Appeal to ISO 639 RA in support of Elfdalian

Michael Everson everson at
Sat Mar 5 19:45:44 CET 2016

Revised test per John’s suggestions.

The group responsible for the IETF language subtags is deeply concerned about the reasons given by the 639 RA for rejection of the Elfdalian language. There is no doubt that its linguistic features are unique in the continuum of North Germanic languages. The reasons supporting rejection are weak and invoke mainly arguments from outside of the field of linguistics. These arguments, originating from one particular Swedish governmental agency, are successfully rebutted in the other contributions, all of which support the addition of Elfdalian to ISO 639-3. The rebuttal documents (given in provide convincing evidence that ​Elfdalian is not merely a dialect, but rather is as distinct from Swedish as Bokmål is (indeed, as distinct from Swedish as Icelandic is); those have separate language codes. No reasoned responses to those documents and their evidence was provided by the 639 RA.

There is a legitimate user need for a language subtag for Elfdalian​. Up until now, these have always been supplied by ISO 639. However, there is the possibility in BCP47 for registration of a language sub​tag that is not based on ISO 639, and that process has been initiated. It would be far better for all users of BCP47 and ISO 639 if this step were not taken, but that depends on speedy action by the 639 RA.​ Thus we write to the 639 RA in appeal, and ​strongly request that the language code be added to ISO 639 within the next three months (by 2016-05-31), to avoid this situation.

We understand that the Swedish government considers it a dialect of Swedish, but that seems to be a political decision, not a linguistic one. Certainly, Elfdalian is influenced by the national language, Swedish, just as Frisian is influenced by Dutch. But its grammar and phonology are clearly distinct (vowels are not lengthened in open syllables, medial /ð/ and /ɣ/ and Old Norse nasal vowels are retained, and four cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative) are preserved at least in definite nouns. The theoretical categorization about “Abstandsprache" vs “Aufbausprache” given in Kristine Zach’s Master’s thesis are not convincing given the actual linguistic data. Elfdalian has archaic features as well as innovative features, and is unique, being closer to Icelandic and Faroese in many ways than it is to Swedish.

Michael Everson *

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