Hampus Nyberg (L), 15 years old and Jens Persson (R), 16 years old have fun with their friend Fredrik Fornstedt (in the car) and their ‘forest toy’. The car used to belong to Jens grandfather but now it stands in the woods near Fredrik’s house that has a workshop attached to it. Fredrik’s father, uncle, and brother are all car mechanics. Since none of the boys are old enough to drive yet they mainly take it apart and put it back together again. All three boys speak Älvdalska and they speak it together most of the time. “It is great to have a secret language," Fredrik said. “When we go to parties in other parts of the region, we have a lot of fun with it”. All three boys have learned the language from their fathers and they all have siblings who do not speak. They think their friendship might have pushed them to keep speaking. Last year, Jens was studying forestry, but he is about to change programs to become a plumber instead. “It is easier to get a job here if I change my program. What matters the most is not what kind of job it is, but that I get one here,” Jens added. Hampus wants to become a carpenter and Fredrik wants to refinish cars. He knows he might have to move away from Älvdalen for a few years – “but only to learn and then come back home to start my own business”.
The isolated valley of Älvdalen ('River Valley'), in Dalarna, central Sweden, is by no means stereotypically Scandinavian. Both landscape and lifestyle seem to have more in common with a nostalgic 1950s vision of the United States, where hillbilly meets rock-and-roll.
This project focuses on the relationship between generations in a changing social climate. Some 3,000 people in Älvdalen speak Älvdalska (Elfdalian) - an ancient language with strong links to Old Norse, the language once spoken by the Vikings - but only about 45 of these are teenagers. The community is dealing with the threat of the extinction of Älvdalska in an unusual way. Knowing that the key to revitalization is to encourage a new generation of speakers, local authorities in Älvdalen give grants of 6,000 kronor (about €730) to young school-leavers who sign a contract obliging them to 'actively try to use the language at all times possible'.