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TEACHING

Swedish teacher lands EU ‘tongue stories’ award

A elementary school teacher from Skövde in western Sweden is one 28 Europeans recognised by the EU in a competition to highlight language diversity.

Swedish teacher lands EU 'tongue stories' award

It took about six emails and multiple phone calls before Berit Åberg finally got the message about two weeks ago: She had been invited to Brussels as Sweden’s representative for a European language initiative.

“I was surprised more than anything else,” said the 52-year-old, explaining how she had assumed the emails were spam and the phone callers were trying to sell her something.

Åberg was one of 28 people from around the continent invited to Brussels last week as the winners in the European Union’s inaugural “Tongue Stories” competition. The Local was invited along as a guest of the EU to report on the event.

Packed full of Brussels pomp, it was the culmination of a several months-long competition meant to highlight Europe’s language diversity.

How did the Tongue Stories competition work? Last year, European residents were invited to submit short essays, videos, audio messages or photos, somehow highlighting language diversity – nearly 600 were submitted.

A round of online voting determined who from each country got the trip to Brussels. Then a panel of judges picked three continental champions, who would be awarded iPads at the European Commission in Brussels.

As a passionate advocate of the Swedish language – she has even written a children’s book that teaches Swedish basics – Åberg decided to write her submission about her love of learning.

“Language is the key to knowledge, life and the world!” she wrote in her Swedish-language essay submitted to the competition. “We must begin among the young children.”

That theme fits in well with Åberg’s passion for ensuring young Swedes and immigrants alike have access to high-quality language education.

During a brief interview in Brussels, she said she was troubled by a trend she sees in her classroom of six to seven-year-olds: Too many young people fail to grasp the language basics they’ll need in order to succeed in their future.

“In my little world, I work hard to help these children as much as I can, but there’s only so much I can do as a single educator,” she said. “Learning has to be a way of living.”

In Brussels, the European Union wined and dined the 28 contestants and gave them trophies and award certificates at a formal ceremony.

Åberg wasn’t one of the big winners, but she said was just happy she eventually answered the phone.

“I’m still shocked by this,” she said.

Moises Mendoza

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

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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