Nordic people turn to Israel for linguistic aid

The Sami are the only official indigenous people of Scandinavia, but they’re looking south, far south, for help preserving their fading native language.

The Sami, with roots as reindeer herders in the northern reaches of Scandinavia and Russia, are turning to Israel for assistance in keeping their languages alive.

A Sami delegation from Norway spent five days in Israel earlier this year, hoping the Jewish state’s experience reviving the once-dormant ancient Hebrew language can provide a blueprint for them, according to the Associated Press.

“Over the past century, Israel has transformed Hebrew, once reserved almost exclusively for prayer and religious study, into a vibrant, modern language,” according to the wire service. “Through its “ulpan” language immersion program, it has taught a common tongue to immigrants from all over the world, helping the young state absorb generations of newcomers.”

Sami is a general name for a group of Uralic languages. Sami is frequently and incorrectly believed to be a single language. There are nine different extant of Sami, ranging from Northern Sami, with more than 20,000 speakers, to Ter Sami, with two speakers.

The Sami, formerly known outside their community as Lapps, a term now abandoned because the Sami regard it as derogatory, have tried different methods for the past generation to boost the number of fluent Sami speakers, without success, said Odd Willenfeldt, principal of Sami School for Mid-Norway and a member of the delegation.

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