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Elfdalian in Sweden

Language designations:

  • In the language itself: Övdalsk or Övdalską
  • ISO 639-3 standard: ovd 1)

Language vitality according to:

Linguistic aspects:

Language standardization

There is currently no standardized orthography in use, even though there have been multiple attempts to create one 2). There are multiple reasons for this: First of all, Elfdalian has some speech sounds that Swedish does not have, which makes it unclear how to spell certain words. Besides that, Elfdalian varies a lot among different villages, especially in pronunciation, which makes it hard to find one orthography that suits everyone.

People have written in Elfdalian for quite a long time though 3). Up till the nineteen hundreds people still used runes, so-called “dalrunor”, but after that they started using the Latin alphabet.

Nowadays there a three different competing orthographies in use: 4).

  • Språkradets (2005)
  • Steensland (2010)
  • Åkerberg (2012)

They all have some differences. This becomes clear when we look for example at the forms for the Swedish word “käppen”: Using Språkrådets orthography you would write “storn”, with Steenslands “stor’n”, and with Åkerbergs “storn”.


Language Area

Elfdalian is spoken mostly in the Älvdalen municipality in a western region of Sweden called Dalarna. Elfdalian is not an official minority language in Sweden but rather a dialect. It belongs to the “dalmål” (Dalecarlian) which in their turn belong to the “sveamål” which is one of the six big dialect groups in Sweden 5).


Speaker numbers

The number of speakers of Elfdalian is estimated to be at least 2000 and definitely not more than 4000 7). According to Unesco to estimate is 3000.

Education of the language

History of language education:

At a certain point the Swedish government wanted everybody to speak Swedish and nothing else. As a consequence, at was forbidden to speak any other language than Swedish in schools up till 1950. 8)

Of the people born in 1930 and 1940 approximately 90% spoke Elfdalian. They were not allowed to speak Elfdalian during class, but in every other situation they did speak Elfdalian. the majority of teachers even thought that the use of dialects was something wrong and that they should not be used 9).

Around 1970 and 1980 the number of students who spoke Elfdalian had already decreased a little bit, even though it was no longer forbidden to speak Elfdalian in schools. In 1990 the number of Elfdalian speaking students had even decreased till 57.8%. 10)

Around the year 2000 this number had decreased even further, and research showed that many students who did speak Elfdalian hardly ever used the language. Since 2005 there had been a change in schools though. Teachers teach classes in Elfdalian every now and then and students are allowed to read books in Elfdalian and write in Elfdalian. 11)

Legislation of language education

International law

Since Elfdalian is not an official minority language in Sweden it is also not protected by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

National/regional law

Sweden knows six minority languages (Finnish, Yiddish, Meänkieli, Romani Chib, Sami and Swedish Sign Language), and the law states that users of these languages should be given the opportunity to learn, develop, and use the language 12). Furthermore, the Swedish law states that “Those who have another mother tongue [than the languages mentioned in the first part] should be given the opportunity to develop and use their mother tongue.” So for, among others, Elfdalian, the part of “the opportunity to learn” is not present. The law does not state that teaching the language or using it as medium of instruction is compulsory, but it does allow for the language to be taught in school, and to be used as medium of instruction in school.

Support structure for education of the language:

Language learning materials:

In 2005 Gunnar Nyström and Yair Sapir started a course at Uppsala University. Since there were no coursebooks available they developed a coursebook for university students their selves. “Älvdalsk grammatik” was published in 2012 and this was the first book about grammar in more than 100 years. The last (and also first ever) book was written in 1909 by Lars Levander and focused mostly on linguists 13). This new book has a bigger target group and even has QR-codes that link you to sounds files with Elfdalian pronunciation 14). Besides that, an important dictionary, Material till en älvdalsk ordbok, was developed in 2010 by Lars Steensland 15).

Promotion of language education

There is an association for the protection of Elfdalian, Ulum dalska 16). This association hands out grants to students that speak Elfdalian. You can apply for the grant if you “are a student in grade 9 at the Älvdalsskolan that speaks Elfdalian and always chooses Elfdalian before Swedish in a conversation with other speakers of Elfdalian” 17) There are three demands for getting the grant:18).

1: The most important thing is that the student can have a conversation in Elfdalian

2: The student can read and understand an easier text written in Elfdalian

3: The student can write an easier text in Elfdalian

Education in practice

In a high school in Älvdalen, Elfdalian is being taught as an optional course. It is taught inside of school and during school hours, but it is not mandatory for all students. The course was very popular this year (2017) and was chosen by 54 students but they only got six lectures so they did not reach a high enough level to actually have a conversation in Elfdalian 19).

In 2005 there was a beginners course in Elfdalian at Uppsala University. It is currently not taught anymore, but professors Gunnar Nyström and Yair Sapir made the course material online available in 2015 20). Besides this, there have been summer courses for adults 21) 22). One of these beginner courses has even been translated to English and is now available for English speaking language enthusiasts 23).

Last year (2016) a new project was started in a preschool in Älvdalen. The staff will only speak Elfdalian and the children will have Elfdalian is their daily language 24) 25). This gives a lot of speakers of Elfdalian hope that one day it might become one of the official minority languages of Sweden26).

Online learning resources

SIL. Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: ovd. (2015) <> [accessed 08 December 2017]
2) , 3) , 4)
Lars Steensland Älvdalskans stavning – historia, nuläge och framtidsperspektiv (2015) <> [accessed 08 December 2017]
5) , 7)
Piotr Garbacz. Älvdalska – ett mindre känt nordiskt språk <> [accessed 08 December 2017]
National Vanguard. Isolated People in Sweden Used Runes Up Until 1900, Still Speak Old Norse. (2016). <>
Institut för språk och folkminnen. Meänkieli. (2017). <> [accessed 08 December 2017]
Lisa Arbin. Älvdalsmålet under förändring. En studie genom tre generationer. (2013). <> pp. 11-12. [accessed 08 December 2017]
Lisa Arbin. Älvdalsmålet under förändring. En studie genom tre generationer. (2013). <> p 12. [accessed 08 December 2017]
Lisa Arbin. Älvdalsmålet under förändring. En studie genom tre generationer. (2013). <> p 15. [accessed 08 December 2017]
13) , 14)
Institut för språk och folkminnen. Ny älvdalsk grammatik. (2014). <> [accessed on 09 December 2017]
Gunnar Nyström and Yair Sapir. Introduktion till Älvdalska. (2005). <> [accessed 09 December 2017]
Ulum dalska. <> [accessed 09 December 2017]
17) , 18)
Ulum dalska. <> [accessed 09 December 2017]
Ulum dalska.> [accessed 09 December 2017]
Gunnar Nyström and Yair Sapir. Introduktion till Älvdalska. (2005). <> [accessed 09 December 2017].
Gunnar Nyström and Yair Sapir. Introduktion till älvdalska. (2015). <> [accessed 09 December 2017]
Kurs i Älvdalska i sommar (2004). <> [accessed 09 December 2017]
Älvdalens kommun. Lianna och Hannah blev pionjärer för älvdalska i USA. <> [accessed 09 December 2017]
Sveriges Radio. Barn i förskolan ska språkbada i älvdalska (2016) < [accessed 09 December 2017]
25) , 26)
Älvdalens kommun. Älvdalska i förskolan.<> [accessed 09 December 2017]
languages/elfdalian_in_sweden.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/10 10:56 by ydwine

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