Sandra Gjervaldsaeter (16) received the Älvdalska bursary this year. Her dad and grandmother always spoke the language together and, with the money from the bursary as a motivation, she went from understanding it, but not speaking, to using it fully. “Now that I have learnt more about the language, I understand better how unique it is and how important it is to preserve. I’m now pushing my siblings and my cousins to start speaking it too.” Sandra is moving away in the fall to study, but she said that she will always want to keep one foot in Älvdalen. “Hopefully, I will find a job here after I graduate from veterinary school. I think boys are more prone to stay here. We girls, we have to go away to study and we might be more open to try out the bigger city lifestyle.” Sandra is interested in music. She sings, plays various instruments, and writes her own songs.
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'.