Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

There are about ten Sámi languages alive today, spoken across the northern parts of Scandinavia and eastern Russia. But they are among the many Indigenous languages around the world that are at risk of disappearing. 

Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

You might have heard that there are over 200 words for snow in Sámi languages, which is unsurprising, given the climate of the Sámi homeland in Northern Europe. But there’s a lot more to the languages than snow. 

The Swedish Sámi parliament website says that “language is the bearer of cultural heritage and reflects our people’s common view of life and values. Language transfers knowledge about nature and the world.”

But Sámi language fluency has been declining rapidly for decades. Pite Sámi is critically endangered, with fewer than 50 living speakers, all in Sweden. Today, Northern Sámi is the most widely spoken. 

Due to assimilation policies in all the countries the Sámi found themselves in, older generations of Sámi people were not allowed to speak their own language in school, meaning some languages have already been lost. 

The Local spoke to speakers and researchers of the languages to find out some of the most unique and beautiful words still in use.

1. Sápmi  

Sápmi is the Northern Sámi word for the traditional dwelling place of the Sámi people, which encompasses the northern parts of Scandinavia and the Kola peninsula of Russia. Since the 20th century, national borders and state policies have divided Sápmi and the people who call it home. 

Location of Sápmi in Europe

A map of where Sápmi in northern Europe. Map: Wikipedia

Elle Rávdná Näkkäläjärvi is part of the Sámiskeveivisere, Sámi Pathfinders, a group of young Sámi people who visit high schools and teach students about Sámi culture. She says Sápmi itself is one of her favourite words. 

“The word means a Sápmi without borders, it means relatives, sisters and brothers, and community,” she says. 

2. Eadni 

Eadni means ‘mother’ in Northern Sámi.

“It’s one of the first words that children learn,” says Berit Anne Bals Baal, a lecturer of linguistics at the National Centre for Sámi Language in Education at the Sámi University College, who chose it as her favourite word.

It has a complex phonology (sound system), and is similar to the Northern Sámi word for Earth, which is eanan

3. Guohtun  

Guohtun is a Northern Sámi word that describes the ideal conditions for reindeer to find lichen to graze under a covering of snow. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s one of those words that resists simple translation.

Lars Miguel Utsi, the Vice President of the Sámi parliament of Sweden, says, “Guohtun is a very complex word. It encompasses geography, plants, lichens, snow, and reindeer. It exemplifies the language and its connection to land and water.”

“It’s a very soothing word because it means that there is food and the reindeer can reach it,” he said. 

4. Giitu  

Giitu means ‘thank you’ in Northern Sámi.

Anyone who knows some Finnish might notice that it sounds quite similar to the Finnish word for ‘thank you’, kiitos. That’s because Sámi languages have more in common with Finnish than with Swedish, Danish or Norwegian, coming from the same language family: Finno-Uralic. 

You can respond to giitu with leage buorre which means ‘you’re welcome.’

5. Čáiddas 

This means snowball. We couldn’t have a list of Sámi words without having something specific to snow, could we? 

6. Vuovdi 

This means forest in Northern Sámi. Vast swathes of Sápmi is covered in forest. Sámi reindeer herders rely on old-growth forests to let their reindeer graze; they eat the kind of lichen that only grows in older forests. 

7. Boazu

Reindeer husbandry is a vital part of Sámi life. Photo: Image Bank Sweden

In all Sámi languages, there are two different words for reindeer. In Northern Sámi there is goddi and boazu.

Boazu means a reindeer who has been tamed and can be milked. Goddi is the word for wilder reindeer.  

Reindeer herding is an important aspect of Sámi culture and a vital source of income for many Sámi people. The Sámi parliament estimates that about 2,500 people are dependent on income from reindeer husbandry. 

8. Bures

An easy one! This is how you say “hello” to another person in Northern Sámi. 

9. Goahte  

Goahte is a type of hut in Lule Sámi. It’s a traditional Sámi home that can be built in several different ways, depending on what material is available, like with wooden panels or a construction of wooden poles covered with peat or cloth.

10. Sámediggi 

This is the Northern Sámi word for the Sámi Parliament. There’s a Sámi parliament in each country that divides Sápmi.

In the Scandinavian countries, it’s essentially a government agency with the aim of representing the Sámi people and increasing opportunities to participate in public debate.  

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These are the words you need to understand Norway at Christmas

Ho ho ho and a marsipan gris? These Norwegian words will help you to understand the Nordic country's Christmas traditions.

These are the words you need to understand Norway at Christmas
Photo: Chad Madden on Unsplash

God jul

God jul means Merry Christmas. It is a phrase thrown around by friends, family, shop workers, and the stranger you accidentally bump into on the metro. It is widely used but be careful about using it too early in December — over-enthusiasm on the first of the month could earn you an odd glance. Norwegian commonly don’t start saying god jul to each other until a week or so before Christmas. 


Directly translates to Christmas table, but julebord is a word used to describe a holiday-themed party Norwegians have with friends, family, or colleagues.

Unlike in other countries, it is not common for an employee’s partner to be invited to the company’s Christmas party. It is a popular cultural reference that the party tends to be largely fuelled by alcohol, and the most popular julebord stories are ones about the guests who somehow embarrassed themselves. 

Unfortunately, 2020 has seen julebord across the country generally facing cancellation. Here’s to a strong return of the tradition in 2021.


Perhaps not the most important term to memorise, but it may be the one that surprises you the most.

marsipan gris, or marzipan pig, is just that: a pig figurine made out of marzipan. The confectionary animal is popularly used as a prize given to the winner of Christmas games at holiday gatherings. You will also find marzipan pigs popping up in various sizes in many shops throughout Norway during the holiday season. 


A compound word combining jul (Christmas), and mat (food). Julemat, or Christmas food, encompasses all types of food Norwegians associate with Christmas. Foods like ribbe (pork belly), pinnekjøtt (salted lamb ribs), and syltet rødkål (pickled red cabbage) are fall under the category of julemat.


If you have young children, it’s almost a guarantee they are baking with pepperkakedeig, or gingerbread dough, around this time of year.

Gingerbread dough can be found in almost every grocery store during the winter months, and adults love it almost as much as the children. It is a popular family activity to cut out the pre-made dough into figurines, bake them, and decorate them with icing. Norwegians love to eat their gingerbread creations as well as use them as holiday decorations around their home. This impressive Bergen gingerbread town is Norway’s largest.

More useful festive vocabulary 

Julenissen – Santa Claus

Kirketjeneste – Church Service 

Juletre – Christmas tree 

Gaver presents 

Julebrus– Christmas soda 

READ ALSO: Why Norwegians love to watch a dubbed film about Cinderella at Christmas