Language learning company uTalk has launched an app to help save the threatened Southern Saami language spoken by reindeer herders in Norway and Sweden.
The herders are nicknamed the people of eight seasons because their culture divides the calendar year into eight or more seasons to tie in with the life cycle of the reindeer.
But the Southern Saami language spoken by the herders – and others who hunt or fish – is now classified as severely endangered by UNESCO after the number of people speaking it dwindled to less than 1,000 across Norway and Sweden.
uTalk MD Richard Howeson says: “Southern Saami is an amazing language with a whole vocabulary built around the herding way of life and helping to save it is really important because it’s an oral document of a whole culture.
“We’re glad that, thanks to uTalk’s unique design, we can add both mainstream and overlooked languages, like Southern Saami, to our range of nearly 140,” he adds.
According to Southern Saami translator Helen Blind Brandsfjell the language has evolved to describe a way of life with a lot of words to describe reindeer, snow conditions and ways of moving through the snow.
Helen, who is also a sixth generation herder, says: “There’s so many words for snow: wet, dry, windy and also which way the snow is blowing. It’s important that we use a precise word to describe weather conditions because it’s a question of survival – we need to know when to avoid danger.”
Choosing which word to use for snow on the app was “a long discussion”, she says, but they decided to use the word “lopme” because it could be used anytime.
uTalk brought out the Southern Saami app after a plea from the Saami community group, Aajege, which promotes and supports the language and culture in Norway and Sweden.
According to Aajege, the language was banned in schools in Norway and Sweden for two generations because successive governments wanted everyone to speak the majority national language. This policy changed from the 1950s/60s onwards but, Aajege says, there’s now a shortage of Southern Saami language learning materials and teachers.
The uTalk app, Helen says, should help keep the language alive and help preserve a “magical way of life where nature decides what you do each day” depending on the demands of the weather, the reindeer and other wildlife.
“There’s a lot of knowledge in the language which you can’t express as easily in other languages which is why it’s so important to keep it,” she says.
The Southern Saami app is available at utalk.com/app