Numbers

– The amount of words in Skolt (as in all other living languages) is infinite, explains Michael Riessler, head of the Kola Saami Documentation Project in our first email conversation.

– And besides this every speaker of Skolt has its own stock of words in her or his mind. If you restrict to the word stock found in the existing dictionaries of Skolt (and ignoring that not all words found in the dictionaries are representative of all the single speakers' Skolt Saami language) you end up with approx. 10000 recorded words multiplied to more then 30 letters of the alphabet. Every linguist will envy you for such a collection of recorded words!

The facts are not very uplifting: There are 4 Saami languages spoken in the Kola Region (including northern Finland): Skolt, Akkala, Kildin, and Ter. Akkala is now extinct. The last speaker of Akkala passed away in 2003. Ter Saami in the Murmansk region has about 30 speakers, all age 50 and above. The Kildin Saami has about 300 active speakers. Likewise the Skolt Saami has around 300 speakers on the Finish side of the border and only a handful of old people left on the Russian side (speaking the special Russian dialect of Skolt).

But Michaels comments make me rethink my melancholic impression of Skolt Saami as a dying language. Infinity is a powerful concept to bring into any reflection. If every speakers vocabulary is potentially infinite or to be regarded as a “part” of infinity (that in itself would be infinite), then a dying language is not ceasing to exist by slowly shrinking in size as one would expect (due to forgetfulness, language shift or some other kind of deterioration of the collective memory). It is still present and alive in its vibrant infinity even with only one speaker left on earth (or maybe two? Does not a language need a listener? Or maybe it is sufficient with only one subject speaking to him- or herself? I guess that would be the perfect communication: The last speaker of a dead language muttering to himself).