Saving an Arctic Indigenous Language, Child by Child

By Jane George

June 21, 2016 – In Finland’s capital city, about 1,000 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle, a group of young children can now learn the Saami language, spoken among Indigenous Saami across northern Finland, Sweden, Russia and Norway.

Ten children, aged one to five, attend the Máttabiegga Giellabeassi (South Wind Language Nest) located near the busy downtown core of Helsinki.

There, these children, some of the 1,000 Saami now estimated to live in the city of about one million people, will get the opportunity to do what most of their parents didn’t: grow up hearing their Indigenous language.

While the children can speak Finnish to each other and their caregivers at the nest, located in a cozy two-bedroom apartment, they hear only Saami, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., every day.

To reinforce their language learning, there are books, videos, signs with prompts in Saami, and many games, such as a memory card game which features photos of Arctic wildlife and Saami tools.

“The ideal way to learn the language is through doing,” educator Ida-Maria Helander said — and that’s why the concept of a nest works.

To strengthen the children’s sense of cultural attachment, Saami traditional art forms also decorate the walls. Even the bathroom features two silhouettes of a Saami woman and a Saami man in traditional clothing.

Sometimes meals feature northern foods, such as reindeer, and there are days when everyone wears their Saami outfits.

Still the most widely spoken of all the Saami dialects, the number of Northern Saami speakers is estimated to be somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000. Of these, about 2,000 live in Finland — but the number of fluent speakers, especially among youth, said Helander, has decreased as they opt to speak Finnish, a language which is related to Saami.

READ FULL ARTICLE:Nunatsiaqonline 2016-06-21: NEWS: Saving An Arctic Indigenous Language, Child By Child“. N. p., 2016. Web. 24 June 2016.

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