Saving Sami one rap at a time

The Sami language is spoken in Northern Norway and Finland by an ever-decreasing group of people – less than 20,000 people now speak the language, and numbers are only in decline as Norwegian and Finnish creep further and further up the Nordic region, and it may one day usurp Sami entirely.

However, Nils Rune Utsi is a man on a mission to reverse this downward trend in Sami speakers. In an attempt to boost interest in the language, he founded a rap group called Slincraze, rapping in Sami to make this language more relevant for younger generations and to stimulate interest with a view to making sure Sami stays in the consciousness of native speakers.

“I rap in Sami because it is my language and it feels so natural to me,” said Nils, “and of course I want to preserve the language in a way the youth can understand it… I feel it’s one of my duties to teach people to be proud to be a Sami.”

The concept is simple: if the Sami youth associate the language with something young, fresh and fun, they may feel more inclined to embrace the language themselves and want to keep the language alive. Of course, if Sami youngsters think about the language in a positive way, they will be more likely to ensure their own children learn Sami.

As is the case in so many parts of the world, the lesser-spoken languages are in danger of dying out at the hands of the dominant languages of the region. Lots of Sami children may well also speak Finnish and Norwegian, and may prefer to use these languages as a matter of prestige or to improve their chances in the job market.

There is a similar situation in Wales, where fewer children are learning to speak Welsh as English is regarded the language of prestige and global importance. There is a scene in the TV show Gavin and Stacey where Bryn, a man who has lived in Wales all his life, tells a group of Englishmen that ‘Nobody in Wales speaks Welsh’. Could we be seeing a similar situation arising in the future with Sami?

Take a look at one of Nils’ songs on YouTube:

If you were a speaker of an endangered language, how would you go about making it relevant and a desirable language to learn?

Find out more about Nils’ pledge to save Sami>>

Learn how to speak Sami>>