Elfdalian, Sweden’s ancient elvish language, is dying

An ancient Viking language called Elfdalian has almost entirely disappeared from the planet, save for one small town in Sweden, where residents are fighting to protect it.

The remote town of Älvdalen has chosen to teach the language, spoken by only about 2,500 people, in its preschools for the first time, The Conversation has reported.

The endangered tongue “sounds like something you would more likely encounter in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings,” wrote University of Copenhagen linguist Dr Guus Kroonen.

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Known as Övdalsk to its speakers, it differs “radically” from Swedish, Dr Kroonen wrote.

“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.”

Elfdalian bookAs Swedish rose in prominence, the tiny ‘elvish’ dialect perished.

“Speakers of the language were stigmatised, and children were actively discouraged to use it at school,” Dr Kroonen wrote.

“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.”

A group of language activists calling themselves Ulum Dalska (‘We need to speak Elfdalian’) have attempted to resurrect the language by pushing for it to be taught to local children and by rewarding pupils who are fluent.

“Though nothing short of a break-through, more radical measures are likely to be required to permanently secure the future of Elfdalian,” Dr Kroonen wrote.

“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.”

Some examples of Elfdalian being used online:

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