The Inari Sami Language

Inari Saami (Sami, Sámi, Lappish, Lapp) is spoken by a few hundred people who live around Lake Inari in Lapland in Northern Finland. Inari Sami is one of the Sami (Saami, Sámi, Lappish, Lapp) languages. Skolt Sami and Northern Sami are also spoken around Lake Inari.

Over the last decade or so, several projects have focused on revitalizing the Inari Saami language. You can read about these exciting projects in the recent book Revitalising Indigenous Languages: How to recreate a lost generation by Marja-Liisa Olthuis, Suvi Kivelä and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas. Thanks to these efforts, there is now a growing number of second language speakers of Inari Saami, and some of these speakers are qualified to teach the language. The data that forms the basis for the project described on this web page are mostly collected before the onset revitalization projects.

This web page is maintained by Diane Nelson and Ida Toivonen. We are linguists doing research on the Inari Sami language (Toivonen since 1997, Nelson since 2000). Other people who have worked on Inari Sami include Erkki Itkonen, Lea Laitinen, Marja-Liisa Olthuis, Pekka Sammallahti and Patrik Bye.

Speech samples

Here are some Inari Sami words, spoken by a native speaker of the language:

arve , 'rain' (nominative case)

alme, 'sky' (nominative case)

pääNi , 'tooth' (nominative case)

pääni , 'tooth' (accusative case)

The difference between the nominative and accusative case of 'tooth' is that the consonant 'n' is longer in nominative than in accusative.

päännin , 'tooth' (essive case)

The difference between the nominative and essive case of 'tooth' is that the consonant 'n' is longer in essive than in nominative. These three words illustrate Inari Sami's three-way difference in consonant duration.


Saami Linguistics. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 288. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. With Diane Nelson, 2007.
Book website


Patrik Bye, Elin Sagulin, and Ida Toivonen. 2009. Phonetic duration, phonological quantity and prosodic structure in Inari Saami. Phonetica 66(4): 199–121.

2007. Verbal agreement in Inari Saami. In: Ida Toivonen and Diane Nelson, eds., Saami Linguistics, CILT 288, 227-258. John Benjamins.
Book website

2007. Microvariation in Inari Saami. In: Jussi Ylikoski and Ante Aikio, eds., Sámit, sánit, sátnehámit. Riepmočála Pekka Sammallahti miessemánu 21. beaivve 2007. Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 253. Helsinki. 363-374. pdf

Toivonen, Ida. 2002. The relationship between agreement and grammatical functions in Inari Sami and Finnish. ps, pdf.

Toivonen, Ida. 1999. Phonetic salience and language change: Verb paradigms in Inari Sami. Proceedings of the 17th Scandinavian Conference in Linguistics. ps, pdf.

Nelson, Diane Case and adverbials in Inari Sami and Finnish. In Peter Svenonius (ed) Proceedings of the 19th Scandinavian Conference of Linguistics. Nordlyd.

Nelson, Diane & Toivonen, Ida (2003) Counting and the grammar: Case and Numerals in Inari Sami. In Nelson & Foulkes (2000) Leeds Working Papers in Linguistics & Phonetics 8. In Nelson & Manninen (eds) Generative Approaches to Finnic and Saami Linguistics, CSLI.


Toivonen, Ida. 2012. Systems of Phonological Quantity International Conference of Nordic and General Linguistics, Freiburg. pdf.

Toivonen, Ida. 2010. Fieldwork and analysis in Saami morphology Winter School in Saami Language Documentation and Revitalisation, Bodø, Norway. pdf.

Toivonen, Ida. 2003. Inari Sami Language Tutorial (LAGB presentation, April 2003). pdf

Current Projects

Our long-term goal is to put together a descriptive grammar of Inari Sami. At the moment, we are also working on the following topics:

  • Agreement Marking:
  • Inari Sami verbs agree in three persons and three numbers. There is also a partial agreement paradigm as inanimate subjects do not display full agreement marking. The partial agreement paradigm makes use of third person singular and third person plural.

  • Consonant duration:
  • Some of the Inari Sami consonants (v, l, r, h and the nasals) display a three-way consonant duration distinction phonetically. We are looking into the effect the consonant length has on the preceeding vowel.


We are grateful to the organizations that have supported this on-going project. Toivonen has recieved support from Ålands kulturfond, Olof M. Jansson fund and Letterstedtska föreningen (1996-2000), and Toivonen and Nelson have received support from the British Academy (from 2000).