How Sweden's ancient language Elfdalian is being saved by Minecraft

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How Sweden's ancient language Elfdalian is being saved by Minecraft
The church of Älvdalen is being built in the Minecraft universe – pictured above is its tower.

A group of international language enthusiasts has come up with a way to save one of Sweden's most ancient and endangered languages – by recreating the village where it is spoken in Minecraft.


Elfdalian is an ancient language with its roots in the forests of Älvdalen in Dalarna, and until a few years ago, it was on the brink of dying out.

The rare Viking language is currently experiencing a revival, which has helped it gain international speakers, and now it is being introduced to the world of Minecraft to help ensure its survival.

A group of Swedes and Americans are building the village of Älvdalen and its surroundings in Minecraft, the Swedish-designed computer game, and all text and speech in the game will be in Elfdalian.

"We want to help save the language," says Christoffer Pennington, 25, an American who recently moved to Åland with his Swedish wife Emilia Stjernfeldt. The couple first discovered the forest language when Christoffer was living in Tennessee and Emilia with her parents in Stockholm, and since they often played Minecraft together, they came up with the idea of building a Minecraft world for Älvdalen – to help Elfdalian survive. 

Emilia Stjernfeldt and Christoffer Pennington came up with the idea of saving the ancient language through Minecraft.

Last summer, the couple visited Älvdalen and participated in a summer course in Elfdalian, which taught them much more about the area and its language. Now Pennington is working full time on the project which he is leading with Stjernfeldt, with help from three American women and a boy from Västerbotten in northern Sweden, who share their passion for both Elfdalian and Minecraft.

So far, the church and part of the village have been completed, but there's still lots of work to be done – and the team has asked for other Minecraft enthusiasts to help with the project.

"We want to make it interesting and fun for children to learn Elfdalian grammar and the history and culture of the area, by using a medium which children are already familiar with – millions of children across the world play Minecraft," explained Stjernfeldt.

The final product will be a file which anyone can download, and then upload to a single-player game.

"The game will be based on questions and answers," says Christoffer. "The idea is that it can be used with a teacher or parent, but it can also be played alone."

By playing the world-famous computer game, children in Älvdalen will also be able to learn Elfdalian grammar, words, and pronunciation, but the game will also teach players about culture and history.

"Minecraft allows you to do this, provided that you're not making money from it," explains Christoffer. "So the game will be free to use."

A scene from the game, where all the text and speech will be in Elfdalian.

Älvdalen's church is already complete in the Minecraft world, and in the initial stage, the village will be created in as much detail as the game allows. The game is set to be launched in the second half of 2018, and the goal is to later include surrounding villages as well.

"It's so important to protect the language. Through language, you build stronger links with family, groups, and cultures," said Pennington.

Once the project is ready, he and Stjernfeldt hope to help save other endangered languages using the experiences they gain through creating the Minecraft game.

READ ALSO: An entire Swedish city has been recreated in Minecraft

The spokesperson for Ulum Dalska, an organization set up to safeguard Elfdalian, is excited about the project.

"This is simply revolutionary," the organization's spokesperson, Funk Emil Eriksson, said. "Unbelievably great. It will also be incredible good publicity for Älvdalen."

"It will interest young people, who live in a world where computers and computer games are important. And they get the chance to play a fun game at the same time as learning to speak Elfdalian – utterly fantastic," Eriksson added.

Municipal commissioner Peter Egardt is also enthusiastic about the first computer game in Elfdalian.

"In order to save the language, we need lots of people to help and we need to attract children and young people, and make sure they know that it's cool to speak Elfdalian. That's why this project is extremely important, because it will have that exact effect," he said.

"It's so great to see dedication to our unique language a long, long way away from Älvdalen. It warms my heart!" he added.

Article written by Björn Rehnström and translated and adapted for The Local by Catherine Edwards.


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