Michael Everson
Mon, 18 Feb 2002 11:19:45 +0000

Dear John,

Most Samis live in Norway. In Norway, the Germanic language there 
borrowed the word S=E1pmi, S=E1mi, as "same" with an adjective "samisk". 
In Finland, where there are not very many Sami speakers compared to 
Norway, particular orthographic practices of that language write long 
vowels with double letters, hence "saami".

The English language borrows words from other languages and cultures 
sometimes. English, like Norwegian, is a Germanic language. There is 
no earthly reason why English should prefer a Finnish spelling to a 
Norwegian spelling for this word. Indeed, as stated, it could lead to 
error, as "aa" can be hypercorrected in Scandinavian contexts, to "=E5" 
by English speakers.

=46urther, compare the native designation for the different Sami languages:

Northern Sami: s=E1megiella
Lule Sami: s=E1megiella
Kildin Sami: s=E2m' k=EEll
Southern Sami: saemien giele
Inari Sami: s=E4=E4megiella
Skolt Sami: s=E4=E4'mk^i=F5ll

None of these uses -aa-, and the use of -=E4=E4- in Inari Sami and Skolt 
Sami is influenced by Finnish just as the Finnish word "saami" is.

>  > John this has been argued a thousand times. The preferred form of the
>  > word, as found on page 1644 of the New Oxford Dictionary of English
>  > (2001) is "Sami", with no accent.
>Well, the New Oxford Dictionary of English may represent use in the
>UK in times past, but it does not necessarily represent English use
>worldwide, or even an international source.

The 9th edition of the Concise Oxford (1995, 1673 pp.) does not list 
Sami as a headword, but under Lapp it gives the note: "The Lapps' own 
name tor themselves, Sami, is now often preferred with reference to 
the people."

The New Oxford Dictionary of English (2001, 2152 pp.) gives a similar 
note at Lapp: "Although the term Lapp is still widely used and is the 
most familiar term to may people, the people themselves prefer to be 
called Sami."

The New Oxford Dictionary also *adds* a headword for Sami, showing 
that its status as a lexical item in English is greater, perhaps, 
than it may have been in 1998. It is noteworthy that the Concise 
Oxford's 8th edition (1990) did not
contain the usage note, which was introduced in the 9th edition (1995).

>When it boils down to it it's a proprietary usage. Well used, I 
>grant you, but it remains proprietary, and it is not explicitly 
>accepted as a standard (UK or
>wider) in the same way that other reference sources (e.g. Duden in 
>German speaking countries) is.

I'm sorry, John, but Oxford lexicographical practices are beyond 
question. You can't weasel out of an actual argument about usage and 
preference by saying, "well, I prefer another authority" -- which you 
didn't do, you simply say that there are others. I give two arguments 
(that a Germanic spelling sam- is preferable to a Finnic spelling 
saam- and that the Sami themselves don't spell saam- in their own 

>"Saami" certainly appears in some American general usage dictionaries
>and encyclopedias.

Does it indeed. Let's look at frequency for a moment. An initial 
Google search on "Saami" yields 19,100 hits, the first of which 
relates to the US National Shooting Sports Foundation. An initial 
Google search on "Sami" yields 1,110,000 hits. A secondary search of 
"saami lapp" yielded 692 hits, while "sami lapp" yielded 2570 hits. 
Detect a pattern of usage preference here?

Merriam-Webster online gives 
neither form. Wordnet at Princeton 
gives "Sami". Cambridge online gives 
neither. Microsoft's Encarta gives "Saami" only. The American 
Heritage gives both 
"Sami" and "Saami" with "Sami" in first place.

>  > "Saami" does not appear in this dictionary,
>which remains Oxford University Press's problem, rather than the rest
>of the world's problem. Generally - and certainly with the start of
>the Oxord Dictionary series of publications - they always prided
>themselves on recording various usages.

The usage "Saami" should not be recommended in English, even if it 
occurs. As a borrowing it ought to come from Norwegian rather than 
=46innish; -aa- is rare enough in English and "Sami" is natural enough 
(cf swami, naturalized in English from Sanakrit for at least 200 

>  > and in any case should be avoided because people may
>>  hypercorrect it to S=E5mi, confusing it with equivalences like =C5lborg
>>  and Aalborg.
>The councils for Saami speakers in Norway, Sweden and Finland have
>recommended the use of the term "Saami" and they, more than anybody,
>are all used to needing to deal with specific uses of the string "aa"
>in words.

These organizations can't make up their minds, quite honestly. This 
has been discussed on and off since at least 1996. On one of their 
pages,, they give both "Sami Councils 
page of Welcoming' and "Saami Council's Homepage".

>If the Saami and non-Saami speakers in Norway, Sweden and Finland can
>cope with it, and indeed recommend it, I don't see why anybody should
>propose over their heads that they have to think that what is done by
>a UK publisher

The lexicographical work done at Oxford set the standard for modern 
lexicography world-wide. Do not pooh-pooh Oxford by belittling them 
as just a UK publisher.

>just because we on standards committees think we know
>better, particularly when the term that they recommend is already in
>widespread use in various English language publications worldwide,
>in both linguistic and more general publications.

My views on the orthography of this word in English is not based on 
my participation in standards committees. They are based on my 
knowledge of English, phonetics, orthographic principles, etymology, 
and common sense. That the Oxford editorial staff have come to the 
same decision I have is an indication that there are sensible 
criteria one can apply to making orthographic decisions based on good 
sense and taste.

Yes, it is my view that the councils for Sami speakers in the Nordic 
countries have erred in choosing "Saami" over "Sami", which is by far 
an away the more natural spelling in English, just as it is in 
Norwegian and Swedish.
Michael Everson *** Everson Typography ***