Google Adds Northern Sámi Language to Online Translation Service

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In a boost for Sami culture, Google Translate can now be used to translate text to and from the Northern Sami, the most widely spoken of the endangered Sámi languages in Norway.

When I first moved to Norway, Google Translate was a lifesaver. It was a tool I used every day, especially when trying to read news articles and understand government forms.

Illustration of Sami flag in Norway.
The Sámi flag.

Today, ChatGPT and other similar tools are brilliant for learning Norwegian with the help of AI. But Google Translate remains in place, and in some circumstances, it's more useful than ever before.

Now, in a major boost for Sami culture, Google has announced that Northern Sámi is one of 110 new languages to be included in the latest update to Google Translate.

In a statement issued last week, Google stated “we’ve heard your ask for more languages and we are thrilled to announce we’re adding 110 new languages to Translate. Over the next few days, you will see new languages available on translate.google.com and the Google Translate Apps.”

It's a major update for Google Translate, as it almost doubles the number of languages available in the service. Google’s PaLM 2 AI language model helped Translate learn these new languages.

According to the Barents Observer, the Arctic University of Norway (UiT) presented a free, open-source machine translation for North Sámi in 2017. Google Translate later introduced a pilot test, which has now been made permanent.

Northern Sámi & Why It Matters

Northern Sámi is the largest of the nine Sámi languages spoken by the indigenous peoples in northernmost Norway, Finland, Sweden, and parts of Russia.

Sailing away from Bodø city centre. Photo: David Nikel.
Bodø is profiling Sámi culture in 2024. Photo: David Nikel.

With around 15,000-25,000 speakers, it holds significant cultural and historical importance. The language belongs to the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic language family.

Efforts to preserve Northern Sami have led to its inclusion in education and media, including television and radio broadcasts.

Sámi Culture in Northern Norway

This year, Sámi culture is in focus within Norway and across Europe like never before thanks to the European Capital of Culture programme. In 2024, Bodø in Norway is one of three cities with the designation.

Bodø is the first city north of the Arctic circle to ever hold the title. As such, the organisation team have pushed hard into Arctic coastal culture and the culture of the Sami people.

If you're interested in finding out more, I interviewed Maria Hernes Bær, the coordinator of the Sami program for Bodø 2024, on a previous episode of the Life in Norway Show. You can listen to the interview here.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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