Norwegian Language Blog

Samisk-norsk controversy over road sign Posted by on Feb 17, 2011 in Culture, Language


The county that Tromsø lies in is called Troms (på samisk) and Romsa (på samisk).  It was not until July 1, 2006 that the Sami name for the county became officially recognized.  In the event that you are interested in etymology like myself, I´ll tell you what the name is believed to have derived from.  Tromsø, the city, is located on Tromsøya (øya meaning the island), which in old Norse is Trums.  There are also rivers and islands in Troms fylke that are called Tromsa, which likely derived from the Old Norse word straumr, which means ´strong stream´.

Click here to see an article in Nordlys, the major Tromsø avis (newspaper).

Nevertheless, this post is not intended to focus on etymology-I´ll save that for another time.  There is a currently a controversy surrounding veiskilt (road signs) in Tromsø due to the fact that the name Tromsø comes first on the skilt, with Romssa underneath.  Arbeiderpartiet (Ap-the Labor Party) and many Sami people believe that this hinders Tromsø from being incorporated in the Forvaltningsområdet for Samisk Språk (Administration for Sami Language).  It was not until 1989 that the Sami Parliament was recognized by the Norwegian government.  Because the Sami were oppressed for so long by the Norwegian government, there is still a considerable amount of resentment for this and it seems that whenever there is a chance to point this out (even in very subtle ways), the emboldened parties do so.

I choose not to take a stand on this issue in this post, but rather would like to present both sides of the argument and educate my readers that this long-standing debate over the equality between samisk and norsk or even Sami and non-Sami Norwegians.  is still going on and likely will for a very long time.

Those on the other side of the debate believe that it is not natural for the samisk name to come first on road signs in Tromsø, where most of the population is not Sami.  They say that there are samisk skilt where it is natural and makes sense (such at Sami schools, etc.), and to spend the money to change all of the veiskilt would be both a waste of money (who would pay anyways?) and unnecessary.  Tromsø is a very inclusive city and in no way is uninviting to Sami people, according to those on the ´keep Tromsø first´argument.  Some actually believe that it isn´t really the Sami people who are fighting for this, but rather  Arbeiderpartiet on behalf of the Sami.  If anyone knows more about what´s behind this, please do share.

This debate over the indigenous vs. the modern day majority is everywhere.  It´s here in MN with native Americans.  I don´t believe this will ever go away even if the Native Americans were to experience complete reconciliation on their terms.  These are very sensitive issues and will forever hold their place in history, as well as today and in the future.  Compromise, empathy, and forsure reality must be present.

Sorry for the deep post, but every once in a while I feel I need to bring this controversy up because it is very present, especially in northern Norway.

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About the Author: kari

I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where I majored in Norwegian and History. During college, I spent almost a year living in Oslo, Norway, where I attended the University of Oslo and completed an internship at the United States Embassy. I have worked for Concordia Language Villages as a pre-K Norwegian teacher and have taught an adult Norwegian language class. Right now, I keep up by writing this Norwegian blog for Transparent Language. Please read and share your thoughts! I will be continuing this blog from my future residence in the Norwegian arctic!