Elfdalian (Övdalsk or Övdalską in Elfdalian, Älvdalska or Älvdalsmål in Swedish) is a linguistic variety of the Scandinavian language branch spoken in the old parish of Övdaln, which is located in the south-eastern part of Älvdalen Municipality in Northern Dalarna, Sweden.
Traditionally regarded as a Swedish dialect, Elfdalian is today regarded by several linguists as a separate language. As some other Dalecarlian vernaculars spoken north of the Lake Siljan, Elfdalian retains numerous old grammatical and phonological features that have not changed considerably since Old Norse and is considered to be the most conservative and best preserved vernacular within the Dalecarlian branch.
Elfdalian has around 3,000 speakers and its existence is severely threatened. 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. In 2007 the Swedish Parliament was due to address this issue, but it has apparently not yet been treated (source).
Elfdalian has a highly complex morphological structure, partially inherited from its Old Norse ancestor. Thus, it has personal conjugations on the verb, three genders, and makes case distinctions. As in other Scandinavian languages, nouns have definite (def.) and indefinite (indef.) forms. The length of the root syllable plays a major role in the Elfdalian declensional and conjugational system. The conjugation of warg 'wolf' (long-syllabic, strong masculine noun) was as follows in what is sometimes called "Classic Elfdalian" (as described by Levander 1909):
Today the distinction between nominative and accusative may have been lost in full nouns, and the genitive has generally been replaced by -es forms (see Dahl & Koptjevskaja-Tamm 2005); but many speakers retain the distinct dative case, used especially after prepositions and also certain verbs (such as jåpa, 'help').
Unlike other Swedish vernaculars, the syntax of Elfdalian was investigated in the early 20th century (Levander 1909). However, although Elfdalian syntax attracts increased attention, a majority of the syntactic phenomena is still uncharted. In May/June 2007 a group of linguists from the pan-Scandinavian NORMS network conducted a fieldwork in Älvdalen especially aimed at investigating the syntactic properties of the language.
Presented with the help of generative syntax, the following interesting Elfdalian features can be pointed out:
Null referential subjects are grammatical, but only 1st and 2nd person plural (Rosenkvist 2006), and 1st person plural pronouns cannot be covert unless directly in front of the finite verb. Verb raising occurs, although there is variation between generations (Garbacz 2006). Especially intriguing are the multiple subjects (Levander 1909:109), which seem to occur in clauses with the adverbial sakta ('actually') or the verb lär ('is possible'):
Du ir sakt du uvendes duktin dalsk.
you are advl. you very good speak-Övdalian
’you are actually very good at speaking Övdalian’
This has recently been studied more closely from a generative perspective in Rosenkvist (2007).
Other interesting syntactic properties are (from a Germanic perspective) negative concord, stylistic inversion, long distance reflexives, verb controlled datives, AV- word order in coordinated clauses with deleted subjects etc. Some of these properties are archaisms (they also appeared in Old Swedish), whereas other are inventions, but none of them has yet been studied in any detail. It appears that Elfdalian displays a number of syntactic features that make it one of the most extreme Germanic languages. It is also, concerning syntax, one of the least studied.
Älvdalen is the place where the Germanic Runes have survived the longest. The last record of the Elfdalian Runes is from 1900. These Runes 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 individual, e.g. as applied in Prytz' theatre piece from 1622, containing long passages in Elfdalian, or in the Elfdalian material published in the periodical Skansvakten.
A first attempt to create a separate Elfdalian orthography was made in 1999 by Bengt Åkerberg. Åkerberg's orthography was applied in some books and used in language courses. This orthography is based on Loka dialect and is highly phonetic, involving a great deal of diacritics (Sapir 2006).
In March 2005, a uniform standard orthography for Elfdalian 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. The new orthography has already been applied by Björn Rehnström in his book Trair byönner frå Övdalim 'Three Bears from Älvdalen' published in 2007. Råðdjärum's orthography was also used in Bo Westling's translation of Saint-Exupéry's Le petit prince, Lisslprinsn.
The Elfdalian alphabet consists of the following letters:
Aa Ąą Bb Cc Dd Đð Ee Ęę Ff Gg Hh Ii Įį Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Ųų Vv Ww Xx Yy Y̨y̨ Zz Åå Ą̊ą̊ Ää Öö
Besides letters occurring in the Swedish alphabet, Elfdalian has letters with ogonek, denoting nasal vowels: Ąą, Ęę, Įį, Ųų, Y̨y̨ and Ą̊ą̊. Additionally, it contains the letter Ðð for the voiced dental fricative.
Ulum Dalska, The Organization for the Preservation of Elfdalian, was established in 1984 with the aim to preserve and document the Elfdalian language. In 2005, Ulum Dalska launched a process aiming to bring 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 annual meeting. Råðdjärum consists of five permanent members: Prof. Östen Dahl (linguist), Mr. Gunnar Nyström (dialectologist), Mrs. Inga-Britt Petersson (teacher), Dr. Yair Sapir (the Committee's Coordinator, linguist), Prof. Lars Steensland (linguist).