Starting in September, preschoolers in a small community in central Sweden will start getting lessons in a dying language thought to date back to the time of the Vikings. It is called, awesomely, Elfdalian, reports the Local. Those hoping for a Tolkien-esque link will be disappointed to learn that it has nothing to do with elves but instead translates to "river valley." About 2,500 people are estimated to speak Elfdalian, but only about 60 kids— hence the push to teach it in preschool in Alvdalen. Linguists once thought Elfdalian was just another Swedish dialect, but they have since concluded that it's a distinct language, most likely a descendant of the Viking language Old Norse that broke off from Swedish around 1300, reports the Financial Times in a previous story.
One reason: While Swedes can understand speakers of different dialects, they're clueless when it comes to Elfdalian, in part because it has grammatical characteristics not found in other Scandinavian languages. "Elfdalian is a a goldmine," says one historian. "It works almost like a linguistic deep freeze, where one can get a glimpse of Old Norse traits that have long since vanished in the other Nordic languages." A conference later this week at Copenhagen University will focus on Elfdalian, led by a professor at Lund University who taught himself how to speak it. He loves the preschool idea: "In the past, children from this area didn't go far beyond the farms they lived on, but now they go to school and consume so much other media that it is hard for them to keep Elfdalian as their main language."