Fellow phonologist Bruce Morén recently began a discussion on LINGUIST List entitled “Cultural Sensitivity & Endangered Languages: Saami” (referred to throughout Morén’s post as Sami, and once as Sámi). Among the reasons why we should care is “the uniquely complex grammar of the Sami languages”:
In the words of one of the foremost researchers on these languages, “Sámi phonetics, phonology and morphophonology are amongst the most complicated in Europe if not in the whole world” (Sammallahti 1990:441). This includes what looks like a preference for simple onsets and complex codas, three linguistically significant degrees of consonant duration, quasi-harmonizing “glide vowels”, laryngeal contrasts only in post-stressed medial position, an extensive and pervasive consonant gradation system, productive morphological paradigms including literally hundreds of forms, etc. Each one of these phenomena is interesting and perhaps problematic for some linguistic theories, but taken in concert, they are astoundingly complex and form a perfect testing ground for many theoretical claims. These languages are important sources of unique linguistic data, and they should not be allowed to simply vanish.
Several of the good folks at Tromsø’s CASTL — both permanent members (e.g., Morén and Curt Rice) and past visitors (e.g., Patrik Bye, Dave Odden) — have written about many of these and other delightful complexities of Saami/Sami/Sámi grammar. If you haven’t already, you may be interested in taking a look — you can start, for example, with some of Bye’s work on ROA.
Update, 11/21: this book just announced.