Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

Sweden is fighting to preserve Elfdalian, its historic, lost, forest language

“When I visited the remote Swedish town of Älvdalen, I was immediately struck by the tranquil splendor of the undulating, forest-covered valley in which it is situated. The river Österdalälv, which runs to the valley and has given it its name, was still partly frozen, and the gleaming ice resonated with the last patches of snow that were strewn across the landscape. Here, in this Swedish Shangri-La, I was set to meet the last speakers of Elfdalian, a tiny and well-hidden linguistic gem that only very few know about.

Elfdalian (älvdalska in Swedish and övdalsk in the language itself) sounds like something you would more likely encounter in Tolkien’sLord of the Rings rather than in a remote Swedish forest. But the small town of Älvdalen, which gives the language its name, is not an Elven outpost. It is one of the last strongholds of an ancient tongue that preserves much of Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. And it is now to be taught in the town’s preschools for the first time in September, marking a small victory for a group campaigning for its preservation.”

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Languages do matter!


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