19: A discussion on some Southern Sámi etymologies

By Linden Alexander Pentecost, finished on the 4th of September 2023. This section includes a discussion of 16 primary Southern Sámi etymologies, many with a somewhat mysterious origin, and their potential cognates, some of them long distance; I also propose that many of the so-called "Germanic loanwords" into Southern Sámi are more likely to be from pre-Germanic and pre-Sámi languages, followed by reference and a wee note at the bottom of the page. This section contains 1229 words.


The Southern Sámi language is one of the Sámi languages of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia, spoken by the different groups of Indigenous Sámi people. Whilst the Sámi languages are Uralic and have many similarities to Finnish for example in terms of grammar and vocabulary, the Sámi languages also contain a large number of words which are rare or absent in other Uralic languages. In the etymology explanations below, I specifically discuss some Southern Sámi words, and if I have found a potential connection, I look at how potential root words may be visible within these words, and how these may connect to words in Uralic and other language families. For three of the primary Southern Sámi etymologies listed below, I can find no cognates or make any links of any kind, and they are in the wordlist for the purpose of highlighting their mysterious and unknown origin, and the possibility that they may be of pre-Germanic, and/or pre-Uralic origin.


16 Etymologies and potential connections, below:


1: baaroe - wave, this is similar to the word for "wave" in other Sámi languages, perhaps related to English "bore" as in a kind of tidal wave, for example the "bore" that occurs on Morecambe Bay. Other cognates in Germanic languages include Old Norse bára - wave, Icelandic bára, Faroese bára, Danish båre et cetera, perhaps also related to a more general Indo-European root meaning 'stretches' or 'expands', and perhaps through those semantics to Proto-Afro-Asiatic: *baḥVr- sea (2), lake, and for example Arabic bahr - sea. This word is not common in West-Germanic and seems limited to North Germanic, English, Scots and Sámi languages, implying to me that the word is probably not in any sense "Germanic" in origin.

2: aarhtse – eagle, this word seems particular to Southern Sámi. It does show some similarity to Norse words for 'eagle', such as Norwegian ørn and other similar forms in North-Germanic languages, and to Orkney Norn arno for example. However the -n is not present in Southern Sámi aarhtse, suggesting that it is more connected to forms of the root in other Germanic languages which sometimes also lack the [n].These roots are perhaps connected through consonant reversal to Proto-Afro-Asiatic: *nasr- eagle or vulture (2), with the s in *nasr corresponding to the ts in the Southern Sámi word.

3: skaake - forest, cognate to Icelandic skógur Norwegian skog, Pite Bondska skåog, Danish skov et cetera, and English 'shaw' or 'scaw', "scough" in place-names. Perhaps connected distantly to Ainu cikuni (4), Nivkh ʨiɣr - tree or forest (4), and Itelmen kskəzzal - alder forest (4). Apart from English, Scots and Nordic languages, this root is otherwise absent in Indo-European.

4: hïejme – home, connected to Pite Bondska häjm, Swedish hem, Scanian huim, Norwegian heim, haim, hem, hjem, Danish hjem, Scots hame, English "home", Old English hám, German heim et cetera. Perhaps connected to Proto-Afro-Asiatic *haʔem-/*haʔom- tent or room (2). 

5: måara - bone, different to words in other Sámi languages, perhaps connected distantly to Proto-Afro-Asiatic: *garm- body, bone and Proto-Afro-Asiatic: *bar(bar)- bone of arm or leg (2).

6: såavla – fog, this word seems particular to Southern Sámi to my knowledge, I have no thoughts about its possible etymology and it does not seem similar to other Uralic root words for 'fog', 'cloud' or 'dew'.

7: mïere – coast, this word seems particular to Southern Sámi to my knowledge and I have no suggestions about possible etymological links. This word is also distinct from Southern Sámi mearoe - sea, although there is perhaps a distant link between the two words; mearoe, other Sámi words for 'sea' and Finnish meri - sea are most certainly connected to many Indo-European words for 'sea' and to Proto-Afro-Asiatic: *mir- 'river' (2).

8: goengere - rainbow, possibly connected to Finnish kaari - arch, bow, as in sateenkaari and Ukkokaari which both mean rainbow; Wiktionary suggests a Proto-Uralic *këŋere which matches up well with the phonetics of the Southern Sámi word; although Wiktionary provides no reference for this entry.

9: fuelhkie – family, also Northern Sámi fuolki, connected to Norwegian folk - people, and other nearly-identical forms in Germanic languages; the closest cognate semantically may be dialectal English folk, folks, fowk where it can specifically refer to those familiar to oneself, for example family, my fowks.

10: sapte - mushroom, also exists in other Sámi languages, perhaps semantically connected to Norwegian sopp - mushroom, Swedish svamp - mushroom, English "swamp" and Finnish suo - swamp.

11: maarhke – worm, a word that seems unique to Southern Sámi within the Sámi languages, Possibly connected to Proto-Uralic *perkV - worm (3), seemingly only present in Komi, Mansi and Hungarian, with the Hungarian cognate being féreg. The variation in Nordic languages between mark and mats for 'worm' may be pre-Germanic in origin, and relate more closely to two separate Uralic root words. The Old Norse form mathkr seems to show a root based on *matk-, with a similar root being *mark- or *perk- from a Uralic or pre-Uralic origin.

12: pluevie - swamp, I have no thoughts on the etymology of this word, other than a possible connection between the initial consonants and coastal Norwegian poll - a kind of saltwater lake, Gaelic poll of a similar meaning, and Gaelic and Irish poll meaning 'mud', English 'pool' etc.

13: aske - moon, not found in other Sámi languages to my knowledge, possibly connected to the ancient *k(V)s *s(V)k root I have hypothesised about in other work, meaning a kind of light associated with the sun or moon. Present in Finnish as kesä - summer. And in Mari as кече, keče - "sun" (added June 2024).

14: bïegke - wind, similar in other Sámi languages. Very different to the Finnish word for 'wind', tuuli. I have no suggestions whatsoever about the etymology of bïegke and related words in other Sámi languages.

15: sïejpe – wolf, this root is possibly only common in Southern Sámi. I have no suggestions about the etymology of this mysterious word.

16: ebrie – rain, similar to other Sámi words for 'rain', but these words in other Sámi languages generally have [v] for [p] in this word. It bares similarity to Welsh wybr - sky, and to words for 'sky' in other Indo-European languages, and to Aymara urpu - fog (5).




2) Proto-Afro-Asiatic vocabulary by Alexander Militarev and Olga Stolbova, this is visible at starlingdb.org, database by Sergei Starostin.

(3) Proto-Uralic vocabulary by Sergei Starostin, this vocabulary can be found at starlingdb.org, database by Sergei. Starostin.

(4) Paleosiberian Swadesh Lists on Wiktionary, no sources given but data seems very accurate.

(5) Félix Layme Pairumani. 2023. Aymara dictionary.
In: Key, Mary Ritchie & Comrie, Bernard (eds.)
The Intercontinental Dictionary Series.
Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
(Available online at http://ids.clld.org/contributions/269, Accessed on 2023-09-04.)


I hope that this article was interesting, and may we respect the Sámi people, their ancestors, their way of life, and the nature, life and history that they protect.