of course, there was Polish spoken by a family there…)

polska polska

What also leaves a lot to be desired is my ability to improve. The reason? Because I’ve obviously been focusing on everything else. The only reason I haven’t forgotten absolutely everything (and I really wasn’t that good to begin with) is because of music, social media, and memories.

russkij flag

I literally have the exact same situation with Russian as well, which I considered forgotten until a friend of mine required some help in reading the Russian alphabet and some basics. Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t forgotten nearly as much as I had thought. But I don’t think I speak either of these remotely well, but maybe one day the passion will come back.

rf

French and Italian are going by well in Duolingo land, and I feel that I am on the cusp of getting basic conversational skills in Italian, but I’m nowhere near where I am with Brazilian Portuguese (whose tree I intend to finish first).

 

italia

On the other hand, I have been committing lots of time to learning Faroese vocabulary, but the accent still remains a bit of a problem, although the pronunciation less so. It feels like all of the Scandinavian Languages’ accents were thrown in a blender and out came a Faroese accent…no, really!

foroyar

There’s literally one thing that is holding me back from becoming conversational: the grammar. Right now I’m focusing on vocabulary, but once I get down the silliness with nouns and verbs, I may make extraordinary progress with Faroese and may quickly have it in the category of my linguistic “best buddies”. Once I reach that point, Icelandic won’t be too far behind. You can take my word for it!

Last but not least, Romansh. I’ve been pumping words into my brain with spaced repetition, and because of its similarity to the Romance Languages, this is easy for me. Putting together sentences? Getting the pronunciation perfect? I may need to buy a book for that…or, if I’m feeling particularly lazy, I could always visit www.rtr.ch

switzerland

True story: Romansh came up in a discussion I had this past Friday evening. And not at my own doing.

Anyhow, there may be languages learned, languages forgotten, and stasis in learning.

There will be mirth. There will be disappointments. There will be times when I feel very proud, and other times when I am tempted to throw phrasebooks or notebooks out the window (and not just notebooks with pages…).

But despite the pain, the self-consciousness, and the struggles, I’m glad I take these journeys. There are so many worlds opened to me as a result of them.

The report card is done!

So what am I waiting for?

Let new adventures begin!

My Small Stimulating Samiland: Lessons from Immersion

Last week, during my home visit, I dedicated a handful of hours to speaking nothing else aside from Northern Sami, with my phrasebook in one hand and Giellatekno within reach. The only person who was present at the time was my mother, and I agreed to not avoid English in public (in the event that something needed to be purchased) nor would I refrain from writing it.
Due to time constraints, no video was made, but here are some of my observations:
(1) The Dual Pronouns and Conjugations in Northern Sami weren’t particularly strange after a significant amount of usage. Back when I first started, I had to constantly remind myself not to use “mii” instead of “moai” when there were only two people involved. Given as there was only one other person on the premises during my immersion scheme, I had learned to block the plural pronouns out of my mind completely, except when talking about a peer group or so.

(2) An important thing I noticed is that the language wasn’t about painful grammar tables any more. I had a quick reference in my notebook that I had used for ensuring that I got verbs correct.

After a while, I realized that the most important thing for memorizing the contents of a table wasn’t looking at the table and trying to memorize it (this toxic habit may have been in part due to my having studied Classics in college…a table-memorization binge is certainly not helpful with living languages at all!)

What you must do instead, however, is use the language, if only by talking to yourself, and thereby inculcate the grammatical systems into your conscious in this manner.

This will be particularly helpful later on when I focus more on Faroese, which has a notorious grammar system closer to that of ancient languages. I’m not afraid, however, because now I know exactly what to do! And so do you, for that matter!

(3) I remember giving my Greenlandic phrasebook to someone back when I lived in Heidelberg. He proceeded to take a look through it, and his immediate observation was this:

“It is interesting that, instead of words like “house” and “computer” they have words for, like, “kayak” and “polar bear”. (the fact is, “house” and “computer” did also exist in the book, just not in the first few pages…)

What does this have to do with my little Samiland? Well…in my book, there are two pages devoted to reindeer-related vocabulary, one of the unique features of the Northern Sami Language (and possibly the other Sami Languages? Can anyone help me here?)

I don’t particularly need reindeer related vocabulary when living in an American suburb. Not right now, at least…

Similarly, Giellatekno’s dictionary, the Freelang dictionary, Sami Wikipedia, and the phrasebook all failed to offer any word in Northern Sami for “dolphin”. Therefore, I opted for some vague corruption of Finnish “delfiini” (I cannot remember exactly what I said).

This is something that just simply does not occur with more commonly spoken languages.

One reason I decided to start this blog was because I knew that I would be entering territory that almost no one had entered. Therefore, it is my duty to share these experiences.

(4) Asked to describe Ođđasat (the Sami News Channel) at a party yesterday, I related the following:

“Picture this: Person speaking in Swedish with Northern Sami voiceovers and Norwegian Subtitles”.

My language filter can sometimes have significant problems with this “Kauderwelsch”, even with Swedish and Norwegian being very close to each other.

Therefore, I primarily opted to focus on speaking rather than media in order to hone my skills, because I fear that, more often than not, getting material in 100% Sami is just simply not going to happen (hopefully the future will change this). Even on Kringvarp Føroya (the Faroese Media Service) this is a bit of an issue with Danish spokespeople frequently appearing (although, very interestingly, Greenlandic TV is usually kept in one language at a time).

(5) The very fact that I had devoted time to this endeavor made me excited for the day in which I may end up visiting Samiland. It is difficult to explain the connectionthat I feel toward the land and this culture, I suppose that attraction to cultures and hobbies just cannot be explained at times…

…regardless, there are some language journeys of mine that I have slowed down or sometimes stopped altogether, but this is one that I am very much intent on continuing.

Coming later on this week: a software surprise!