Could The Elfdalian Language In Sweden Be Preserved In The Future?

Elfdalian (autonym: Övdalsk) is an archaic North Germanic language spoken by circa 2,000 native speakers in the locality of Älvdalen, the seat of the namesake municipality located in Dalarna county, Sweden. As it is the case of the rest of the North Germanic languages (specifically Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic or Faroese), Elfdalian is descended from Old Norse, the language once spoken by the Norsemen during the Viking Age.

Älvdalen, which means ‘River Valley’, is a small parish situated in a remote part of the Swedish countryside, surrounded by mountain slopes, thick forests, and deep valleys. It was named this way because of the Österdal long river which flows through its southern part and it is because of this geographically isolated position that the Elfdalian language managed to have preserved many linguistic features nowadays inexistent in the rest of the Scandinavian languages.

Älvdalen Municipality, Dalarna county, Sweden. Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

Älvdalen Municipality, Dalarna county, Sweden. Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

Elfdalian, regarded by some as either a dialect of Swedish or as separate full-fledged language, has, according to an estimation from 2009, up to 2,000 native speakers, which makes it the least spoken North Germanic language in the world (yet, usually considered as the least spoken North Germanic language is an insular Scandinavian one, namely Faroese, with circa 70,000 native speakers globally).

Given the fact that since the 13th century it did not shift from Old Norse as much as its relatives, Elfdalian differs to a considerable extent from the other Swedish dialects spoken in the historical province of Dalarna, which borders Norway to the west. Because of its archaic structure, Elfdalian has much more in common with the West Norse dialects once spoken by the Norsemen, than to their eastern counterparts.

A peculiarity of Elfdalian consists in the usage of nasal vowels, which are completely inexistent among the other Nordic languages. In terms of syntax, another special feature regarding it is that the dative case was also retained. Furthermore, the Runic script (or ‘futhark’) was still in use in the locality of Älvdalen until the round of the 20th century, which adds to its unique and ancient background.

Front cover of 'The Little Prince' translated in Elfdalian. Image source: www.petit-prince-collection.com

Front cover of ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry translated in Elfdalian. Image source: www.petit-prince-collection.com

Another interesting fact about Elfdalian is that, according to several specialized linguists, it is quite an eclectic language, managing thus to have preserved archaic elements from Old Norse, but also blending in some innovative features, which is yet another prized reason for preserving it.

In 2015, a comprehensive online Elfdalian-Swedish dictionary was launched, aiming to preserve its lexis and to make things easier for prospective learners from other regions of Sweden. Translations in Elfdalian of some iconic children books such as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘Le Petit Prince’ (titled ‘Lisslprinsn’) were also made hoping for a subsequent revitalized state of the idiom.

Additional good news on the development of its preservation rose in September, 2016 when it was set to be taught at a preschool in Älvdalen at the demands of a local group of enthusiasts known as ‘Ulum Dalska‘ (i.e. ‘We need to speak Elfdalian’) in order to encourage younger generations to keep on speaking it. 

There are also attempts for the official status of regional minority language for Elfdalian, but the costs are to expensive for such a small community as Älvdalen. The Swedish government stressed that Elfdalian should be considered a dialect of Swedish, in spite of growing awareness amongst linguists concerning many notable discrepancies.

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One Response to Could The Elfdalian Language In Sweden Be Preserved In The Future?

  1. Paul Schleifer says:

    Is there a Bible translation in Elfdalian?

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