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Elfdalian, the Ancient Viking Forest Language of Sweden, Set to be Revived

Elfdalian, the Ancient Viking Forest Language of Sweden, Set to be Revived


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The ancient Viking language of Elfdalian has been almost entirely wiped out, with an estimate of only 3,000 people in a tiny forest community in Sweden currently keeping it alive. Now, people fight to revive the historic tongue by bringing it back to schools and online before it vanishes completely.

The Conversation reports that the ancient dialect of Elfdalian ( älvdalska in Swedish and övdalsk in the language itself) was a vigorous language until well into the 20th century. Sounding to listeners like a beautiful and complex language as spoken by the Elven race in fantasy epics, Elfdalian is actually derived from Old Norse, the language of the Vikings . However, it is radically different from Swedish, writes University of Copenhagen linguist Dr. Guus Kroonen.

He explains that it “sounds like something you would more likely encounter in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings rather than in a remote Swedish forest.” It can be heard on the video below.

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Elfdalian is Unique

Elfdalian is unique among Nordic languages, expressing itself with different tones and sounds. Even the grammar and vocabulary are unlike Swedish. So, while speakers of Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish are able to have simple conversations and understand each other, it is not so with Elfdalian. So far removed from Swedish, (even while originating from the same region,) it is completely unintelligible to non-local Swedes.

Viking patterned woodwork. Hans Splinter/ Flickr

The language originated in the forested region of Älvdalen, Sweden, and remained robust for centuries. Elfdalian served the people of Älvdalen as trade and economic networks were mostly local, and no other languages were necessary.

Fighting to Bring Back Elfdalian

However, in the last century the dynamic shifted. As mobility, mass communication, and even mass media increased, the Swedish language became more widespread, crowding out Elfdalian. Soon it was actively suppressed.

“Speakers of the language were stigmatized, and children were actively discouraged to use it at school. As a result, speakers of Elfdalian shifted to Swedish in droves, especially in the past couple of decades. At present, only half of the inhabitants of Älvdalen speak it,” Dr. Kroonen writes.

In order to save the swiftly-disappearing language, activists started a campaign of awareness and preservation. The group of language activists, called Ulum Dalska (“We need to speak Elfdalian”) have seen some success in attempts to revitalize the language. Several children’s books have been translated into Elfdalian, and programs have been introduced in schools encouraging and incentivizing the learning of the language, reports news site The New Daily .

Elfdalian is taught in the town’s schools since 2015, and that year an international conference on the language was held in Copenhagen, raising awareness of the language that serves as a window into history. Dr. Kroonen and other Elfdalian supporters are seeking a path through the Council of Europe to grant it the status of a regional or minority language . For years, campaigners have been pushing to preserve Elfdalian for future generations and to have it recognized as an official language in Sweden. It’s necessary, as The Local reports “At the moment only 60 people under the age of 18 are estimated to speak the tongue, which means there's a real risk of it dying out.”

With that in mind, in 2016, Elfdalian received a boost when it was assigned an ISO language code, classifying it a language on the internet. “It's an important symbolic step for Elfdalian because this is de facto international recognition for it as a language,” professor at Kristianstad University Yair Sapir told The Local .

And things moved forward with two events in 2017. First, a course was offered in in the Älvdalen area of Dalarna County in Western Sweden to a group of international participants from the USA, Czech Republic, Germany, Norway and Denmark. And second, Elfdalian reached an even wider audience when it was introduced to the popular world of Minecraft , through the creation of the village of Älvdalen. In that area, all text and speech in the game are in Elfdalian.

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The preservation of ancient languages is of importance not only to the Älvdalen locals who risk losing their heritage, but also the global community, which benefits from the wealth of historical information old languages provide.

Language historian Bjarne Simmelkjær Sandsgaard Hansen, co-organizer of the Copenhagen University conference said, “Elfdalian is a goldmine. It works almost like a linguistic deep freeze, where one can get a glimpse of Old Norse traits that have long since vanished in the other Nordic languages," writes The Local .

He added, “It has preserved many old features, which we may not even know existed if we didn't have Elfdalian.”

Featured Image: The forests of Sweden. Activists fight to preserve the ancient forest language of Elfdalian. Daniel Sjöström/ Flickr

By Liz Leafloor


Fight to Preserve Elfdalian, Sweden’s Lost Forest Language

When I visited the remote Swedish town of Älvdalen, I was immediately struck by the tranquil splendour of the undulating, forest-covered valley in which it is situated. The river Österdalälv, which runs to the valley and has given it its name, was still partly frozen, and the gleaming ice resonated with the last patches of snow that were strewn across the landscape. Here, in this Swedish Shangri-La, I was set to meet the last speakers of Elfdalian, a tiny and well-hidden linguistic gem that only very few know about.

Elfdalian (älvdalska in Swedish and övdalsk in the language itself) sounds like something you would more likely encounter in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings rather than in a remote Swedish forest. But the small town of Älvdalen, which gives the language its name, is not an Elven outpost. It is one of the last strongholds of an ancient tongue that preserves much of Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. And it is now to be taught in the town’s preschools for the first time in September, marking a small victory for a group campaigning for its preservation.

Elfdalian is currently used only by about 2,500 people, but is a treasure trove for linguists. Hidden between the trees and hills, it has preserved linguistic features that are to be found nowhere else in Scandinavia, and that had already disappeared from Old Norse by 1200AD.


Fight on to preserve Elfdalian, Sweden's lost forest language

When I visited the remote Swedish town of Älvdalen, I was immediately struck by the tranquil splendour of the undulating, forest-covered valley in which it is situated. The river Österdalälv, which runs to the valley and has given it its name, was still partly frozen, and the gleaming ice resonated with the last patches of snow that were strewn across the landscape. Here, in this Swedish Shangri-La, I was set to meet the last speakers of Elfdalian, a tiny and well-hidden linguistic gem that only very few know about.

Elfdalian (älvdalska in Swedish and övdalsk in the language itself) sounds like something you would more likely encounter in Tolkien&rsquos Lord of the Rings rather than in a remote Swedish forest. But the small town of Älvdalen, which gives the language its name, is not an Elven outpost. It is one of the last strongholds of an ancient tongue that preserves much of Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. And it is now to be taught in the town&rsquos preschools for the first time in September, marking a small victory for a group campaigning for its preservation.

Elfdalian is currently used only by about 2,500 people, but is a treasure trove for linguists. Hidden between the trees and hills, it has preserved linguistic features that are to be found nowhere else in Scandinavia, and that had already disappeared from Old Norse by 1200AD.

Unique among Nordic languages

Elfdalian has, for instance, preserved nasal vowels that disappeared elsewhere. Nasal vowels are well-known from French, as in un bon vin blanc (&ldquoa good white wine&rdquo), but not from the modern Nordic languages. In Old Norse, nasal vowels are only found in a single manuscript from 12th-century Iceland, but linguists never thought much of it &ndash until it was discovered that modern day Elfdalian has nasal vowels in the exact same words.

The Nativity of Jesus in Elfdalian, by Lena Willemark, a famous Swedish musician from Älvdalen.

Because of its relative isolation, Elfdalian evolved in an entirely different direction than the modern Scandinavian languages. Its sounds, grammar and vocabulary differ radically from Swedish. So, while speakers of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian can easily understand each other in simple conversations, Elfdalian is completely unintelligible to Swedes who are not from the area.

For centuries, it was unnecessary for the majority of the native Elfdalian-speaking population to learn standard Swedish, as the economic networks were locally-oriented and there was no compulsory schooling in Swedish until the mid-1800s. As a result, Elfdalian remained a vigorous language until well into the 20th century.

Elfdalian Lesson 1, from Gunnar Nyström&rsquos and Yair Sapir&rsquos Textbook for Elfdalian/Introduktion till älvdalska 2005

The situation changed dramatically in the past century, however. With increased mobility and the arrival of mass media, Elfdalian came under threat from Swedish, which steadily encroached upon more and more aspects of daily life. Speakers of the language were stigmatised, and children were actively discouraged to use it at school. As a result, speakers of Elfdalian shifted to Swedish in droves, especially in the past couple of decades. At present, only half of the inhabitants of Älvdalen speak it, and of the youngest generation, only about 60 children under the age of 15 are fluent.

Moving into preschool

During my visit in Älvdalen, I was very lucky to be introduced to a group of language activists united under the name Ulum Dalska (&ldquoWe need to speak Elfdalian&rdquo). Attempts are being made by these local enthusiasts to revitalise the language that means so much to them. An orthography, detailing how to speak the language, was devised in 2004, consisting of 35 letters, including nasalised vowels. It was used to publish several children&rsquos books, such as a translation of &ldquoLe Petit Prince&rdquo by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The association also annually awards language stipends to pupils who are particularly fluent in Elfdalian.

After many years of action, Ulum Dalska has also recently been successful at convincing the local authorities to start up an Elfdalian-speaking group at the local preschool. This means that, for the first time in history, Elfdalian has made its official entry into the Swedish schooling system.

Though nothing short of a break-through, more radical measures are likely to be required to permanently secure the future of Elfdalian. Researchers have, for instance, suggested introducing bilingual programmes to primary schools, by which pupils are immersed in Elfdalian, and Swedish is only taught as a separate subject.

Fight for minority language status

The funding required for such programmes is too considerable to be realized by the small community of Älvdalen. A permanent solution would be to grant Elfdalian the status of a regional or minority language as defined by the Council of Europe. Despite repeated requests by Ulum Dalska, the Swedish government has so far been reluctant to do so, however. It maintains that Elfdalian is a dialect, despite a growing consensus among linguists that it has all characteristics of a separate language.

Nevertheless, language awareness is on the rise, both in Älvdalen and in the outside world. There is a very active Facebook group, where many speakers are starting to write in Elfdalian for the first time in their lives. Earlier this month, I co-organised an international conference on Elfdalian, which sparked worldwide media attention. The annual summer school is expected to attract a record number of participants consisting of both native speakers and linguists.

On the whole, more and more people seem to be convinced of the preciousness of Elfdalian and the need to preserve it for future generations. And in a globalising world, the right attitude is perhaps the most important step towards a full language revival.

Guus Kroonen is Postdoc Researcher, Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics at University of Copenhagen.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Fight for minority language status

The funding required for such programmes is too considerable to be realized by the small community of Älvdalen. A permanent solution would be to grant Elfdalian the status of a regional or minority language as defined by the Council of Europe. Despite repeated requests by Ulum Dalska, the Swedish government has so far been reluctant to do so, however. It maintains that Elfdalian is a dialect, despite a growing consensus among linguists that it has all characteristics of a separate language.

Älvdalen, home of Elfdalian. Guus Kroonen , Author provided

Nevertheless, language awareness is on the rise, both in Älvdalen and in the outside world. There is a very active Facebook group, where many speakers are starting to write in Elfdalian for the first time in their lives. Earlier this month, I co-organised an international conference on Elfdalian, which sparked worldwide media attention. The annual summer school is expected to attract a record number of participants consisting of both native speakers and linguists.

On the whole, more and more people seem to be convinced of the preciousness of Elfdalian and the need to preserve it for future generations. And in a globalising world, the right attitude is perhaps the most important step towards a full language revival.


Vikings may not be who we thought they were, DNA study finds

History books typically depict Vikings as blue-eyed, blonde-haired, burly men sailing the North Atlantic coast to pillage wherever they set foot on land. While some of that may be true, a new genetic study of Viking DNA is flipping much of this history on its head.

In the largest genetic study of Viking DNA ever, scientists have found that Vikings — and their diaspora — are actually much more genetically diverse than we may have thought and were not necessarily all part of a homogenous background.

Sequencing the genomes of over 400 Viking men, women, and children from ancient burial sites, researchers found evidence of genetic influence from Southern Europe and Asia in Viking DNA dating back to before the Viking Age (750 - 1050 A.D.).

The authors also note that individuals not related to Vikings genetically, such as native Pictish people of Scotland and Ireland, sometimes received traditional Viking burials — suggesting that being a Viking was not so much about specific family roots but about a sense of internal identity.

In the study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers reports findings from their six-year-long study of 442 human remains from burial sites that date back between the Bronze Age (2400 B.C.) to the Early Modern period (1600 A.D.)

When comparing the genetic material of these ancient samples with 3,855 present-day individuals from regions like the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Sweden, and data from 1,118 ancient individuals, they discovered more intermixing of genetic material than they'd originally imagined, lead author and director of The Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre at the University of Copenhagen, Eske Willerslev, said in a statement.

"We have this image of well-connected Vikings mixing with each other, trading and going on raiding parties to fight Kings across Europe because this is what we see on television and read in books — but genetically we have shown for the first time that it wasn't that kind of world," explains Willerslev.

"This study changes the perception of who a Viking actually was — no one could have predicted these significant gene flows into Scandinavia from Southern Europe and Asia happened before and during the Viking Age."

Based on these results, Willerslev says that even well-known imagery of Vikings being blonde and blue-eyed (like Chris Hemsworth's depiction of Thor) may not be totally true, especially for Vikings with Southern European roots. The authors write that their analysis also confirmed some long-held theories and hunches about the movement of Vikings during this time.

What'd they find — One of the first hunches that the study was able to confirm was the final destination of different threads of Viking migration from modern-day Scandinavia.

The DNA of ancient Danish Vikings cropped up in England while Norwegian Viking DNA was found in Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland. Unexpectedly though, they also found evidence of DNA similar to present-day Swedish populations in the western edge of Europe and DNA similar to modern Danish populations further east.

The researchers write that this unexpected discovery suggests that complex settling, trading, and raiding networks during these times resulted in communities of mixed ancestry.

Even more, the study's analysis shows that this mixed ancestry was taking place even before the so-called Viking Age, explains Martin Sikora, a lead author on the study and associate professor at the Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen.

"We found that Vikings weren't just Scandinavians in their genetic ancestry, as we analyzed genetic influences in their DNA from Southern Europe and Asia which has never been contemplated before," said Sikora. "Many Vikings have high levels of non-Scandinavian ancestry, both within and outside Scandinavia, which suggest ongoing gene flow across Europe."

And some "Vikings" weren't of genetic Viking descent at all, researchers found when analyzing a Viking burial site in Orkney, Scotland. Despite being put to rest in traditional Viking style (including swords and other Viking memorabilia,) when sequencing the DNA of these remains the authors found that the two individuals buried at this site were in fact of Pictish (or, early-Irish and early-Scottish) decent.

The researchers write that this discovery suggests that being a Viking was not necessarily about how far back your Nordic roots reached but instead had more to do with one's lived identity.

"The results change the perception of who a Viking actually was," said Willerev. "The history books will need to be updated."

In addition to providing a more nuanced look at this transformational period of history, this new genetic insight can also help scientists better understand how different traits, like immunity, pigmentation, and metabolism, are selected for across genetic groups.


The fight to preserve Elfdalian, Sweden's historic lost forest language

When I visited the remote Swedish town of Älvdalen, I was immediately struck by the tranquil splendour of the undulating, forest-covered valley in which it is situated. The river Österdalälv, which runs to the valley and has given it its name, was still partly frozen, and the gleaming ice resonated with the last patches of snow that were strewn across the landscape. Here, in this Swedish Shangri-La, I was set to meet the last speakers of Elfdalian, a tiny and well-hidden linguistic gem that only very few know about.

Elfdalian (älvdalska in Swedish and övdalsk in the language itself) sounds like something you would more likely encounter in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings rather than in a remote Swedish forest. But the small town of Älvdalen, which gives the language its name, is not an Elven outpost. It is one of the last strongholds of an ancient tongue that preserves much of Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. And it is now to be taught in the town’s preschools for the first time in September, marking a small victory for a group campaigning for its preservation.

Elfdalian is currently used only by about 2,500 people, but is a treasure trove for linguists. Hidden between the trees and hills, it has preserved linguistic features that are to be found nowhere else in Scandinavia, and that had already disappeared from Old Norse by 1200AD.

Unique among Nordic languages

Elfdalian has, for instance, preserved nasal vowels that disappeared elsewhere. Nasal vowels are well-known from French, as in un bon vin blanc (“a good white wine”), but not from the modern Nordic languages. In Old Norse, nasal vowels are only found in a single manuscript from 12th-century Iceland, but linguists never thought much of it – until it was discovered that modern day Elfdalian has nasal vowels in the exact same words.


The Nativity of Jesus in Elfdalian, by Lena Willemark, a famous Swedish musician from Älvdalen.

Because of its relative isolation, Elfdalian evolved in an entirely different direction than the modern Scandinavian languages. Its sounds, grammar and vocabulary differ radically from Swedish. So, while speakers of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian can easily understand each other in simple conversations, Elfdalian is completely unintelligible to Swedes who are not from the area.

For centuries, it was unnecessary for the majority of the native Elfdalian-speaking population to learn standard Swedish, as the economic networks were locally-oriented and there was no compulsory schooling in Swedish until the mid-1800s. As a result, Elfdalian remained a vigorous language until well into the 20th century.


Elfdalian Lesson 1, from Gunnar Nyström’s and Yair Sapir’s Textbook for Elfdalian/Introduktion till älvdalska 2005

The situation changed dramatically in the past century, however. With increased mobility and the arrival of mass media, Elfdalian came under threat from Swedish, which steadily encroached upon more and more aspects of daily life. Speakers of the language were stigmatised, and children were actively discouraged to use it at school. As a result, speakers of Elfdalian shifted to Swedish in droves, especially in the past couple of decades. At present, only half of the inhabitants of Älvdalen speak it, and of the youngest generation, only about 60 children under the age of 15 are fluent.

Moving into preschool

During my visit in Älvdalen, I was very lucky to be introduced to a group of language activists united under the name Ulum Dalska (“We need to speak Elfdalian”). Attempts are being made by these local enthusiasts to revitalise the language that means so much to them. An orthography, detailing how to speak the language, was devised in 2004, consisting of 35 letters, including nasalised vowels. It was used to publish several children’s books, such as a translation of “Le Petit Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The association also annually awards language stipends to pupils who are particularly fluent in Elfdalian.

After many years of action,Ulum Dalska has also recently been successful at convincing the local authorities to start up an Elfdalian-speaking group at the local preschool. This means that, for the first time in history, Elfdalian has made its official entry into the Swedish schooling system.

Though nothing short of a break-through, more radical measures are likely to be required to permanently secure the future of Elfdalian. Researchers have, for instance, suggested introducing bilingual programmes to primary schools, by which pupils are immersed in Elfdalian, and Swedish is only taught as a separate subject.

Fight for minority language status

The funding required for such programmes is too considerable to be released by the small community of Älvdalen. A permanent solution would be to grant Elfdalian the status of a regional or minority language as defined by the Council of Europe. Despiterepeated requests by Ulum Dalska, the Swedish government has so far been reluctant to do so, however. It maintains that Elfdalian is a dialect, despite a growing consensus among linguists that it has all characteristics of a separate language.

Nevertheless, language awareness is on the rise, both in Älvdalen and in the outside world. There is a very active Facebook group, where many speakers are starting to write in Elfdalian for the first time in their lives. Earlier this month, I co-organised an international conference on Elfdalian, which sparked worldwide media attention. The annual summer school is expected to attract a record number of participants consisting of both native speakers and linguists.

On the whole, more and more people seem to be convinced of the preciousness of Elfdalian and the need to preserve if for future generations. And in a globalising world, the right attitude is perhaps the most important step towards a full language revival.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


Unique among Nordic languages

Elfdalian has, for instance, preserved nasal vowels that disappeared elsewhere. Nasal vowels are well-known from French, as in un bon vin blanc (“a good white wine”), but not from the modern Nordic languages. In Old Norse, nasal vowels are only found in a single manuscript from 12th-century Iceland, but linguists never thought much of it—until it was discovered that modern day Elfdalian has nasal vowels in the exact same words.

Because of its relative isolation, Elfdalian evolved in an entirely different direction than the modern Scandinavian languages. Its sounds, grammar, and vocabulary differ radically from Swedish. So, while speakers of Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian can easily understand each other in simple conversations, Elfdalian is completely unintelligible to Swedes who are not from the area.

For centuries, it was unnecessary for the majority of the native Elfdalian-speaking population to learn standard Swedish, as the economic networks were locally-oriented and there was no compulsory schooling in Swedish until the mid-1800s. As a result, Elfdalian remained a vigorous language until well into the 20th century.

The situation changed dramatically in the past century, however. With increased mobility and the arrival of mass media, Elfdalian came under threat from Swedish, which steadily encroached upon more and more aspects of daily life. Speakers of the language were stigmatized, and children were actively discouraged to use it at school. As a result, speakers of Elfdalian shifted to Swedish in droves, especially in the past couple of decades. At present, only half of the inhabitants of Älvdalen speak it, and of the youngest generation, only about 60 children under the age of 15 are fluent.


Moving into Preschool

During my visit in Älvdalen, I was very lucky to be introduced to a group of language activists united under the name Ulum Dalska (“We need to speak Elfdalian”). Attempts are being made by these local enthusiasts to revitalise the language that means so much to them. An orthography, detailing how to speak the language, was devised in 2004, consisting of 35 letters, including nasalised vowels. It was used to publish several children’s books, such as a translation of “Le Petit Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The association also annually awards language stipends to pupils who are particularly fluent in Elfdalian.

After many years of action, Ulum Dalska has also recently been successful at convincing the local authorities to start up an Elfdalian-speaking group at the local preschool. This means that, for the first time in history, Elfdalian has made its official entry into the Swedish schooling system.

Though nothing short of a break-through, more radical measures are likely to be required to permanently secure the future of Elfdalian. Researchers have, for instance, suggested introducing bilingual programmes to primary schools, by which pupils are immersed in Elfdalian, and Swedish is only taught as a separate subject.


Fight for minority language status

The funding required for such programmes is too considerable to be released by the small community of Älvdalen. A permanent solution would be to grant Elfdalian the status of a regional or minority language as defined by the Council of Europe. Despite repeated requests by Ulum Dalska the Swedish government has so far been reluctant to do so, however. It maintains that Elfdalian is a dialect, despite a growing consensus among linguists that it has all characteristics of a separate language.

Nevertheless, language awareness is on the rise, both in Älvdalen and in the outside world. There is a very active Facebook group , where many speakers are starting to write in Elfdalian for the first time in their lives. Earlier this month, I co-organised an international conference on Elfdalian, which sparked worldwide media attention. The annual summer school is expected to attract a record number of participants consisting of both native speakers and linguists.

On the whole, more and more people seem to be convinced of the preciousness of Elfdalian and the need to preserve it for future generations. And in a globalising world, the right attitude is perhaps the most important step towards a full language revival.

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This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article .The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.


Watch the video: Elfdalian Language: Speaking. (November 2022).

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