Språkvetenskapliga fakulteten

Linguistic Continua: a View from the North

The Saami languages, a group of 10 closely related languages spoken in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, form one of the subgroups of the FinnoUgric language family. The further classification of the Saami languages remains a challenge, and the borders between them are far from clearcut. They form a linguistic continuum from South Saami in central Sweden and Norway to Ter Saami in Russia, and the only clear dividing line is between North and Inari Saami.

The problem of classifying languages was already being discussed alongside analogous problems in biology in the mid19th century by Darwin and contemporaries. Since then linguistics and biology have made great advances (sometimes independently, sometimes together) in methods for inferring family trees. Both disciplines are weaker at analysis of nontree relationships such as found in the Saamic linguistic continuum. There is considerable scope for methodological exploration involving different kinds of data and different kinds of methods.

This project combines empirical work, collecting new data on poorly documented Saami varieties spoken around the linguistic borders, with theoretical investigation of modern quantitative methods for analysing languages as trees and networks. The project includes an innovative methodology workshop for researchers from Uppsala University, and an interdisciplinary conference.

Contact: Rogier Blokland and Michael Dunn