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Native to Sweden
Region Älvdalen Municipality (Dalarna County)
Native speakers
c. 2,000 (2009)[1]
Latin (Elfdalian alphabet), Dalecarlian runes (until the 20th century)
Official status
Regulated by Swedish Language Council
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Linguist list
Glottolog None
Älvdalen Municipality in Dalarna. Elfdalian is spoken in the southeastern half.

Elfdalian or Övdalian (Övdalsk or Övdalską in Elfdalian, Älvdalska or Älvdalsmål in Swedish) is a North Germanic language or dialect spoken by c. 2,000 people who live or have grown up in the parish of Älvdalen (Övdaln), which is located in the southeastern part of Älvdalen Municipality in Northern Dalarna, Sweden.

Like the other Nordic languages, Elfdalian developed from Old Norse, a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300. It developed in relative isolation since the Middle Ages and is considered to have remained closer to Old Norse than the other Dalecarlian dialects.

Traditionally regarded as a Swedish dialect,[2] Elfdalian is today regarded as a separate language by several linguists.[3][4]

A comprehensive Elfdalian–Swedish dictionary was published on the internet in September 2015.[5]


  • Classification 1
  • Grammar 2
    • Morphology 2.1
    • Syntax 2.2
  • Phonology 3
  • Writing systems 4
    • Råðdjärum's orthography 4.1
    • Elfdalian alphabet 4.2
  • Language status 5
    • Preservation and standardization 5.1
  • New organisms named after Elfdalian 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
    • In English 8.1
    • In Swedish 8.2


Elfdalian belongs to the Northern branch/Upper Siljan branch of the Dalecarlian dialects or vernaculars, which in their turn evolved from Old Norse, from which Dalecarlian vernaculars might have split as early as in the 8th or 9th century AD,[6] i.e., approximately when the North Germanic languages split into Western and Eastern branches.


In common with 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 it is considered to be the most conservative and best preserved vernacular within the Dalecarlian branch. Having developed in relative isolation since the Middle Ages, quite a few linguistic innovations are also present in the language.


Elfdalian has a morphological structure inherited from its Old Norse ancestor. Verbs are conjugated according to gender and number and nouns have four cases, similar to modern Icelandic and German. Like the other North Germanic languages, nouns have definite and indefinite forms rather than a separate definite article (as in English). The length of the root syllable plays a major role in the Elfdalian declensional and conjugational system. The declension of warg, "wolf", (long-syllabic, strong masculine noun) was as follows in what is sometimes called "Classic Elfdalian" (as described by Levander 1909):

Declension of warg ('wolf')
Singular Plural
indefinite definite indefinite definite
Nominative warg wargen warger wargär
Accusative warg wardjin warga wargą
Dative wardje wardjem wargum wargum(e)
Genitive (wardjes) wardjemes wargumes

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'). [7]


Unlike other Swedish vernaculars, the syntax of Elfdalian was investigated in the early 20th century (Levander 1909). Although Elfdalian syntax has attracted increased attention, a majority of its syntactic elements are still unresearched. In May-June 2007 a group of linguists from the pan-Scandinavian NORMS network[8] conducted fieldwork in Älvdalen especially aimed at investigating the syntactic properties of the language.

Presented with the help of generative syntax, the following features have been identified:

  • Only first and second person plural pronouns (Rosenkvist 2006, 2010) can be dropped grammatically.
  • First person plural pronouns may be dropped only if they appear directly in front of the finite verb. Verb raising occurs, although there is variation between generations (Garbacz 2006, 2010)
  • Multiple subjects which seem to occur in clauses with the adverbial sakta, "actually", or the verb lär "is possible".(Levander 1909:109)
Du ir sakt du uvendes duktin dalsk.
literally: "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 by Rosenkvist (2007).

Other syntactic properties are negative concord, stylistic inversion, long distance reflexives, verb controlled datives, agent-verb word order in coordinated clauses with deleted subjects, etc. Some of these properties are archaic features that existed in Old Swedish, whereas others are innovations, but none of them have been studied in any detail.


Elfdalian is comparable to Swedish and Norwegian in number and quality of vowels, but also has nasal vowels. It has retained the Old Norse dental fricative in the middle and end of words. Alveolopalatal affricates occur in all Uvåsiljan (Swedish Ovansiljan, north of lake Siljan) dialects. Like many variants of Norwegian and Swedish, all Dalecarlian dialects except Orsamål assimilate /rt, rd, rs, rn, rl/ into retroflex consonants. Stress is generally on the first syllable of a word.

Writing systems

In Älvdalen, Germanic Runes survived in use longer than anywhere else. 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 varied, e.g. as applied in the Prytz' play from 1622, which contains 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).

Råðdjärum's orthography

In March 2005, a uniform standard orthography for Elfdalian was presented by Råðdjärum (lit. "Let us confer"), The Elfdalian Language Council, and accepted by Ulum Dalska (lit. 'Let us speak Le petit prince, Lisslprinsn.

Elfdalian alphabet

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.

Language status

As of 2009 Elfdalian had around 2,000 speakers and is therefore in danger of extinction. 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. The Swedish Parliament was due to address this issue in 2007, but apparently has not yet done so.[9] The Council of Europe has urged the Swedish government to reconsider the status of Elfdalian on four different occasions, most recently in October 2011. The Committee of Experts now encourages the Swedish authorities to investigate the status of Elfdalian through an independent scientific study.[10]

Preservation and standardization

Ulum Dalska, The Organization for the Preservation of Elfdalian, was established in 1984 with the aim of preserving and documenting the Elfdalian language. In 2005, Ulum Dalska launched a process aimed at bringing 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 at their annual meeting. Råðdjärum consists of five permanent members: linguist Östen Dahl, dialectologist Gunnar Nyström, teacher Inga-Britt Petersson, linguist and coordinator of the committee Dr. Yair Sapir, and linguist Lars Steensland.

As an initiative from Ulum Dalska to encourage children to speak Elfdalian, all school children in Älvdalen who finish the ninth grade and can prove that they can speak Elfdalian receive a 6,000 SEK stipend.[11]

New organisms named after Elfdalian

A new genus Elfdaliana of deep-sea nudibranch molluscs has been named recently after the Elfdalian language in reference to evolutionary basal characters of the new genus never before reported for this family just as Elfdalian preserves ancestral features of Old Norse. [12]


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, Sveriges språk. Vem talar vad och var?. RAPPLING 1. Rapporter från Institutionen för lingvistik vid Stockholms universitet. 2009[2], pp. 29-72
  2. ^ Ekberg, Lena (2010). "The National Minority Languages in Sweden". In Gerhard Stickel. National, Regional and Minority Languages in Europe: Contributions to the Annual Conference 2009 of Efnil in Dublin. Peter Lang. pp. 87–92.  
  3. ^ Dahl, Östen; Dahlberg, Ingrid; Delsing, Lars-Olof; Halvarsson, Herbert; Larsson, Gösta; Nyström, Gunnar; Olsson, Rut; Sapir, Yair; Steensland, Lars; Williams, Henrik (8 Feb 2007). "Älvdalskan är ett språk – inte en svensk dialekt" [Elfdalian is a language – not a Swedish dialect]. Aftonbladet (in Swedish) (Stockholm). Retrieved 7 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Dahl, Östen (Dec 2008). "Älvdalska – eget språk eller värsting bland dialekter?" [Elfdalian – its own language or an outstanding dialect?]. Språktidningen (in Swedish). Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  5. ^ Elfdalian–Swedish dictionary. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
  6. ^ Levander, Lars, Dalmålet, vol. 1, 1925, pp. 37–38.
  7. ^ Dahl, Östen (2009). "Testing the Assumption of Complexity Invariance: The Case of Elfdalian and Swedish". In Geoffrey Sampson. Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable. Gil David, Peter Trudgill. Oxford UP. pp. 50–63.  
  8. ^ Nordic Center of Excellence in Microcomparative Syntax
  9. ^ Uppsala University, Second Conference on Elfdalian, Älvdalen 12–14 June 2008
  10. ^ Report of the Committee of Experts on Sweden, October 2011, p. 9. Retrieved May 16 2013
  11. ^ Rehnström, Björn (25 April 2013). "Får 6000 för att prata älvdalska".  
  12. ^ Martynov, Alexander and Korshunova, Tatiana. 2015. A new deep-sea genus of the family Polyceridae (Nudibranchia) possesses a gill cavity, with implications for the cryptobranch condition and a ‘Periodic Table’ approach to taxonomy. Journal of Molluscan Studies, March 2015, pp. 1–15 doi:10.1093/mollus/eyv003


  • Dahl, Östen and Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm. 2005. The resilient dative and other remarkable cases in Scandinavian vernaculars. Ms. University of Stockholm.
  • Nationalencyklopedin, entry älvdalsmål, subentry Dalarna
  • Sapir, Yair. 2006. Elfdalian, the Vernacular of Övdaln (PDF)
  • Garbacz, Piotr. 2006.Verb movement and negation in Övdalian. Working Papers in Scandinavian Syntax 78: 173-190. (PDF)
  • Levander, Lars. 1909. Älvdalsmålet i Dalarna (Doctoral thesis published in Svenska landsmål, 1909, (105).)
  • Rosenkvist, Henrik. 2006. Null Subjects in Övdalian. Working Papers in Scandinavian Syntax 78:141-171.
  • Rosenkvist, Henrik. 2007. Subject Doubling in Oevdalian. Working Papers in Scandinavian Syntax 80:77-102.
  • Rosenkvist, Henrik. 2010. Null referential subjects in Övdalian. Nordic Journal of Linguistics 33.3:231–267.
  • Garbacz, Piotr. 2010. 2008a. Bisatsledföljden i älvdalska. In Jóhannesson, K. et al. (eds.) Nog ordat? Festskrift till Sven-Göran Malmgren den 25 april 2008. 105-112. Meijebergs institut för svensk etymologisk forskning.
  • Garbacz, P. 2008b. Negationens syntax i älvdalskan. In Bukowski, P. et al. (eds.) Perspektiv på svenska språket och litteraturen 193-202. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego.
  • Garbacz, Piotr. 2010. Word Order in Övdalian. A Study in Variation and Change. Lundastudier i nordisk språkvetenskap 70. Lund University. (PDF)
  • Melerska, Dorota. 2010. , vol. 11, 2010, pp. 123-133Folia Scandinavica PosnaniensiaVem är ”en riktig älvdaling”? Identitetsmarkörer i dagens Älvdalen. (PDF)
  • Melerska, Dorota. 2011. Älvdalskan – mellan språkdöd och revitalisering. PhD-thesis. Adam Mickiewicz University (PDF)

In English

  • In the mists of Älvdalen, Article in the Financial Times
  • Omniglot: Elfdalian alphabet
  • Yair Sapir: Elfdalian, the Vernacular of Övdaln - an article with an outline of Elfdalian (history, background, linguistic features, present
  • Guus Kroonen: Fight on to preserve Elfdalian

In Swedish

  • Elfdalian-swedish dictionary
  • Förslag till en enhetlig stavning för älvdalska ("Project for a unified orthography for Elfdalian").
  • Volume of The First Conference on Elfdalian/Fuost konferensn um övdalskų, with English summaries
  • Volume of The Second Conference on Elfdalian/Oðer råðstemną um övdalskų, with English summaries
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