The Sami Alphabet in The Norwegian Curriculum

Today the Norwegian social-democratic Minister of Work and Integration Bjarne Håkon Hanssen officially opened the «Sami Finger Posts», created to help the teaching of the Sami alphabet in Norwegian schools. He did this by going back to school at Slemdal skole to learn the Northern Sami alphabet in a class of twelve year olds.

In the summer of last year the Sami alphabet was added to the Norwegian curriculum for the seventh grade of the primary school. This led to quite some discussions, in which especially party president Siv Jensen of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet) was noticed saying she didn't even know Sami was an official language in Norway, and that she didn't know whether she should laugh or cry. A lot of people didn't know in their turn whether they were supposed to laugh or cry at Siv Jensen's remark.

There was a lot of response from a number of pedagogues too. In their typical May '68 style they proclaimed that learning the Sami alphabet was just a waste of time. Learning any information at all is actually taboo in the Norwegian schools: pupils do not attend school to learn things, but to acquire social skills and have fun. In international tests, Norwegian education usually doesn't score very high, especially when compared to its neighbor Finland, where old fashioned concepts like diligence and discipline have not yet been banned from school. They even teach Latin there! Whenever I really want to scare my Norwegian colleagues, I tell them I had six years of Latin at secondary school in Flanders. This doesn't mean that these Norwegian pedagogues become somewhat humble when they are confronted with those international comparisons: each time the Norwegian education system gets a bad mark, they are quick to point out that the social merits of the Norwegian system aren't taken into account in those tests. I don't think they'll ever get it.

There is another problem. Thousands of teachers who have never learned the Sami alphabet, let alone anything more about the Sami language than that it's awfully difficult, will have to teach the Sami alphabet to their pupils. But what does the Sami alphabet look like? Is it like Chinese, with thousands of strange little drawings? Or is it more like Cyrillic or Georgian, consisting of a dozen or two of funny scribblings that look like letters? Well no, because even though there are three variants of it, it is based on the Latin alphabet, just like Norwegian, and most of the letters are actually completely identical to those used in Norwegian. One may wonder what a teacher is doing in front of a class-room if he can't figure out the Sami alphabet in an evening or two, and whether it really will hurt these twelve year olds to be confronted with it for a few hours. I'm actually more surprised --but maybe I am just speaking as a Fleming-- that they're not required to learn more Sami, like some basic grammar and a bit of vocabulary, so they can say hello to their fellow-countrymen if they find themselves in the far North some day. But perhaps that's not the sort of social skill that Norwegian pedagogues favour, because then those poor children actually will have to learn something at school…

Bob Doney

Just because the Samis you saw all spoke excellent English, they still have a language of their own and with the same need to learn it properly.

Same old Sami

I'm sure you're right, Maria. Another thing I noticed about the ones on the telly was that they liked a joke and laughed a lot.

80,000 to 100,000 speakers of Sami

There are actually 80,000 to 100,000 speakers. But then again, is that the point? How many percents of the inhabitants should speak an official language to make it worth while? In Belgium, 60% of the population speaks Dutch, but not even then the queen thinks she should learn it...

Why is it leftist, FLLaw

to be taught your native language in a proper manner - just because there is only 20 thousand dayly speakers?

Sami stuff

There was a very interesting programme on the BBC a couple of nights ago about the Sami. It featured a few Sami people and a lot of reindeer, and the highlight was some people being towed around by reindeer in races. They didn't seem to need a special alphabet, as they all seemed to speak excellent English. Well the people did. I'm not sure about the reindeer as they weren't interviewed.