övdalsk, övdalską
Native toSweden
RegionÄlvdalen, Dalarna
Native speakers
c. 2,400 (2010)[1]
Official status
Regulated bySwedish Language Council
Language codes
ISO 639-3ovd
Älvdalen Municipality in Dalarna, where Elfdalian is spoken in the southeastern half
Maps of settlements in Älvdalen parish, Sweden, and the percentage of the population speaking Elfdalian (2008 data).

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[4] 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,[5] but by several criteria closer to West Scandinavian dialects,[2] Elfdalian is a separate language by the standard of mutual intelligibility.[6][7][8] 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,[9] 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[10] that Elfdalian has in common with them. According to Lars Levander,[11] 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.[2]



Innovations and unique developments


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.


Labial Dental/
Retroflex Palatal Velar
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless t͡s̺
voiced d͡z̺
Fricative voiceless f
voiced v ð ɣ
Nasal m n ŋ
Trill/Flap r ɽ
Approximant voiced w l j


Front Central Back
Close y (u )
Near-close ɪ ɪː ʏ ʏː
Close-mid o
Open-mid ɛ ɛː œ œː ɐ ɔ ɔː
Open æ æː
Nasal vowels
Front Central Back
Close ỹː (ũ ũː)
Near-close ɪ̃ ɪ̃ː ʏ̃ ʏ̃ː
Close-mid õ õː
Open-mid ɛ̃ ɛ̃ː œ̃ œ̃ː ɐ̃ ɔ̃ ɔ̃ː
Open (æ̃ æ̃ː) ãː

The close vowel sounds /i iː/ or ĩː/ are not present in Elfdalian.[12]


Front Central Back
Close yœː uo uoː
Near-close ɪɛ ɪɛː
Open-mid ɔyː
Open ajː awː
Triphthongs juo
Nasal diphthongs
Front Central Back
Close ỹœ ỹœː ũo ũoː
Near-close ɪ̃ɛ ɪ̃ɛː
Open ãjː
Triphthongs jũo

Nasal vowel sounds

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[13] 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):

Declension of warg ('wolf')
Singular Plural
indefinite definite indefinite definite
Nominative warg wargen warger wargär
Accusative warg wardjin warga wargą
Dative wardje wardjem wargum wargum(e)
Genitive (wardjes) wardjemes wargumes

Many speakers retain the distinct dative case, which is used especially after prepositions and also certain verbs (such as jåpa, "help").[14] 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[15] 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:

Du ir sakt du uvendes duktin dalsk.
literally: "You are ADVL[clarification needed] you very good speak-Övdalian"
"You are actually very good at speaking Övdalian"

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.

Writing systems

In Älvdalen, Germanic runes survived in use longer than anywhere else. The last record of the Elfdalian Runes is from the early 20th century;[16] 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.[17]

A first attempt to create a separate Elfdalian orthography was made in 1982 by Lars Steensland. Bengt Åkerberg elaborated it, and it was applied in some books and used in language courses[17] and is based on Loka dialect and is highly phonetic. It has many diacritics (Sapir 2006).

Råðdjärum's orthography

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.[17] 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.

Elfdalian alphabet

Main article: Elfdalian alphabet

The Elfdalian alphabet consists of the following letters[18]

The Elfdalian alphabet
Upper case A Ą B C D Ð E Ę F G H I Į J K L M N O P Q R S T U Ų V W X Y Z Å Ą̊ Ä Ö
Lower case a ą b c d ð e ę f g h i į j k l m n o p q r s t u ų v w x y z å ą̊ ä ö

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.

Language status

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.[19][20] The Council of Europe has urged the Swedish government to reconsider the status of Elfdalian on a total of five occasions.[20] The Committee of Experts now encourages the Swedish authorities to investigate the status of Elfdalian through an independent scientific study.[21] 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.[22][23]

Preservation and standardization

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 Swedish krona stipend.[24]

An online version of Lars Steensland's 2010 Elfdalian dictionary was published in September 2015.[25]

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.[26][27]

New organisms named after 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.[28]


  1. ^ Elfdalian at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ a b c Kroonen, Guus. "On the origins of the Elfdalian nasal vowels from the perspective of diachronic dialectology and Germanic etymology" (PDF). Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics. University of Copenhagen. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 February 2016. Retrieved 27 January 2016. 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
  3. ^ Garbacz, Piotr (2008). Älvdalska – ett mindre känt nordiskt språk Archived 24 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine [Elfdalian – a lesser known Nordic language]. s. 1. Oslo universitet
  4. ^ Barke, Anders. "Vad är Älvdalska?" [What is Elfdalian?]. Älvdalens kommun (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 13 February 2019. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  5. ^ Ekberg, Lena (2010). "The National Minority Languages in Sweden". In Gerhard Stickel (ed.). National, Regional and Minority Languages in Europe: Contributions to the Annual Conference 2009 of Efnil in Dublin. Peter Lang. pp. 87–92. ISBN 978-3-631-60365-9. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  6. ^ Dahl, Östen; Dahlberg, Ingrid; Delsing, Lars-Olof; Halvarsson, Herbert; Larsson, Gösta; Nyström, Gunnar; Olsson, Rut; Sapir, Yair; Steensland, Lars; Williams, Henrik (8 February 2007). "Älvdalskan är ett språk – inte en svensk dialekt" [Elfdalian is a language – not a Swedish dialect]. Aftonbladet (in Swedish). Stockholm. Archived from the original on 25 August 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  7. ^ Dahl, Östen (December 2008). "Älvdalska – eget språk eller värsting bland dialekter?" [Elfdalian – its own language or an outstanding dialect?]. Språktidningen (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 7 December 2017. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
  8. ^ Zach, Kristine (2013). "Das Älvdalische — Sprache oder Dialekt? (Diplomarbeit)" [Elfdalian — Language or dialect? (Masters thesis)] (PDF) (in German). University of Vienna. Archived (PDF) from the original on 17 February 2020. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  9. ^ Levander, Lars, Dalmålet, vol. 1, 1925, pp. 37–38.
  10. ^ Garbacz, Piotr (2008). Älvdalska – ett mindre känt nordiskt språk Archived 24 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine. s. 1. Oslo universitet
  11. ^ Levander, Lars (1925), Dalmålet. Beskrivning och historia., "1", Uppsala
  12. ^ Sapir, Yair (2006). Elfdalian, the Vernacular of Övdaln.
  13. ^ Boëthius, Johannes (1918). Orsamålet. 1, Ljudlära (in Swedish). Uppsala.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  14. ^ Dahl, Östen; David, Gil; Trudgill, Peter (2009). "Testing the Assumption of Complexity Invariance: The Case of Elfdalian and Swedish". In Geoffrey Sampson (ed.). Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable. Oxford University Press. pp. 50–63. ISBN 978-0-19-156766-7. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  15. ^ Nordic Center of Excellence in Microcomparative Syntax Archived 3 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "Älvdalskan som nationellt minoritetsspråk (Interpellation 2020/21:575 av Robert Stenkvist (SD))". www.riksdagen.se (in Swedish). 25 March 2021. Retrieved 5 November 2023.
  17. ^ a b c "Skriva på älvdalska – Ulum Dalska" (in Swedish). Retrieved 5 November 2023.
  18. ^ "Älvdalska språkrådets förslag till älvdalsk stavning" (PDF). www.ulumdalska.se. Råðdjärum. 16 March 2005. Retrieved 5 November 2023.
  19. ^ Uppsala University, Second Conference on Elfdalian, Älvdalen 12–14 June 2008 Archived 2 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ a b "Särdrag och status | Älvdalska". www.alvdalen.se (in Swedish). Retrieved 5 November 2023.
  21. ^ "Report of the Committee of Experts on Sweden" (PDF). Council of Europe. October 2011. p. 9. Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 April 2012. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
  22. ^ Committee of Experts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (2020). "Seventh evaluation report on Sweden". Council of Europe. p. 8. Archived from the original on 17 August 2021. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  23. ^ Eighth periodical report presented to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in accordance with Article 15 of the Charter. Council of Europe. Accessed 5 November 2023.
  24. ^ Rehnström, Björn (25 April 2013). "Får 6000 för att prata älvdalska". Dalarnas Tidningar (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 23 July 2023. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  25. ^ Elfdalian–Swedish dictionary. Archived 5 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  26. ^ "Barn i förskolan ska språkbada i älvdalska" [Children in preschool will be immersed in Elfdalian]. Sveriges Radio. 16 March 2016. Archived from the original on 24 January 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  27. ^ Swedish nursery to teach rare Viking-era language, British Broadcasting Corp., 17 March 2016, archived from the original on 5 October 2018, retrieved 5 October 2018
  28. ^ Martynov, Alexander; Korshunova, Tatiana (March 2015). "A new deep-sea genus of the family Polyceridae (Nudibranchia) possesses a gill cavity, with implications for the cryptobranch condition and a 'Periodic Table' approach to taxonomy". Journal of Molluscan Studies. 81 (3): 365–379. doi:10.1093/mollus/eyv003.