Why a Swedish politician is demanding the right to speak an ancient ‘forest language’ in parliament

Sweden's forest language Elfdalian is at risk of dying out, and this week a politician took the question of its survival to parliament.

Why a Swedish politician is demanding the right to speak an ancient 'forest language' in parliament
Centre Party MP Peter Helander said he would be speaking the ancient dialect in the parliamentary chamber in future. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Swedish MP Peter Helander, who belongs to the Centre Party and comes from the Dalarna region, asked Culture Minister Amanda Lind why the government had not chosen to investigate whether Elfdalian should be classified as a language, as the Council of Europe has proposed.

To make his point, he spoke a phrase in the language.

“This is Elfdalian, the remnant of Old Norse that we still have in Sweden. I have previously asked the minister to recognise Elfdalian as a minority language, and the Elfdalian language community have been working towards this for 15-20 years,” explained Helander.

“Even the Council of Europe has taken the position that Sweden should have an independent investigation into whether Elfdalian is a language or not. It is a language that is at risk of dying out and Sweden should take responsibility to protect this remnant of the Old Norse language.”

Before the minister could respond, the parliamentary speaker cut in to remind Helander that only Swedish may be spoken in the Chamber.

He responded: “Thank you, then perhaps we can have a debate on whether it was Swedish I was speaking or not, since the government says it is a Swedish dialect and not another language. In the future I intend to speak Elfdalian here, since the government thinks it is a dialect and we can speak dialect [in the Chamber].”

Elfdalian is mutually unintelligible with Swedish, bearing more resemblance to Icelandic and lacking the letters C, Q, X and Z.

The language was on the verge of dying out a few years ago, but has seen an uptick in interest – and speakers – thanks to efforts from the local community. That’s included courses for locals, a bilingual preschool teaching Elfdalian to youngsters, translating books into the language and even using the game Minecraft to make it appealing to the younger generation. As of 2017, only 60 people aged under 18 were believed to speak the language.

National recognition as a language would be an important step for Elfdalian, because it would give a boost to efforts to promote and protect it.

In 2016 it was assigned an ISO language code, which are used to help the internet classify what is or is not a language, but the Swedish government still classifies it as a dialect.

In response to Helander’s question, Culture Minister Amanda Lind said the government judged Elfdalian to be a dialect. Although she praised the work under way to preserve Elfdalian, she said it was not a priority.

Member comments

  1. I live in Alvdalen. Pixie hollow. ( clue in ELF). Many of my farming neighbors speak only the local language. My neighbor, from whom I buy my annual sheep, korv and what ever his wife makes, has hardly any Swedish. We have amusing conversations. But we communicate. Many of the road signs are a bit like driving in Wales. Weird to see. Ween for Vagen . Reading it is impossible.

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Swedish word of the day: krasslig

Autumn is here across much of Sweden, meaning the season for coughs, colds and flu is upon us. Today's word of the day is a word you can use when you're feeling a bit under the weather.

Swedish word of the day: krasslig

The adjective krasslig is best translated into English as being under the weather or a little bit unwell. You’re not so sick that you’re stuck in bed all day, but you might have a bit of a cough or a headache and aren’t really feeling 100 percent.

Those with small children in Sweden will be well acquainted with this word, as it’s a good way of describing the grey area between when a child is definitely sick and needs to stay home, and when a child is not really sick enough to warrant staying home, but not really feeling their best either – especially when combined with the word små to make småkrasslig (a little bit under the weather).

A teacher might say when you pick up your child at the end of the school day that they have been a bit krasslig, so you might need to avvakta (watch and wait) and see if they should stay home the next day. Usually, this means that if things get worse you should keep them at home, but if things are the same or better the next morning they can go back to school.

Adults who feel krasslig may opt to work from home instead of heading into the office, if they can.

As far as the etymology of krasslig is concerned, it probably comes from the verb att krassla, “to work slowly or with difficulty” or “to move yourself with difficulty”. You can also krassla on purpose, for example, at least historically, att krassla ihop something describes the act of putting something together slightly lazily and generally not doing a great job.

An example of something which has been put together badly or lazily in this way could be described as krassleri, while the person responsible for the botched job would be a krasslare. You’re not likely to hear it used in this sense today, though.

Example sentences

Jag känner mig lite krasslig i dag så jag tror jag hoppar filmen i kväll.

I feel a bit poorly today so I think I’ll skip the film tonight.

Hon är lite småkrasslig så det är nog bäst om ni kommer och hämtar henne.

She’s a bit ill so it’s probably for the best if you come and pick her up.

Don’t miss any of our Swedish words and expressions of the day by downloading our new app (available on Apple and Android) and then selecting the Swedish Word of the Day in your Notification options via the User button.