Disclaimer: the spellings used in this article are those used on my original Wirhoose website, and in no way reflect the usage or opinions of anyone resident in Shetland.
A Concise Guide to Shetlandic Pronunciation.
1. Vowel Length. Shetlandic has unpredictable vowel length; that is,
long and short vowels can occur before the same consonant, sometimes with a
distinction in meaning. Thus the words back, baet, seed, room, guid, bide
and hoid have short vowels or diphthongs, whereas baak, bait,
meid, loum, roed, blyde and royd have long ones. Word pairs like
screed (swarm - noun) and screid (swarm - verb); gaet
(path) and gate (meaning as English); hael (whole), and
hail (meaning as English) are distinguished from each other in speech by
On this website, vowel length has been represented by selecting one of the
several spellings which are commonly used for each sound (usually the more
common one, e.g. ee) to represent the short sound, and another (usually a
less common, e.g. ei) to represent the long sound, and applying them
consistently. These spellings and their pronunciations are given in the
2. Vowel Mutation. Many Shetlandic vowels are pronounced differently
depending, in most cases, on whether they occur before a voiced ('soft') or
unvoiced ('hard') consonant. Thus the respective vowel sounds in bat, baak,
bet, bit, rot, luck and haet are pronounced differently from those in
bad, claag, bed, bid, rod, lug and haed. Unlike vowel length,
these differences are largely predictable to native speakers and are therefore
not indicated in spelling, but are indicated in the pronunciation script. Vowel
mutation is subject to much regional variation, particularly before 'l', 'm' and
3. Vowel Spelling and Pronunciation Tables.
Abbreviations and Notation:
SSE - Scottish Standard English, that is, English as pronounced by
RP - Received Pronunciation ('BBC') English.
The Symbol column gives the symbols which are used to represent
pronunciation on this website. Long vowels are indicated by a following colon,
e.g. [a:]. A following semicolon indicates
incidental (non-phonemic) lengthening, e.g. [E;]. 'Soft' vowels have two dots above, e.g.
[ä]. The symbol [@] represents the sound (usually called
shewa) of the e in English the.
The Position column gives the position in which these pronunciations
occur, where relevant. Generally speaking, pronunciations described as hard come
before voiceless consonants, those described as soft before voiced
The Approximate Pronunciation column gives an approximation to the sound in modified SAMPA, with a short description of the sound. Note that, in this column, the SAMPA script shows the phonetic equivalents of the more generalised convention used on the website as a whole, and shown in the Symbol column.
1. The short
spellings ae, ee, oo and ui are, however, pronounced long when
they occur at the end of a word - e.g. sae, dree, doo, crui, troo - and
in compounds and derivatives of such words, e.g. saes, dreed, doos,
cruis, trooless (duis is an exception).
Short unstressed final 'ee' is normally spelt -ie - e.g. peerie
- or -y - e.g. tully - as in English. Except in the frequent words
na, wha, twa, ava and awa, a single final a is unstressed
and short, pronounced much like the e in English the - e.g.
da, filska. Long stressed final 'aa' sounds are normally spelt
aa, e.g. faa, haa.
ae is pronounced differently according to dialect. In Mainland type
dialects it is pronounced as soft e, qv. In North Isles type
dialects - e.g. Yell - it is pronounced as 'ee'. In a third group of
conservative dialects - e.g. Burra - it is pronounced as a shorter version of
the a in SSE mane. Thus haed is variously pronounced
(roughly) 'heyd', 'heed', 'hade'; kaen as 'keyn', 'keen', 'kane',
ch (as in loch) i and e are usually pronounced as
'y' [i] and 'ey' [ei] respectively, and O is in many districts
pronounced as 'ow' [ou]; so micht and
strecht are usually pronounced as 'mycht' and 'streycht', and
tocht often as 'towcht'.
4. ie (so
spelt to distinguish from ei, which is reserved for the long sound) is
used instead of ee mainly before s, f and ch (e.g.
whiech, tief, niest), and also in stressed syllables, other than the
first, where the English cognate - in most cases a Latin derivative - has an
i, e.g. partiecular, tradietion. (But ee in first
syllables, e.g. feenish, speerit). ea is used only in
identical English cognates, e.g. year.
5. ü and
ö can be regarded as diacritic equivalents of ui and oe
respectively and are not used on this website. Final oe has a different
pronunciation from its sound elsewhere - [o:] as in SSE hoe, roe, etc.
6. In some parts
of Shetland - e.g. Yell - aa is pronounced as the au in RP
caught [Q:]. In certain words,
aa before -ld is often pronounced 'ow'; so e.g. aald,
caald, taald, saald are often pronounced 'owld', 'cowld', 'towld',
difference between hard and soft ai is almost negligible, except
in some areas such as Yell where hard ai is pronounced as a longer form
of the 'e' sound in Eng. set.
and o-e are equivalent to ai and oa respectively, and
are used mainly in words with familiar English or Scots spellings - e.g.
hate, wale, fame, store (but only where the vowel is long, not in
e.g. hael, haem, baen, where the Shetlandic vowel is short; note the
short/long contrasts in e.g. hael/hail, hael/wale, haem/fame,
gaet/gate, baet/bait, baen/bain, daeth/laith.) ay is used for the
ai sound in familiar English cognate words like say, day,
and in one or two others such as ayre.
Most consonants are pronounced more or less as in English (SSE), but note
that initial j is pronounced like the ch in English church.
In the pronunciation script used in the glossary, the letters [p,t,k,b,d,g,f,v,s,z,m,n,w,h] are pronounced more or
less as in English (SSE). Other symbols used in the script are in the following
Most Shetlandic words have the main stress on the first syllable. Where the stress is elsewhere, it is indicated in the pronunciation script by a straight quotation mark ['] immediately before the syllable which bears the stress - e.g. [s@'LIst], showing that the stress is on the second syllable. Where two stresses are shown, a double quotation mark ["] indicates the primary stress and a single quotation mark the secondary stress.