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Nordic FAQ - 2 of 7 - NORDEN

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        A Frequently Answered Questions (FAQ) file for the newsgroup
                    S O C . C U L T U R E . N O R D I C
                           *** PART 2: NORDEN ***
                         How does one define "Scandinavia" and "Nordic
                         What is "Nordic"?
                         What is "Scandinavia"?
                         What is "Baltic"?
                         What makes the Nordic countries a unity?
                         The Sámi people (not Lapps!)
                         Who they are?
                         Sámi history
                         Sámi cultures
                         Sámi mythology
                         Sámi languages
                         The Sámi as citizens
                         The Sámi today
                         SANA - The North American Sámi Association
                         @ The Sámi in Internet- a linklist
                         What do we know about Scandinavian mythology?
                         Short introduction to the sources
                         The World Tree Yggdrasill
                         The Creation of the world
                         Asgard, the realm of the Gods
                         The Gods
                         The Goddesses
                         @ Trolls and other beings
                         Introduction to the History of Norden etcetera,
                         Norden in prehistoric times
                         Iron Age
                         Where did the Vikings travel?
                         Place names in Old Norse 
                         What about those horns in Viking helmets?
                         Medieval times
                         Christian and pre-Christian laws
                         Modern Nordic History in a Nutshell
                         Political history & co-operation
                         The essence of Nordishness
                         What is Janteloven (the Jante Law)?
                         A Nordic national character?
                         @ Sex, drugs and censorship
                         Domestic partnership
                         Censorship in the Nordic countries
                         Drugs in the Nordic countries
                         Nordic socialism and welfare
                         Wouldn't the Nordic economies gain from
                         abolishing the Socialism?
                         Don't the Nordic states have huge welfare
                         But you do pay terrible taxes, don't you? 
                         Now, when the Soviet Union has fallen... 
                         What are the differences of the economies?
                         @ Valborg, Midsummer and other festivals
                         @ Valborg
                         @ Midsummer
                           !  Lucia
                           !  Christmas
                         Nordic alcohol customs
Subject: 2.1 How does one define "Scandinavia" and "Nordic Countries"?

   It may seem a bit silly, but this is actually a topic that every now
   and then causes rather heated discussions in s.c.n. So I'm going to be
   pretty thorough here.
  2.1.1 Background
   The Roman historian Pliny the Elder mentions in 67 CE an island called
   "Scadinauia" in the sea at the edge of the world, north of Germania.
   This, as it dawned much later to the civilized world, was in fact no
   island but the southern tip of Sweden, the province of Scania (Skåne).
   The name is thought to be related to the word "skada", or "damage"
   that could be done to ships by the sand reefs outside southwestern
   Sweden. The "-avia" ending, on the other hand, probably comes from a
   word meaning "island", cf. contemporary Norwegian "øya". Thus the
   original definition of the word "Scandinavia" was purely geographical:
   it referred to the Scandinavian peninsula -- contemporary Sweden and
   Later, as people became more conscious of their culture, formed
   political unions, colonized previously uninhabited areas and conquered
   the land of their neighbours, the definition of the word started to
   stretch. "Scandinavia" became more a political and cultural concept
   than a geographic one. And since cultural boundaries tend to be less
   clearly definable than geographic ones, and political boundaries on
   the other hand move around quite a bit, the current use of the word is
   a bit of a mess.
  2.1.2 What is "Nordic"?
   Another term used of the countries covered by this FAQ is, of course,
   "Nordic countries", coming originally from French ("Pays Nordiques").
   It was at first used of "northern" (European) countries in general,
   but with the common political, economic and cultural development of
   Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland, the term has in English
   widely become established as referring exclusively to said five
   countries (still, not everyone agrees; you may, for instance, find
   Canadians who are under the misconception that *they* are Nordic :-> .
   Some examples from dictionaries:
   [Webster's Third New International Dictionary]
   4. of or relating to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland.

   [Oxford Reference Dictionary]
   2. of Scandinavia, Finland or Iceland.

   In the Nordic languages, one has the term NORDEN ("Pohjola" or
   "Pohjoismaat" in Finnish) which is commonly used of the five Nordic
   countries which since 1956 cooperate in the Nordic Council. Some have
   tried to implant this term into English, but without much success so
   far. It does, however, occur every now and then in this newsgroup.
   In addition, it should be noted that after the fall of the Soviet
   Union, Latvia and especially Estonia have expressed a wish for
   extensive co-operation with the Nordic countries, emphasizing their
   many historical and cultural ties with Norden. If the Nordic Council
   manages to justify its existence even as Finland and Sweden have
   joined the EU (some politicians in the Nordic countries have
   questioned the importance of the NC in the current political
   situation), we may yet see Estonia and Latvia joining.
   The "Nordic race" is a topic which now and then get brought to the
   groups attention. Mostly by people living abroad. Usually the Nordic
   participants in the discussion produce disappointment on the other
   side, by stating that we consider the typical nordic look as un-exotic
   and un-sexy.
   Arne Kolstad writes:
          This is confusing, but nevertheless:
          While "Nordic" means somewhere a bit North; I think it is
   mostly understood as a (recently) politically defined collection of
   countries, including Scandinavia, Iceland and Finland. At least that
   is how it is understood in these countries. As a linguistic unity,
   Norden hangs well apart. In general, however, we dislike each other
   enough to form an active neighbourhood.
          Cultural relationships with other regions - Westwards for the
   Germanic, Eastwards for the Fennic - are interesting. If there is a
   political process with the outcome of defining them as Nordic (like
   the one some Balts are trying to establish), then so be it. I can't
   see, though, that poor old Scotland stands a chance as long as the
   evil empire rules.
  2.1.3 What is "Scandinavia"?
   The word "Scandinavia" presents a bit more difficulty. In Nordic
   languages, the meaning is quite clear:
   Sweden, Denmark, Norway (and sometimes Iceland)
   -- the ancient lands of the Norsemen.

   The Scandinavian peninsula, on the other hand, is usually simply
   understood as comprising Norway and Sweden, despite the unclear border
   to the Kola peninsula. The northernmost part of Finland is of course
   also situated on the Scandinavian peninsula.
   But in English, alas, there seems to be no standard usage. This is
   mainly due to the fact that English lacks a simple and clear term for
   the five countries, and the word "Scandinavia" tends to be used for
   that purpose instead. The term "Nordic countries", in its current
   definition, is a rather recent invention, its meaning is still a bit
   obscure especially to non-Europeans, it's awkward to use and to some
   people it carries unpleasant connotations of the Aryan "Nordic race".
   Therefore, you will find that it's quite common to define the word
   "Scandinavia" in English like this:
   [Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English]
   1. of the countries Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland
      in northern Europe, or their people or languages.

   On the other hand, it is not uncommon to use the word "Scandinavia" in
   its more limited definition. An example:
   [The Concise Oxford Dictionary]
   1. a native or inhabitant of Scandinavia
      (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland).

   And some encyclopaedias put it like this:
   [The Random House Encyclopaedia]
   1. region of northern Europe consisting of
      the kingdoms of Sweden, Norway and Denmark;
      culturally and historically Finland and Iceland
      are often considered part of this area.

   Despite the term being rather clear for the Scandinavians themselves,
   disputes remain about how the term would be understood and derived in
   English. If the word is understood as a geographic term, how can then
   Denmark be included - as most do. If instead it's deduced from the
   area where the languages are quite similar North-Germanians, should
   Iceland logically be excluded?
   At the risk of disturbing some people's sleep, we will use "Nordic"
   and "Scandinavian" interchangeably throughout this FAQ, for practical
   reasons. You have been warned. :->
  2.1.4 What is "Baltic"?
   "Baltic" as a single word is in itself a bit vague, because it can
   mean either the Baltic peninsula (Balticum) or the Baltic sea (Mare
   Balticum), and it depends on the context where it's used.
   But, when this "Baltic" is used in connection with the word "country",
   there are two distinct concepts:
     * Baltic countries - countries in Baltikum (Estonia, Lathvia,
     * Baltic Sea countries - all countries around the Baltic Sea.
   The latter is normally used in connection with environmental issues
   concerning cooperative protection of the Baltic sea, and in some other
   efforts of public utility - such as occasional Miss Baltic Sea


Subject: 2.2 What makes Nordic countries a unity?

   From the Viking age onwards, the Nordics have fought each other,
   formed unions with each other and ruled over each other. Sweden ruled
   over Finland for over 600 years, Denmark ruled over southern Sweden
   also for over 600 years (or, alternatively, Sweden has ruled over
   eastern Denmark for the past 300 years) and over Norway for nearly 500
   years, while Norway ruled over Iceland for some 200 years and Denmark
   yet another 500 years, and the list goes on (but Finland hasn't ruled
   over anybody, and is very envious because of that :-> . Unavoidably,
   this has caused some anti-pathies, but it has also made the Nordic
   cultures more uniform.
  2.2.1 Culture
   Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland shared a more or less homogenous
   "Viking" culture in the Viking Age (800 - ~1050 CE), and Finland,
   while not strictly speaking a "Viking" country, did have a "Viking
   age" and a culture very close to its western neighbours, and at the
   close of Viking age was united into the Swedish kingdom. Scandinavian
   culture today could be described as a potpourri of this "original"
   culture, medieval German influence, French influence in the centuries
   that followed, and several other smaller sources, not forgetting local
   development and national romantic inventiveness, of course.
   A significant factor is also the fact that the Nordic countries never
   had an era of feudalism to speak of; personal freedom is highly valued
   here. One of the expressions of this freedom is the Allemansret /
   Allemansrätt ("Everyman's right") in Norway, Sweden and Finland,
   giving all residents free access to the forests, seas and uncultivated
   The Nordics are rather heavy drinkers, the "vodkabelt" goes right
   through Finland, Sweden and Norway; the Danes are more of a
   beer-drinking nation, but don't say no to a glass of akvavit either.
   Smörgåsbord with pickled herrings and open-faced sandwiches is no rare
   sight. Women are emancipated. Towns are clean and well-functioning
   enough to make a Swiss clocksmith feel at home. And so forth; myths
   and stereotypes about Scandinavia are many. Some of them are, of
   course, less true than others, but their very existence illustrates
   the fact that we do have quite a lot in common.
  2.2.2 Religion
   The Germanic pagan religion has left its mark on customs and
   festivals; celebrations with bonfires and maypoles mark the Finnish
   and Swedish midsummer, and the Nordic Christmas bears many
   similarities to the midwinter feast of the Vikings, starting with the
   word for Christmas (sw. Jul, fin. Joulu) which comes from the Old
   Germanic word "hjul", meaning the wheel of the year. Trolls and gnomes
   still inhabit Nordic households, although the once revered and feared
   mythical beings have been reduced to the lowly caste of soft toys.
   The Finns and the Sámi ought to have a common set of folklore and old
   relicts of religious traditions, but it is rather hard to find a
   common denominator for Fenno-Ugric traditions. For instance are the
   Sámi the only Fenno-Ugrians where shamans are known. Probably the
   Finns and the northern Germanians have made impressions in both
   directions. In any case: Bears had a central role in myths and rites,
   and beings ruling the nature, Haltia in Finnish, are more central in
   the Finnish and Sámi tradition than among other Nordeners.
   The Nordic peoples were converted to Catholicism in the 10th to 12th
   centuries, but the Lutheran reformation embraced in all Nordic
   countries wiped out most of the Catholic customs and memories in the
   course of the 16th century. Having become a stronghold of
   protestantism against Catholics in the south and Greek Orthodox in the
   east had some unifying effect on Scandinavia even though wars between
   the countries kept raging on; religion was, after all, the most
   important basis of one's identity well into the 18th century. The
   Lutheran ideal was to require the common people to be able to read the
   Bible on their own, which had a enormous educating effect on the
   Nordic peoples. This, along with the protestant work ethic, had a
   significant role in the forming of the Scandinavian societies,
   enabling their economic and cultural growth and the pioneering work
   that the Nordics have played in decreasing social inequality. No doubt
   it also shaped the national character of each country to a similar
   direction (a common complaint in Norden: we're such joyless, grey and
   angst-ridden people ---> it's all the Lutheran Church's fault! :->
   Even today, all five Nordic countries have a Lutheran state church to
   which a vast majority of the population belongs (there is of course
   full freedom of religion granted by the constitutions of the five
   countries). Paradoxically, this is probably the reason why
   Scandinavians are among the most secular peoples on the face of the
   earth. Despite its seemingly all-pervasive presence in various state
   institutions and the ceremonies guiding the life of the average
   Scandinavian, Lutheranism has in most parts of Scandinavia retreated
   to the fringes of culture and has little meaning to the average
   person. Church attendance is record-low, the liberal morals hardly
   reflect specifically Lutheran ideals, religion is no major issue in
   politics, etc. The official, institutionalized religion offered by the
   state churches has to a large extent vaccinated the Nordics against
   Christian fundamentalism of the American kind.
  2.2.3 Geography
   Norway, Sweden and northern Finland form the Scandinavian peninsula
   more than 2'000 kilometers from south to north. Denmark is a peninsula
   stretching out from continental Europe, accompanied with an
   archipelago of large and small islands, while Iceland is situated in
   the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Except for Iceland, the countries
   are situated relatively close to each other, often sharing borders
   with one another. They do not really form a geographical unit, but
   this is rather irrelevant since seas and waterways have historically,
   instead of separating peoples, united them. And we are, after all,
   talking about the best seafarers of ancient Europe.
   Finland, Sweden and Norway receive many tourists camping outdoors and
   hiking in the (relatively) unpolluted wilderness, taking advantage of
   the "Allemansret" (the General Right of Public Access) - the ancient
   right to move over land and waters of others, and to pick berries, and
   mushrooms, as long as one doesn't disturb and doesn't cause harm. Some
   tourists even travel by bicycle.
   Since the kingdom of Denmark includes also the autonomous area of
   Greenland (area: 2.2 mill. km², pop. 53,000) the area which could be
   regarded as "Norden" is huge.
  2.2.4 Language
   Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese are all
   North-Germanic languages developed from the Old Norse spoken in Viking
   age Scandinavia. (Also English is classified as a Germanic language.)
   A Swede, a Dane and a Norwegian can understand each other with varying
   degrees of difficulties, but none of them will fully understand
   Icelandic or Faroese without studying the languages. Finnish is an
   entirely different case, it's a Finno-Ugric language related to
   Estonian and Hungarian. There is, however, a Swedish-speaking minority
   in Finland, which ties it linguistically to Scandinavia. Also, Finnish
   is related to the Sámi languages spoken in Norway, Sweden and Finland
   by the Sámi or Lapps, the aborigines of northern Scandinavia (and the
   Kola peninsula and adjacent lands).
    Melodic accent & glottal stop
   Norwegian and Swedish except Finland-Swedish belong to the few
   European languages with a melodic accent. (Others are Lithuanian and
   Serbo-Croatian.) The way this melodic accent is expressed vary quite a
   lot between different dialects, but the dichotomy exists everywhere
   having an important role to differentiate between words which
   otherways would have been confused.
   Words with one syllable, words stressed on the end and short words
   with an unstressed suffix usually has what could be called "one
   syllable accent" (rarely marked, but then by acute accent). Words
   derived from two-syllable roots usually have an almost equal stress on
   both syllables.
   In south Swedish dialects the "one syllable accent" is expressed as a
   falling tone on the first syllable, while "two syllable accent" is
   expressed as a rise and a fall of the tone on the first syllable.
   Questions are expressed by a rising tone on the second syllable.
   In most Danish dialects (and some Scanian too) this melody accent has
   been replaced by a glottal stop (stød) in place of the "one syllable
    Are linguistic definitions of any value?
   Maybe not, but nevertheless they show up now and then in the group.
   An example:
   Dr. R. Rautiu  writes:
   Contemporary Germanists are dividing the North-West Germanic branch in
    1. Continental branch comprising: Swedish, Danish, Bokmål (Norwegian)
    2. Insular branch comprising: Icelandic, Faeroese and sometimes
       Nynorsk (closer to insular than continental linguistic traits),
       some specialists put Nynorsk as a transitional language between
       the continental and the insular groups.
   Tor Arntsen  replies:
   About trying to group Nynorsk and Bokmål to different East/West Nordic
   groups: It's really a red herring as Nynorsk and Bokmål exist as
   written languages only. No one actually speaks Nynorsk for example.
   The same goes for Bokmål.
   Some dialects would be "closer" to either one or the other, depending
   on what you end up with if you try to create a "written" form of a
   dialect. Norwegian language has as many dialects as there are cities
   and villages and valleys and fjords, and there is no way to create a
   common written language from that. Bokmål and Nynorsk are just two
   constructed written languages, where Bokmål is something that once
   upon a time came from written Danish, and Nynorsk was constructed from
   south-west Norvegian dialects -- and some personal colouring from the
   constructor (cultural and political).
   Eugene Holman writes:
   The majority of the traditional inhabitants of Iceland, the Faroe
   Islands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and some regions of western Finland
   speak closely related Germanic languages belonging to the North
   Germanic ( = Scandinavian = Nordic) subgroup. North Germanic is a
   subgrouping within Germanic (formerly called Teutonic). Thus English,
   German, Yiddish, Dutch, Afrikaans, Frisian, Lezebuurjesh, and the now
   extinct Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, Old High German, Gothic,
   Burgundian, Vandal, Longobardian, etc. are all Germanic or Teutonic
   languages ( - but they are not Nordic languages).
   The late Einar Haugen, one of the leading authorities on the
   Scandinavian languages, once characterized Norwegian as "Danish spoken
   with a Swedish accent". The essential difference between the three
   Scandinavian languages is that Danish and (Bokmål) Norwegian have a
   long history of shared culture and vocabulary which Swedish lacks,
   while Norwegian and Swedish have many shared features of
   pronunciation, which Danish lacks. Actually, the truth is somewhat
   more complex, since Norwegian and Danish have radically simplified
   their pronunciation and grammar in a way that Swedish has not, but the
   pronunciation of Danish has subsequently been influenced by that of
   German, while Swedish and Norwegian have not.

[ the sections above are available at the www-page ]



Subject: 2.3 The Sámi people (not Lapps!)

This section by Kari Yli-Kuha
(being revised - last edited 98/03/21)
A more recent version might be found at

  2.3.1 Who they are
   The Sámi people are one of the aboriginal peoples of the Fennoscandian
   area, (meaning here: Scandinavia, Finland, eastern Karelia and Kola
   peninsula) and for long they lived more or less disconnected from the
   European civilization.
   They are often referred to as Lapps but they themselves prefer to be
   called Sámi (Saamelaiset/Samerna) because Sápmi is the name they use
   of themselves and their country. There is also a very old name vuowjos
   which has been linked to the Sámi.
   The Sámi languages (there are several of them) are Finno-Ugric
   languages and the closest relatives to the Baltic-Finnic languages
   (Finnish, Estonian).
   Sámi people live nowadays in an area which spreads from Jämtlands Län
   in Sweden through northern Norway and Finland to the Kola Peninsula in
  2.3.2 Sámi history
   The origins of Sámi people have been researched for long but no
   certain answer has yet been found. The name "Sámi" has the same origin
   as the names "Suomi" (Finnish name for Finland), and "Häme" (Tavastia,
   an area in southern Finland) and comes originally from the Baltic word
   "Sämä" - meaning the area north of Gulf of Finland, i.e. current
   Anthropologically there are two types of Sámi people, the eastern type
   which resembles northern Asian peoples, and the western which is
   closer to Europids; blood survey, especially in this century,
   indicates western rather than eastern heritage.
   Perhaps the Sámi identity should therefore be seen more as a nomadic
   hunter-gatherer way of life, rather than as anything genetic - people
   who adopted the Sámi way of life became Sámi.
   It is believed that the original Sámi people came to areas now known
   as Finland and eastern Karelia during and after the last ice age,
   following herds of reindeer. Prehistoric (some 4000 years old) ski
   findings by the Arctic Sea show that there was some sort of Sámi
   culture living there already at that time. Some 1500 rock drawings
   have been found in the areas where they lived, e.g. by lake Onega and
   in Kola peninsula; the easternmost of them are 5000 years old.
   Some archeologists have linked the oldest known Scandinavian stone age
   culture, the so-called Komsa culture by the Arctic Sea, to the
   ancestors of the Sámi. Historians now also note that Ghengis Khan
   wrote that the Sámi (or, Fenner as they were then called), were the
   one nation he would never try to fight again. The Sámi were not
   warriors in the conventional sense. They simply didn't believe in war
   and so they "disappeared" in times of conflict. The Sámi remain one
   culture that has never been to war but are known as "peaceful
   retreaters" adapting to changing living conditions, whether they were
   caused by nature or by other people.
   Anyway, it is known that the Sámi people are the original people in
   the Fennoscandia area. Many names even in southern Finland and central
   Sweden are of Sámi origin. There was a Sámi population in those areas
   as late as the sixteenth century. The Sámi are known to have fished
   and hunted seals on the west coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, but in the
   late Middle Ages the Swedish agricultural population "invaded" the
   coastal area, pushing the Sámi further north. The same happened in
   Finland so that now the original Sámi people can only be found north
   of the Arctic Circle.
  2.3.3 Sámi cultures
   Sámi people have always settled thinly in a large area, making their
   living mostly hunting and fishing, families having large hunting areas
   around them. Connections to other people were rare although they had a
   strong sense of community thinking when it came to dividing
   hunting/fishing areas between families, and, of course, the marriages
   were made between people in nearby regions. This seems to be the major
   reason why there is no one Sámi culture and language, but several Sámi
   cultures and languages. The cultures have been formed both by
   different surroundings and living conditions and varying contacts with
   other cultures; in Sweden and Norway the Germanic culture, in Finland
   the Finnish culture and in Kola peninsula the Russian and Karelian
      Forest Sámi
   Sámi people living in coniferous forests lived mainly by fishing, but
   hunting was also very important. Most of the Finnish and Swedish Sámi
   people belong to this group. Families formed Lappish villages
   ('siida') normally by some large river. The size of the siida varied
   from just a couple of families up to 20 or 30, totaling some hundred
   individuals. Watersheds were natural borders between these villages.
   It was also common to have some reindeer for transportation and for
   the furs, which were an important material for clothing.
   A special group of forest Sámi are the Sámi north of Lake Inari
   because their language differs from the rest of forest Sámi - it's the
   westernmost dialect of eastern Sámi languages.
      Fjeld Sámi
     [ About the word "fjeld": The ice age has shaped the Scandinavian
     mountains, especially in Lapland, so that the top of them is round,
     and mostly bare. In some Nordic languages there is a special word
     for them (fjell/fjdll/ tunturi) to separate them from other
     mountains. There is also a rarely used English word "fjeld" for the
     same purpose. The word "fjeld" means here a [treeless] mountain in
     Lapland. ]
   The fjeld Sámi are also known as "reindeer Sámi" because the reindeer
   is by far the most important part of their economy.
   They live on the fjelds between Sweden and Norway and on the highlands
   north of it tending their herds. This kind of nomad culture is unique
   in Europe and as such it has been the subject of a lot of interest. It
   has been seen as the most typical form of Sámi culture although as
   such it's only a few hundred years old. It's not nearly as common as

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