Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Elfdalian Language in Sweden

I am a big proponent of learning the language of whatever country you may find yourself in. While it is easy to get by in Sweden with just English, if all of a sudden you realize that you’ve been in Sweden for a year and haven’t made an effort to learn the Swedish language, you’re doing something wrong. Too many details of everyday life float by if you’re not making an effort.

Like the fact that in the middle of Swedish Sweden lives a group of elves who speak a different language. Bad joke. According to some studies that were summarized in an SVD article, Elfdalian is the English translation of Älvdalska, a language spoken by 2400 people, only 45 of whom are younger than 45.

That the language can be found in Dalarna, the home of the occasional peasant uprising in Swedish history, the home of enough red summer cottages to make a German piddle, the home of large painted horses, is even more intriguing to me.

It is here I would expect Swedish Swedish. The kind of Swedish that would make those peasant rebels all misty eyed. Instead, the Nordic regions least spoken Germanic language can be found.

I like being able to speak a language that is only spoken by about nine or ten million people. I like my chances if I decide to talk about someone outside of these borders. But that was nine or ten million. A language whose speakers only number in the thousands, about 2400, wins. The language is considered threatened. Which seems like a bit of an understatement. I’ve been in classes with more than 45 people who were under the age of 15, and trust me… they should not be trusted with the preservation of an endangered language.

Luckily, there happens to be a grant for children and teenagers who promise to speak Älvdalska in every situation possible. Not sure how this would be trapped, but I’m sure your personnummer has something to do with it.

Welcome to Sweden. And endangered languages.

Can't believe I missed linking to this originally, but you can listen to Älvdalska spoken here. Just click "lyssna här" when you get to the SVD page.

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  1. Hej!
    Grattis din blogg är nummer två i Sverige.
    Topp 10: http://www.hittablog.se/Topp10.htm

  2. Älv means river. Alv is the Swedish word for Elf.

    The dalahorse would be considered super Swedish. But you know that already.

  3. I had no idea this existed but you already know the reason why: I am indeed one of those people who has lived here for over a year and haven't made the serious effort to learn the language. Well, that's not entirely true. I do go to private classes once a week but am not so grand at practicing what she's teaching ;-). Though this post has made me start to take learning this language a bit more of a priority.

  4. @Linus Wärn: He might be thinking of Älvor. Don't really know what they would be translated as.

  5. Linus: the meaning of "alv" and "älva" has changed meaning over time. "Älv" is indeed a river, however, "Älva" may also mean "elf" or "fairy", and may very well be a part of a joint word as älv[whatever]. Back in the day "älva" was quite simply the female version of "alv". This was changed in literature over several years (tolkien had a big impact, amongst others). What was originally, mythologically, implied with the word elf/alv is not the same today either, and may loosely be described as a strange, often small, mischievous woodland creatures with human, but not entirely human, features. not quite lord of the rings.

    but älvdalska is interesting. i think i'll go look for some samples in text. it did make me curious :)


  6. also:

    in this case the name of the town most likely does refer to a river in a valley :). just saying the other option isn't that unlikely.


  7. Ha you should try learning Welsh! What a waste of school time that was!

    I might have to start a new blog soon:

    Swedish Brit in USA.

    After spending two and a half years losing my Britishness and becoming a Svensson I am now moving to the USA.

    This Republican boy is moving to the most liberal city of all...San Francisco! How will I cope!

    Keep up the good work on the blog

  8. @hitta – thanks.

    @Linus – True, but the bad joke was more at the fact that the English word for Älvdalska is Elfdalian, hence the elf joke.

    @SwedishJenn – as far as Im concerned, if youre taking private lessons to learn, then youre making an effort.

    @Simon – nope… still thinking about the elf in Elfdalian.

    @anonymous – good work Tinky. I relinked to some spoken älvdalska on the post above since I somehow managed to miss that the first time around.

    @Let Me Tell You – oh wow, that could be a decent amount of culture shock. Good luck!

  9. Dude love this one. I get really excited about little groups of native people. I am wild about the Samer. Now I have the elf people which is WAAAAAY cooler. Esp. b/c I have this whole thing about the history of elves. But I went to that website and it didn't seem that diff. from Swedish to me...I was expecting a real diff language...that was practically equally understandable as skånska.

  10. A better translation might be river valley/dal, or Rivendell for you elf lovers.

  11. Would Älvdalska be the root language of the Sami? Half of my ancestry is Cherokee and much effort is being made to preserve the language, but as far as indigenous tribes are here in the States, a lot of tribal languages are endangered if not already lost. It's sad. I hope more people there make it a national effort to preserve this language.

    Elfdalian..I saw that title in my inbox and thought it was something Italian. ;-) (the other half of my heritage)

  12. Ävdalska

    Älvdalska or Elfdalian is actually a more Swedish language than the language we consider to be Swedish.

    Älvdalska has developed from the common Scandinavian language ancient norse/old norse, a language that was used by the Vikings.

    It has also been influenced by other ancient languages spoken in northern Europe, but the ancient norse/old norse language is the basis of Älvdalska

    The Icelandic language is also very closely related to ancient norse/old norse.

    Iceland is almost like a time capsule, the language hasn't changed very much over the centuries.
    It's the same with Älvdalska.

    The Sami language

    The Sami language has nothing to do with Älvdalska.
    The Sami language belongs to the Uralic language family, and therefore has nothing to do with the Scandinavian languages who have their origins in the nort germanic language family.

    There have been some questions though, were in the Uralic language family the Sami language belongs.
    But this doesn't change the fact that it's a Uralic language.

    The Sami language is actually not one language, it's a group of different dialects and languages.
    But they are all very closely related.

    J.R.R Tolkien
    The elvish language in his books (Quenyan) is based on Finnish and the north germanic languages (like ancient norse).
    And I'm quite sure that he also used some Icelandic too create his wonderfull languages.


  13. Great photo! Is that Sweden's answer to the Greek Trojan Horse? =P Except maybe instead of soldiers hiding in it there's lots of yummy Swedish candy :)


  14. anon - super cool info man.

  15. @Martin

    The Sami language/dialects is classified among the Finno-Ugric languages. The Finno-Ugric languages are then part of the Uralic languages. Sami is related to the Finnish language, something which becomes obvious when you hear it spoken. The old Norse name for the Sami was Finn(s), hence the name "Finnmark" for the northern-most county in Norway. Finnmark is also the older name for the northern-most region of Sweden (Lappland).

    @Hairy Swede:

    You refer to Älvdalska as being a language separate from Swedish? Really? Älvdalska is simply a dialect that has survived the central governments ambition to wipe out the different dialects and replace it with one national dialect. Every region in Sweden had their own dialects not to long ago. Remnants still remain in everyday speech in the different parts of the country, but these differences are generally not large enough to constitute different dialects.

    Insofar as languages go, Swedish itself wouldn't qualify as it's own language if it wasn't for the Nation-state of Sweden. From a language point of view, it's simply a dialect of Scandinavian.

  16. @Jacob_M

    You're absolutely right, the Sami language do belong to the Finno- branch in the Uralic language family.

    I should have mention this, and I apologize for this mistake.

    I would also like to respond to your comment to Hairy...

    Älvdalska is officially a dialect, so you're right about that too.

    As you saw in my previous post, I do consider Älvdalska to be a "more Swedish language" than the official Swedish language we speak. I think you agree with me on this, right?

    But it's a fact that Älvdalska is almost impossible for a Swede to understand, Norwegian or Danish is easier altough they are considered to be different languages.

    The Swedish, Norwegian and Danish language are only dialects of ancient norse, the Icelandic language is also a dialect altough it has retained MUCH more of the ancient norse language.

    So one could say that Älvdalska is a language, instead of just another Swedish dialect.

    The same could be said of Gotländska, Kalixmål/Överkalixmål and some other "dialects".

    This is just my own thoughts and reflections, maybe you agree or maybe you don't.

    Anyway, I get the feeling that you care about our Swedish dialects.
    And I think it's good that there are Swedes (like myself) who do think that our dialects should be preserved.

    Because it would be very sad if our dialects died out, they are such a big part of our history.

    Martin / The self-proclaimed language professor :)

  17. @m8 – I thought so too, until I closed the window with the Swedish translation and just listened to it. Maybe a word or two becomes understandable but definitely not easy.

    @anonymous – I like it.

    @Lyn.n – luckily, our man Martin below has explained this one.

    @anonymous (Martin) – very cool!

    @anonymous – it would be much cooler if there was a bunch of delicious candies in it.

    @m8 – agreed.

    @Jacob_M – yes I do. And only because I am handing this one over to the professor who is an expert in the subject. From the SVD article: Att älvdalskan är ett helt eget språk råder det ingen tvekan om, språkligt sett, menar Piotr Garbacz. Han pekar på ljudens uppbyggnad, ordföljden, böjningen av ord och ordförrådet – allt görs på ett alldeles eget och särpräglat sätt av de 2400 personer som använder älvdalskan.

    @anonymous (Martin) – damn… you’re good.

  18. "Elfdalian" is an improper name of the language, as the discussion above clearly shows, and we (linguists working with Scandinavian syntax) prefer the term "Övdalian". Övdalian has developed in relative isolation for about 800 years and it is definitely a language, not a dialect – from a linguist's view.

  19. @Henrik R.

    Yes, Övdalian is the prefered name, although Elfdalian seems to be a more popular name, maybe because it sounds better/funnier...who knows...

    "Henrik R." I wonder if the R stands for Rosenkvist?

    If you are Henrik Rosenkvist then maybe you could answer a question?

    Is Övdalian a dialect or a language (I mean officially)?

    I have learned that it's (officially) a dialect, but it's a long time ago since I read about it... maybe they have changed it?

    Martin / Just an amatuer linguist, compared to Rosenkvist...

  20. @Henrik - absolutely right, and I probably should have mentioned it. but I couldnt pass up the opportunity to make a horrible joke about elves.

    @anonymous (Martin) - I am of no use here. All Ive got to work with is the article on SVD.

  21. You guys just have to learn the Kalix Language too: http://thekalixlanguage.org