The Sámi languages belong to the indigenous languages of Europe and are most closely related, within the Uralic language family, to the Baltic- Finnic languages (such as Finnish and Estonian). Sámi is spoken in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia.
In Finland, there are speakers of three Sámi languages: North Sámi, Inari Sámi and Skolt Sámi. With approximately 20,000 speakers in Finland, Norway and Sweden, North Sámi is the most widely spoken of these languages. In Finland, North Sámi is spoken by approximately 2 000 people. Inari Sámi is spoken exclusively in Finland. Skolt Sámi is spoken in Finland and in Russia. In Finland, both languages have approximately 300 speakers, most of whom live in Inari, the only municipality in Finland with four official languages: Finnish and three Sámi languages.
Under the pressure of the dominant languages, many Sámi have lost their ability to speak their original language. Since the ethnic awakening in the 1960s, a variety of measures have been taken to preserve the Sámi languages and bring them back to life.
The Sámi Language Act of 1992, revised in 2004, made Sámi an official language. The Sámi have the right to use the Sámi languages, without prior request, when dealing with any state or municipal authorities or enterprises within the Sámi Homeland. The authorities have the obligation to ensure that these linguistic rights are secured in practice. In Utsjoki, the only municipality in Finland with the Sámi as a majority, Sámi and Finnish have nearly equal status.
Education in the Sámi language
School teaching in the Sámi language dates back to the early years of the comprehensive school system. It was first provided in the mid-1970s for pupils in Utsjoki and Inari. According to the law, Sámi-speaking pupils living in the Sámi Homeland have the right to receive most of their primary education in the Sámi language. The Sámi language can be the teaching language for the school, or pupils must be able to study it as their mother tongue or as an elective subject.
All primary and lower secondary schools within the Sámi Homeland provide education in the Sámi language. Students leaving lower secondary education have been able to include a North Sámi or Inari Sámi exam in their Matriculation Examination since the 1990s, and Skolt Sámi has been a further option since 2005. Outside the Sámi Homeland, education in and on the Sámi language is scarce, but on the increase. Online teaching is one of the methods used.
Teaching materials in the Sámi language are planned and funded by the Education Board of the Sámi Parliament. The Sámi Educational Centre “Sámi oahpahus guovddáš”, founded to serve the Sámi Homeland and local businesses, is the only institution in Finland providing vocational education in the Sámi language.
The Sámi language can be studied at three universities: Oulu, Helsinki and Lapland. The Giellagas Institute of the University of Oulu has special responsibility for developing the Sámi language, culture and research nationwide.