The Viking Forest language from deep in the woods of central Sweden, known as Elfdalian, had previously been regarded as a Dalecarlian dialect, but leading linguists now agree it is a separate language. This post is about another amazing linguistic anomaly in the Dalarna district of central Sweden.
Long ago, the Germanic peoples of Scandinavia and the continent wrote with a script known as runes. Old English and also Old Norse, the language of the Vikings were written with these characters prior to the introduction of the Latin alphabet. Medieval Icelandic literature reveals that runes were considered magical in pagan times, but the runes fell out of use and were even banned in some places after the conversion to Christianity.
There are many Dalecarlian languages and dialects spoken in the Dalarna district of central Sweden, all of which derive from Old Norse. In the remote villages of this forested part of Sweden, not only have these rare Viking dialects survived, but so too has use of Germanic runic script. The Viking runes had been replaced by a different runic system by the 13th century known as “medieval runes”. This customised version of the Elder Futhark was used throughout the Middle Ages to write the Old Norse language as it evolved into Modern Swedish.
In the 16th century runes were no longer in common use as they had been almost entirely replaced by Latin characters for writing the Swedish language. One of the few exceptions was runic calendars, which were used throughout Sweden up until the 19th century. But when the Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) visited the province of Dalarna in 1734, he noted that runes were still being used for all kinds of things besides calendars and this province has been called “the last stronghold of the Germanic script”. He wrote:
The peasants in the community here, apart from using rune staves, still today write their names and ownership marks with runic letters, as is seen on walls, corner stones, bowls, etc. Which one does not know to be still continued anywhere else in Sweden.
The version of runes used in Dalarna was called Dalecarlian runes and they were still in use in the 20th century. Although derived from medieval runes, after the 16th century they were combined with and sometimes replaced by letters from the Latin alphabet. Over 200 inscriptions have been found, most of which are short. They can be found carved on furniture, buildings, bowls etc. indicating the names of who owned them or made them.
The oldest Daelcarlian runic inscription was found on a bowl from a small village called Åsen, it say “Anders has made (this) bowl anno 1596”.