Diversity in Saami terminology for reindeer, snow, and ice


  • Ole Henrik Magga is Professor of Saami linguistics at the Saami University College in Guovdageaidnu (Kautokeino), Norway. He has a broad experience of research in Saami and indigenous peoples' issues. He was the first president of the Saami Parliament in Norway (1989–1997) and served as a member of the World Commission on Culture and Development (1993–1995) chaired by Javier Perez de Cuéllar. He was the first chairman of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (2002–2004).
    Email: ole-henrik.magga@samiskhs.no


The physical environment leaves its mark on cultures. Knowledge of snow and ice conditions has been a necessity for subsistence and survival in the Arctic and sub-Arctic areas. Snow and ice terminology in the North Saami language, which is spoken in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland, is based on the physical condition of different kind of layers of ice and snow. In addition, the relation to changes of weather and temperature conditions is often integrated in the terminology. Very basic in the meanings is also the quality and quantity of snow, judged according to the practical needs of people and animals. The author demonstrates this by explaining the terminology for conditions and layers of snow, terms based on the transportation and pasture needs of reindeer and those based on different kind of tracks in the snow. These are all nouns. With different kinds of derivations, the number of nouns, verbs and adjectives denoting snow, ice, freezing, and melting may easily amount to 1,000 lexemes. By analysing this kind of terminology, we can learn much about snow and ice conditions in the Arctic and living conditions for animals and human beings.