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Yair Sapir, Kristianstad University

Elfdalian in a Changing Scandinavia

  • Name: Yair Sapir
  • Academic credentials: General and Scandinavian Linguistics PhD, Associate Professor of Swedish Language at Kristianstad University

Abstract: Traditionally considered a Swedish dialect, Elfdalian is today regarded by many as a separate language from Swedish. Only last year it was recognized as such by the renowned SIL International.

Post-WWII-Scandinavia has often been conceived as a relatively homogenous region where communication in a mutually intelligible ‘Scandinavian’ (standard Danish, Norwegian and Swedish) is possible, a region with shared values and far-reaching individual and minority rights. As the theme of this conference suggests, this view is now being challenged in various ways.
From the linguistic angle, over the past years Scandinavia has seen an increase of the previously less powerful Faroese, Finnish, Greenlandic and Icelandic in their traditional regions at the cost of the previously dominating Danish in Swedish. Moreover, English is now the first foreign language in Finland and Iceland rather than the previously dominating Swedish and Danish, respectively. Within Denmark, Norway and Sweden, minority languages and migrant languages have become strengthened due to state recognition or state support. The sum of these factors inevitably changes and challenges the linguistic map of Scandinavia. 

The old regional dialects of Denmark and Sweden have lost ground to the standard languages over the past century. Elfdalian, however, is an exception to this rule. In 1984, a struggle for the revitalization of the local Elfdalian vernacular started with the funding of the local language association Ulum Dalska, The process accelerated with the quest for a minority language status in 2005 and with the opening of the first Elfdalian-speaking kindergarten and the recognition by SIL International in 2016. However, Swedish authorities have so far been reluctant to grant it an official language status.

How does the glocal tendencies in Älvdalen reflect a changing Scandinavia and challenge existing dichotomies as to homogeneity and centralism versus diversity and local cultural utterances? What circumstances made it possible for the Elfdalian speech community to demand a language status, and what caused the Swedish authorities to reject it thus far? And finally, what does the Elfdalian example tell us about the contrast between urban and rural dimensions, as well as past- and future-orientation in today’s Sweden? I will address these questions in my paper.

Helgander, John. 2012. Älvdalska och andra hotade språk – revitalisering med problem. Svenska landsmål och svenskt folkliv 2012. Maj Reinhammar (ed.). 
Melerska, Dorota. 2011. Älvdalskan – mellan språkdöd och revitalisering.

Theme: Minority Culture