The bear went down the mountain: Sámi language usage then and now


  • John Weinstock University of Texas



The bear went down the mountain, Sámi language usage then and now


The bear had a lofty status in ancient myth and legend. This was especially so among circumpolar hunting groups such as the Sámi who venerated the animal. They resorted to a special system of language for communicating in such a manner that the bear did not understand their intentions. Yet, Sámi folktales portray the bear as a large, rather stupid animal easily duped by others such as the fox. In the 19th century the Sámi were under relentless pressure to assimilate in the nation­ states where they dwelt. One way they resisted assimilation was through a two-part communication system whereby messages had one meaning for outsiders but also contained coded information the outsiders could not understand. This essay, focus­ ing on the code talk, attempts to answer the questions as to why and how the bear's stature changed so significantly from the early Arctic hunting culture to its status in Sámi folktales and argues that the manner of talking to bears formed the basis of the more recent Sámi oppositional communication.


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How to Cite

Weinstock, J. (2005). The bear went down the mountain: Sámi language usage then and now. Linguistica, 45(1), 85–96.