|c. 2,400 (2010)|
|Regulated by||Swedish Language Council|
Elfdalian or Övdalian (övdalsk or övdalską, pronounced [ˈœvdɐlskãː] in Elfdalian, älvdalska or älvdalsmål in Swedish) is a North Germanic language spoken by up to 3,000 people who live or have grown up in the locality of Älvdalen (Övdaln), which is located in the southeastern part of Älvdalen Municipality in northern Dalarna, Sweden.
Like all other modern North Germanic languages, Elfdalian developed from Old Norse, a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age until about 1300. It has developed in relative isolation since the Middle Ages and is considered to have remained closer to Old Norse than the other Dalecarlian dialects.
Traditionally regarded as a Swedish dialect, but by several criteria closer to West Scandinavian dialects, Elfdalian is a separate language by the standard of mutual intelligibility. There is low mutual intelligibility between Swedish and Elfdalian, but since education and public administration in Älvdalen are conducted in Swedish, native speakers are bilingual and speak Swedish at a native level. Residents in the area having Swedish as their sole native language, neither speaking nor understanding Elfdalian, are also common.
Elfdalian belongs to the Northern branch/Upper Siljan branch of the Dalecarlian dialects or vernaculars, which in their turn evolved from Old Norse, from which Dalecarlian vernaculars might have split as early as in the eighth or ninth century, i.e., approximately when the North Germanic languages split into Western and Eastern branches. Elfdalian (and other Dalecarlian language varieties) is traditionally placed among the East Scandinavian languages, together with Swedish and Danish, based on a number of features that Elfdalian has in common with them. According to Lars Levander, some of the West Scandinavian features that simultaneously do occur in Elfdalian are archaic traits that once were common in many Scandinavian dialects and have been preserved in the most conservative tongues east and west of Kölen. However, this is rebutted by Kroonen.
Elfdalian is comparable to Swedish and Norwegian in the number and the quality of vowels but also has nasal vowels. It has retained the Old Norse dental, velar and labial voiced fricatives. Alveolo-palatal affricate consonants occur in all Uvǫ Silan (Swedish Ovansiljan, north of Siljan) dialects. The realization of ⟨r⟩ is [r], an apical alveolar trill. Unlike many variants of Norwegian and Swedish, Elfdalian does not assimilate /rt, rd, rs, rn, rl/ into retroflex consonants. The stress is generally on the first syllable of a word.
|Close||y yː||(u uː)|
|Near-close||ɪ ɪː||ʏ ʏː|
|Open-mid||ɛ ɛː||œ œː||ɐ||ɔ ɔː|
|Close||ỹ ỹː||(ũ ũː)|
|Near-close||ɪ̃ ɪ̃ː||ʏ̃ ʏ̃ː|
|Open-mid||ɛ̃ ɛ̃ː||œ̃ œ̃ː||ɐ̃||ɔ̃ ɔ̃ː|
The close vowel sounds /i iː/ or /ĩ ĩː/ are not present in Elfdalian.
|Close||yœ yœː||uo uoː|
|Close||ỹœ ỹœː||ũo ũoː|
Elfdalian has nasal versions of most vowels. They have several origins, belonging to different layers of history, but most involve the loss of a nasal consonant, with lengthening and nasalisation of a preceding vowel.
Nasal vowels are quite rare in Nordic languages, and Elfdalian and a few other neighbouring Dalecarlian dialects are the only ones that preserve nasal vowels from Proto-Norse; all other Nordic dialects with nasal vowels have developed them later as a result of the loss of a nasal consonant: compare Kalix dialect hąt and gås with Elfdalian hand and gą̊s.
In common with some other Dalecarlian vernaculars spoken north of Lake Siljan, Elfdalian retains numerous old grammatical and phonological features that have not changed considerably since Old Norse. Elfdalian is thus considered to be the most conservative and best preserved vernacular in the Dalecarlian branch. Having developed in relative isolation since the Middle Ages, many linguistic innovations also present occur.
Elfdalian has a morphological structure inherited from its Old Norse ancestor. Verbs are conjugated according to person and number and nouns have four cases, like Modern Icelandic and German. The Old Norse three-gender system has been retained. Like the other North Germanic languages, nouns have definite and indefinite forms, rather than a separate definite article (as in English). The length of the root syllable plays a major role in the Elfdalian declensional and conjugational system. The declension of warg, "wolf" (long-syllabic, strong masculine noun) was as follows in what is sometimes called "Classic Elfdalian" (as described by Levander 1909):
Many speakers retain the distinct dative case, which is used especially after prepositions and also certain verbs (such as jåpa, "help"). The distinction between nominative and accusative has been lost in full nouns,[clarification needed] and the inherited genitive been replaced by new forms created by attaching -es to the dative (see Dahl & Koptjevskaja-Tamm 2005), a trend that was well underway even in Classic Elfdalian.
Unlike other Swedish vernaculars, the syntax of Elfdalian was investigated in the early 20th century (Levander 1909). Although Elfdalian syntax has attracted increased attention, a majority of its syntactic elements are still unresearched. In May–June 2007, a group of linguists from the pan-Scandinavian NORMS network conducted fieldwork in Älvdalen especially aimed at investigating the syntactic properties of the language.
Presented with the help of generative syntax, the following features have been identified:
That has recently been studied more closely from a generative perspective by Rosenkvist (2007).
Other syntactic properties are negative concord, stylistic inversion, long distance reflexives, verb controlled datives, agent-verb word order in coordinated clauses with deleted subjects, etc. Some of the properties are archaic features that existed in Old Swedish, but others are innovations, but none of them has been studied in any detail.
In Älvdalen, Germanic runes survived in use longer than anywhere else. The last record of the Elfdalian Runes is from 1929; they are a variant of the Dalecarlian runes. Älvdalen can be said to have had its own alphabet during the 17th and 18th century.
Due to the great phonetic differences between Swedish and Elfdalian, the use of Swedish orthography for Elfdalian has been unpredictable and varied, such as the one applied in the Prytz's play from 1622, which contains long passages in Elfdalian, or in the Elfdalian material published in the periodical Skansvakten.
A first attempt to create a separate Elfdalian orthography was made in 1999 by Bengt Åkerberg. Åkerberg's orthography was applied in some books and used in language courses and is based on Loka dialect and is highly phonetic. It has many diacritics (Sapir 2006).
In March 2005, a uniform standard orthography for Elfdalian was presented by Råðdjärum (lit. "Let us confer"), The Elfdalian Language Council, and accepted by Ulum Dalska (lit. "Let us speak Dalecarlian"), The Organization for the Preservation of Elfdalian. The new orthography has already been applied by Björn Rehnström in his book Trair byönner frą̊ Övdalim 'Three Bears from Älvdalen' published in 2007. Råðdjärum's orthography was also used in Bo Westling's translation of Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, Lisslprinsn.
Main article: Elfdalian alphabet
The Elfdalian alphabet consists of the following letters
|The Elfdalian alphabet|
Other than the letters occurring in the Swedish alphabet, Elfdalian has letters with ogonek, denoting nasal vowels: Ąą, Ęę, Įį, Ųų, Y̨y̨ and Ą̊ą̊. Additionally, it uses the letter eth (Ð, ð) for the voiced dental fricative.
As of 2009, Elfdalian had around 2,000 speakers and is in danger of language death. However, it is possible that it will receive an official status as a minority language in Sweden, which would entail numerous protections and encourage its use in schools and by writers and artists. The Swedish Parliament was due to address the issue in 2007, but has not yet done so. The Council of Europe has urged the Swedish government to reconsider the status of Elfdalian on a total of five occasions. The Committee of Experts now encourages the Swedish authorities to investigate the status of Elfdalian through an independent scientific study. In 2020, the Committee of Experts concluded that Elfdalian fulfils the criteria of a Part II language, and asked the Swedish authorities to include reporting on Elfdalian in its next periodical report as the language covered by Part II of the Charter, which the Swedish Ministry of Culture has not done in its 8th periodical report to the Council of Europe.
Ulum Dalska, The Organization for the Preservation of Elfdalian, was established in 1984 with the aim of preserving and documenting the Elfdalian language. In 2005, Ulum Dalska launched a process aimed at bringing about an official recognition of Elfdalian as a language by the Swedish authorities.
Råðdjärum, The Elfdalian Language Committee was established in August 2004 within Ulum Dalska, its first task being to create a new standard orthography for Elfdalian. In March 2005, the new orthography created by Råðdjärum was accepted by the Ulum Dalska at their annual meeting. Råðdjärum consists of five permanent members: linguist Östen Dahl, dialectologist Gunnar Nyström, teacher Inga-Britt Petersson, linguist and coordinator of the committee Dr. Yair Sapir, and linguist Lars Steensland.
As an initiative from Ulum Dalska to encourage children to speak Elfdalian, all school children in Älvdalen who finish the ninth grade and can prove that they can speak Elfdalian receive a 6,000 SEK stipend.
An online version of Lars Steensland's 2010 Elfdalian dictionary was published in September 2015.
In March 2016, Swedish Radio reported that the Älvdalen City Council had decided that, starting in autumn 2016, the local kindergarten would operate solely through the medium of Elfdalian.
In 2015, a new genus Elfdaliana of deep-sea nudibranch molluscs was named after the Elfdalian language in reference to evolutionary basal characters of the new genus never before reported for the family, just as Elfdalian preserves ancestral features of Old Norse.
In many aspects, Elfdalian, takes up a middle position between East and West Nordic. However, it shares some innovations with West Nordic, but none with East Nordic. This invalidates the claim that Elfdalian split off from Old Swedish
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