request for subtag for Elfdalian

Kent Karlsson kent.karlsson14 at
Fri Feb 5 17:11:09 CET 2016

(This got a bit long. Sorry for that.)

Den 2016-01-22 21:12, skrev "John Cowan" <cowan at>:

>> I'm not sure what "great divide (in two)" you are talking about. "old"
>> vs. "modern"?
> I mean in the sense that Elfdalian split off from Old Norse either before,
> or just after, Old Norse split into Old East Norse and Old West Norse.
> That it's also conservative is neither here nor there.
[Skipping comment about Sardinian which seems largely irrelevant; all
living languages go through changes of various kinds, though some are
indeed more conservative. I'll focus only on the Nordic languages,
or rather Scandinavian (i.e., not Finnish, Sami), here.]

I usually like Wikipedia, but in some instances, like this, it's
badly wrong (regardless of any support for this "traditional"
misunderstanding elsewhere).

I notice that Wikipedia (at least) is littered with this supposed
"great divide" into West and East Nordic languages, even with an
attempt at phonetic motivation for this "divide" even in the modern

But, this seems to not seeing the forest for a few phonetic dwarf
shrubs (or some such saying). Ok, this may have historically (some
one thousand years ago) have been relevant for the written(!!)
dialects(!!) of "Old Norse"/"dǫnsk tunga"/"norrønt". *BUT*, they can
all be regarded as minor **dialects** of modern(!!) Icelandic,
quite distant from the modern Danish/Norwegian/Swedish languages.

Firstly, this is for written language of the time (thousand or so
years ago) as we can determine today; mostly known from rune stones.
There is no record of the *spoken* dialects in various regions
at the time. These probably varied a lot more.

Secondly, the differences between the East/West/Gutnic languages were
*really* small; "Skillnaderna mellan de nordiska dialekterna var dock
så små under vikingatiden att de enkelt överträffas av regionala
uttalsvariationer inom ett enskilt nordiskt land idag."

Thirdly, the division of the **modern** languages in accordance with
with these minor dialectal differences a thousand (or so) years ago
seems entirely misguided. For instance: there is **at present** no
dialect continuum between south Swedish and Danish dialects. **There**
there is in **actual fact**, **at present** a "great-ish divide".
Most people knowing Swedish (but not Danish) has a hard time following
(spoken) Danish. It does depend on Danish dialect, so I'd say anywhere
from 0% (yes, zero) to 70% comprehensibility, if not "used to" hearing
Danish. (No, modern Scanian, skånska, is NOT an "east Danish dialect"!)

On the other hand, between between Swedish and Norwegian (both of them)
there is a dialect continuum (at places at least), most people knowing
Swedish (but not Norwegian) can largely follow Norwegian. Maybe a
comprehensibility of 70% to 90% or more, even if not "used to" hearing
Norwegian. Since it is not quite 100%, svorsk
( is sometimes used.

And this is despite that **written** Bokmål and and **written** Danish
are quite similar.

But there is another analysis (grouping) that is much more correct, for
the present day languages. "Genom sin isolering på Island och Färöarna har
de två språk som talas där genomgått mindre förändringar än språken på
fastlandet, vilka dessutom utvecklats liknande i fråga om grammatik och
vokabulär, och man talar därför ofta om en kontinental och en insulär gren
(ögren) av de nordiska språken." *This* is the actual modern day "great
divide" for this group of languages, in essence "conservative" vs.
"modern" (with some not so great divides among the modern ones).
Note again that **all** variants of Old Norse are closely related
to (modern) Icelandic, and *distantly* related to the modern Swedish/
Norwegian/Danish. The latter do NOT follow the old East/West (minor
dialect) "divide" of Old Norse at all. Grouping Danish together with
Swedish and East Nordic, and Norwegian with Icelandic as West Nordic,
thinking that that the "great divide", is simply wrong.

A (MUCH too linear!!) diagram attempting to give a rough indication of
the language distances; except for Old Norse, just the modern languages:

    Icelandic, Old Norse (all dialects, the minor divisions are *not* at
        all related to modern language divisions of the Nordic languages,
        though some aspects have had minor impact on some modern dialects)
    Faroese (influenced by Danish)
    |   (here is the real great divide)
    Älvdalian (just trying to indicate the distance from Swedish here,
         it is not close to Jutlandic)
    Jutlandic ('jut', which has no official standing in Denmark...)
    Danish (including Bornholmian, "east Danish")
    Scandinavian ("Danish with Icelandic pronunciation")
    Norwegian bokmål
    Svorsk (Norwegian, but using Swedish words "when needed")
    Swedish (including modern Scanian, which is not Scanian 400 years ago)

"Danska är ett obligatoriskt ämne på grund av Islands nära relation
med Danmark genom historien. [...]  När islänningar talar danska är det
dock vanligt att tala med ett isländskt uttal. Denna språkform brukar
kallas skandinaviska och är ofta lätt att förstå för svenskar eller
norrmän." ("Danish is a compulsory subject due to Iceland's close
relationship with Denmark through history. [...] When Icelanders
speak Danish it is common to do it with Icelandic pronunciation.
This language form is called Scandinavian and is often easy to
understand by Swedes and Norwegians.") It is also often the case
that Danes try to pronounce more clearly (but usually still Danish),
plus changing the way numbers are pronounced, when speaking to
someone knowing Swedish or Norwegian (but not Danish).

Note also that Jutlandic (a "dialect" of Danish, quite distinct from
official Danish), got its own language code (jut);

In summary, that "Old Norse split into Old East Norse and Old West Norse"
"is neither here nor there" (all of them are essentially Icelandic, and
the split is minor and NOT at all related to any of the modern divides),
but ""old" vs. "modern"" is an actual "great divide" for these languages.

Now, what about Älvdalian? It seems to me that it is "moderately
old-fashioned". It is more distant from (official) Swedish than any
dialect of Swedish, and even more distant than Norwegian and Danish
(from Swedish), though nowhere near Icelandic. So I still think it should
be regarded as a language of its own. I.e. not have an "sv" prefix, but
have a five (or three...) letter *primary* subtag.

Now, I'm not happy about the naming "Elfdalian". "Elvdalian" is a
better anglification (Ä is very close to E, but not close to A).
Ok, F in Swedish /used to be/ pronounced as V (as in German and Dutch),
but that is not the case anymore in Swedish, nor English.
"Riverdaleish" would be a proper translation of "älvdalska"/"övdalsk"...

/Kent K

For those who understand some Swedish, here is an infotaiment program on
Älvdalian (via the dialect continuum): The presenter has a Ph.D. in
Nordic languages. The program makers have succeeded to get (older) people
to actually speak in their dialects.

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