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

The ancient Viking language of Elfdalian has been almost entirely wiped out, with only 2,500 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 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.

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, not so with Elfdalian. So far removed from Swedish, (even while originating from the same region,) it is completely unintelligible to non-local Swedes.

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 will now be taught in the town’s schools starting in September, and this month 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.
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.”

Read more: http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-general/elfdalian-ancient-viking-forest-language-sweden-set-be-revived-003093#ixzz3auwWqPR9
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Isolated people in Sweden only stopped using runes 100 years ago

May 21, 2015 - 06:25

In a remote part of Sweden they used runes until just a hundred years ago. The people in the area also speak their own language: Elfdalian.

Älvdalen lies in a thinly populated part of Sweden near Dalarna. Until the early 20th century, the peoeple of Älvdalen still used runes. Some 2,500 people from the area still speak the unique language Elfdalian. The picture shows Österdalälven in Älvdalen. (Photo: Fotoakuten.se)
Most people associate runes with the Viking age but in Älvdalen in western Sweden, the local population continued to use runes for centuries after the ancient written language had been abandoned by the rest of Scandinavia.
Hidden deep in the Swedish forests the runes were allowed to live on until the early 20th century, just as the inhabitants retained their very special language Elfdalian which is considered a veritable treasure chest for Scandinavian linguists.
"Älvdalen really is something very special. Firstly, because they speak an unique old Norse tongue and also because they used runes until a hundred years ago. It's absolutely fascinating," says Michael Lerche Nielsen, an assistant professor at the Department of Nordic Research at the University of Copenhagen.
Such recent use of runes exceptional
The runic script was the dominant written language in Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia until the advent of Christianity in the ninth and tenth century introduced the Latin alphabet.
By the 15th century the Latin alphabet had almost wiped out the use of runes – but not in Älvdalen. Here, the Swedish linguist Henrik Rosenkvist recently saw a letter dated 1906 written partly in runes.
“The runes we see in Älvdalen are probably the most recent use of the script we know of. Runes otherwise died out in the Middle Ages so their use in so recent times is exceptional,” says Rosenkvist who speaks and studies the unique language spoken in Älvdalen.

The runes of Älvdalen -- dalrunerne -- are reminiscent of those used on runes stones in Denmark but there are a number of differences. Dalrunerne developed over time, influenced partially by the Latin alphabet. Here are the runes as they looked in the period leading up to the 20th century. (Illustration: Tasnu Arakun/Wikimedia Commons)
Nielsen agrees.
“The use of runes in Scandinavia gradually ceased during the 15th century. There are the odd areas of Gotland in Sweden and in Iceland where the rune tradition survived until the 17th century, but in Älvdalen their use was widespread until the early 20th century,” he says.
Wrote messages in runes on sticks
According to Nielsen the runes in Älvdalen were most commonly found on houses and inscribed in furniture.
In addition to this, they were also engraved into ’message blades’ which were sticks of wood that were circulated among the farms in the area.
“The people who herded the cattle up in the mountains would write messages to each other in runes,” says Nielsen.
Isolation enabled runes to survive
The landscape surrounding Älvdalen effectively cuts the community off from the rest of Sweden by mountains, forests, and lakes.

Dalrunerne are most commonly engraved into houses, furniture, and sticks of wood. These dalruner dating from 1635 are at Orsblecksloftet in Zorns Gammelgård in the town of Mora. (Photo: Skvattram/Wikimedia Commons).
It was precisely the area’s isolation from the rest of the country that lies behind the survival of the runes and the unique language -- while the rest of the country was flooded by the Latin alphabet, Germanic words, and modern Rikssvensk.
“Älvdalen lies extremely deep within the Swedish forests and mountains. You can get there by boat up the river, Dalälven -- a journey of more than 100 kilometres -- and getting there and back used to be quite an expedition. So people in the area weren’t particularly mobile and were able to preserve this very special culture, considered in Sweden to be extremely traditional and old fashioned,” says Nielsen.
If you ask Rosenkvist, he has more or less the same explanation as to why people in Älvdalen kept on using runes after the ancient script had been abandoned by the rest of the nation.
“People in Älvdalen are a little conservative -- in a good way. They kept themselves very much to themselves,” says Rosenkvist.
“Another important reason is that sending your children to school wasn’t obligatory in Sweden. Until the mid-19th century, many children didn’t attend school and until then, people simply kept on using the runes as their written language. When they started going to school, however, they only ever used the Latin alphabet and the use of runes gradually died out,” he says.

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About Gaby F

lectora, estudiosa de la historia antigua, especialmente la mitología germánica, indoeuropea. ".
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