In Trondheim san Iorua a rugadh Alf Axelsson Sommerfelt. Deirtear in Store Norske Leksikon (ar an idirlíon) gurbh iad Axel Sommerfelt (1860-1938) agus Louise Gjertsen (1866-1921) a thuismitheoirí. Príomhoide meánscoile ba ea a athair. Rinne sé staidéar faoi Charl Marstrander in Ollscoil Osló. Ansin rinne sé staidéar ar an bhfocleolaíocht faoi Joseph Loth agus faoi Joseph Vendryes in Sorbonne. Chaith sé tamaill freisin ag foghlaim i mBaile Átha Cliath agus in Montpellier. Chaith sé formhór a shaoil oibre in Ollscoil Osló: ceapadh ina ollamh ann é in 1931.

In 1915, mhol Marstrander dó dul go hÉirinn agus ba i ngeall ar leabhar E. C. Quiggin a chuaigh sé go Dún na nGall. Thug sé naoi mí ann agus d’fhanadh i dteach Sheáin agus Ghráinne Mhic Mhaonghail i Mín Corrbhaic. Murach an cúram a thug siad sin dó, dar leis féin, dóbair dó bás a fháil den fhliú in 1916. Tuairiscíodh in An Claidheamh Soluis 4 Márta 1916 go raibh Alf Sommerfelt ó Christiania ag cruinniú de Ard-ChraobhChonradh na Gaeilge agus go raibh ocht mí caite aige i nDún na nGall. Foilsíodh a leabhar The Dialect of Torr, Co. Donegal. I. Phonology in 1922. Tuairiscíodh in Fáinne an Lae 8 Meán Fómhair 1923 go raibh sraith léachtaí ar an bhfoghraíocht tugtha aige i ‘Scoil na Gaeilge’ [Scoil an Léinn Ghaelaigh] i mBaile Átha Cliath. Scríobh sé ailt ar ghnéithe den Ghaeilge agus de na teangacha Ceilteacha eile: gutaí na Mumhan; Gaeilge Ard Mhacha Theas; na Lochlannaigh i dtraidisiún Dhún na nGall. D’fhoilsigh sé leabhair ar an mBreatnais agus ar an mBriotáinis.

Tugann Iorwerth C. Peate cuntas barrúil in Studia Celtica I, 1966 ar an gcaoi a ndéanadh sé staidéar ar chanúintí: ‘The arrangement between us was mutually beneficial. I taught him Welsh and he taught me the methods of dialectology. His own method of work was impressive. It was arranged that he should ... sleep in my grandfather’s former house, then occupied by two monoglot ladies. This made it necessary for him to converse in Welsh. He began work each day at 6 a.m., reading Greek until 7 a.m., and then Latin until 8 a.m. After this mental exercise (as he called it) he took breakfast and from 8.30 a.m. until 1 p.m. worked without a break. After lunch we went on our expedition ... on a constant quest for speakers. At first he insisted on my complete silence while only he did the questioning. More than once he found himself in difficulties for that reason. Countrymen faced by a Norwegian scholar speaking Welsh fluently often became overawed by such a phenomenon and carefully concealed their dialects, speaking impeccable Bible Welsh. We soon shared the questioning’. Gheofar tuairim sa chuntas sin freisin den tábhacht idirnáisiúnta a bhain leis i gcúrsaí teangeolaíochta agus i bpolaitíocht na scoláireachta, agus den ardghradam a bhí bainte amach aige i saol na hIorua. ‘One of the world’s great scholars’ a thugann Peate air.

Bhí rialtas na hIorua ar deoraíocht i Londain i rith an dara Cogadh Domhanda agus bhí Sommerfelt in éineacht leo ann mar stiúrthóir ar Roinn an Oideachais. Is i rith na tréimhse sin a thug sé cuairt ar Éamon de Valera gur áitigh air gur chóir atlas teangeolaíoch a chur ar fáil. ‘In a country where linguistics as an academic discipline has barely been recognised, the lectures he gave from time to time opened up windows on the linguistic world’, a dúirt Dan Binchy in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 65, 1965/66. Bhí baint aige le bunú UNESCO agus chaith sé na blianta 1946–52 ina bhall dá choiste gnótha.

Bhronn Ollscoil na hÉireann dochtúireacht oinigh air in 1951. Bhí an tuairim ann gurbh é an cara ab fhearr é dá raibh ag Éirinn i measc scoláirí a linne sa Mhór-roinn (Irish Times 14 Deireadh Fómhair 1965) agus tugtar suas dó, dar le Peate, gurbh é bunaitheoir na nua-chanúineolaíochta sna tíortha Ceilteacha é. Timpiste bhóthair in Osló ba thrúig bháis dó 12 Deireadh Fómhair 1965. Tá eolas ar a shaol is a shaothar in Alf Axelsson Sommerfelt: notice biographique et bibliographique, 1957 le Sever Pop.

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Diarmuid Breathnach

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