Sami People Travel To Israel To Revive Lost Languages

For thousands of years, the Sami people roamed across in the northernmost parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland, as well as Russia’s Kola Peninsula. Semi-nomadic, they hunted, trapped, fished and herded reindeer, remaining culturally and linguistically distinct from the Europeans around them.

As Scandinavia was carved up into modern nation-states, the Sami came under the jurisdiction of the governments of those states, and their minority culture fell victim to those governments’ desire for cultural and linguistic homogeneity.

Only in recent decades have organized efforts been made to preserve the Sami culture and their native languages. Now, the Sami are getting help from a seemingly unlikely source: Israel, whose efforts to revive the Hebrew language have been wildly successful. As CBS recently reported, a Sami delegation recently visited the country in an effort to learn better ways of teaching the Sami languages to adults who grew up without them.

The Sami language family consists of 11 different languages. Of those 11, two are already extinct, one is moribund, one is dying, and the rest are somewhere along the spectrum from “endangered” to “seriously endangered.”

The odds may sound daunting, but Hebrew overcame even greater odds- extinct as a native language since the 4th century CE, it was revived after the state of Israel was established and now has 3 million native speakers.

While European regions like Wales have created successful programs to teach native languages to children, the Israelis are considered the experts in language revival among adults.

As Odd Willenfeldt, principal of Sami School for Mid-Norway, explained to the Associated Press, that’s exactly the kind of expertise the Sami people need now:

“We are trying different methods for 20, 30 years and we haven’t succeeded in increasing the number of fluent Sami speakers. So we are looking for methods that are good and have shown results to make people bilingual.”

Hebrew did have some advantages that the Sami languages do not. Scandinavian governments are now investing in efforts to revive the Sami languages, and they are official languages of traditionally Sami municipalities in Sweden, Finland and Norway. However, for the most part, Sami has ceased to be an essential part of daily life even in these regions. Israel was and is a nation of immigrants, all of whom needed a common tongue to be able to communicate with each other. Hebrew filled that role, and the practice of teaching it to new Israeli immigrants means that it will continue to do so.

Still, Lars Joar Halonen, another member of the delegation, told the AP that despite these disadvantages, he thinks the Sami people’s will to preserve their language and culture is strong enough that it will endure:

“Many of the people we’re talking about, the language of their hearts is Sami. … They call themselves Sami, they are Sami, they are proud to be Sami and they keep the language of their hearts. They probably know some phrases in Sami and some Christian songs in Sami. They have a belonging to the language.”

Hopefully, that’s enough.

Movie Title Translations, Israeli Edition

Need something fun to kick off your weekend? Here’s a list of Israeli translations of American movie titles. Can you guess what the original movies were? Scroll down below the fold for the answers!

  1. “The Date That Screwed Me”
  2. “The Gun Died Laughing”
  3. “Crazy About the Moon” and the sequel, “Crazy About the Minions”
  4. “Breaking the Ice”
  5. “It’s Raining Falafel”
  6. “Agitated Women”
  7. “American Dream”
  8. “Woman of Valor”
  9. “Dancing with Pilots” and its sequel, “Dancing with Fighters”
  10. “Lost in Tokyo”
  11. “The 8th Passenger, 3”
  12. “Before the Wedding We Stop in Vegas”
  13. “Some Kind of Police Woman”

Read more

Israel to Remove Languages Other Than Hebrew From Road Signs

In a move that may cause confusion among travellers and will surely cause discomfort among some of its Arab citizens, Israel’s minister of transport, Yisrael Katz, has declared that the country will get new road signs-in Hebrew only. Right now, road signs are trilingual, with the names of cities, airports and other destinations spelled in Hebrew, English and Arabic.

Why change the signs? Well, the official answer given by the minister of transport is that having three different languages on each road sign confuses people. Of course, there’s probably a little bit more to it than that…the language used on street signs is often about declaring ownership or establishing  cultural dominance.

In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Jerrod Kessel and Pierre Klochendler state that “the political motive is ill-concealed.” They quote Mr. Katz as follows: “Some Palestinian maps still refer to Israeli towns and villages by their pre-1948 [pre-Israel] names: Beisan instead of our Beit-Shean. They want to turn the clock back. Not on my signs! We won’t allow anyone to turn Yerushalayim into al-Quds.”

According to the Jewish Daily Forward, there’s also been a bit of a tussle in Jerusalem itself over the trilingual street signs, with vandals painting over the Arabic portions of the signs.  A more moderate group of Jewish “vigilantes” has taken matters into their own hands, placing stickers printed with the appropriate Arabic street names on top of the vandalized signs.

Seen in this context, it’s easy to see why the minister of transport’s actions could make Israel’s Arabic citizens feel unwelcome. According to the New York Times op-ed, one in 5 Israeli citizens is Arabic, and Arabic is one of the country’s national languages.

The rest of the New York Times editorial gets a little nonsensical in its argument, as the writers claim that since “Israel” is spelled “Yisrael” in Hebrew, Katz’ changes “will be literally wiping Israel off the map.”

Adding a “Y” to the name of a country hardly qualifies as “wiping it off the map,” and as far as English-speaking travelers are concerned, well, when you travel to a foreign country you should make an effort to learn how city/street names are spelled in the local tongue. The real concern is that the move will likely increase Israeli Arabs’ sense of disenfranchisement in their own country. It could also have practical consequences for Israeli citizens. For example, the Jewish Daily Forward article quotes cabdriver Muhammed Dabash saying “When I need to take a passenger somewhere, I read the Arabic on the street signs.”  What will he do once the new street signs are up?