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Pronunciation

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 vowel length.

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 following tables.

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 'n' sounds.

3. Vowel Spelling and Pronunciation Tables.

Abbreviations and Notation:

SSE - Scottish Standard English, that is, English as pronounced by most Scots.

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 consonants.

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.

Short Vowel Spellings (1) Symbol Position Examples Approximate Pronunciation
a a hard bat, back, saps [a] As in SSE hat

ä soft bad, plag, sab [æ] As in RP hat
ae (2) e hard paet, traep, laek [I] Like the i in SSE pit, trip

ë soft haed, stael, staen [e], [i], [ei] - see note 2.
e (3) E hard set, lep, seck [E] As in Eng.

Ë soft led, neb, hen [EI],[ei] Like the a in RP lane
i (3) I hard pit, trip, lick [3] Like the e in Eng. the

Ï soft sid, lib, rig [I] Like the i in Eng. sin
o (3) O hard rot, rop, lock [Q] Back open rounded, as in Eng. rot, lock.

Ö soft rod, job, brod [Œ] Front open rounded, cp. French bonne
u o hard cut, wup, luck [o] Rounder than RP u

ö soft cud, wub, lug [ø] Similar to German ö
ee, ie (4) i
leep, leet, need [i] As in Eng. need, reed
oo u
room, smoot, rook [u] As in SSE, or French roue
ui (ü) (5) ø
cuit, guid, buil, guis [ø] Like German ö

Long Vowel Spellings Symbol Position Examples Approximate Pronunciation
aa (6) a: hard baak, faat, whaap [a:],[A:] As hard a, but longer and further back

ä: soft claag, faader, aaber [æ:] As soft a, but longer
ai (a-e) (7,8) e: hard laik, waik, mair [e@] As in SSE fair, or in some districts as [E:] a drawn-out 'e' sound

ë: soft maide, whaig, caib [e:] As in SSE maid
ei i:
reib, peig, meid [i:] As ee, but longer
oa (o-e) (8) o:
voar, goager, smoar [o:] As in SSE roam, store
ou u:
loum, oub, roug [u:] As oo, but longer
oe (ö) (5) ø:
roed, broel, roese [ø:] As ui, but longer

Diphthongs
etc.
Symbol Position Examples Approximate Pronunciation
y, i-e @i
bide, vynd, mylk [@i] As in SSE time, wife, etc.
y(-)e ai
blyde, vyre, tyze, kye [ai] As in RP time, wife, SSE five.
-ey ei final ey, ley, feyness [ei] Like the a in RP lane
oi øi
groint, hoid, point [øi] ui + ee
oy Oi
gloy, foy, royd [Oi] As in Eng. boy
ow(-e) ou
gowl, bowe, stowen [ou] As in SSE how, now
eu ju
deuk, neuk, steuch [ju] Like ew in Eng. skewer
eo jO
teoch, aneoch [jO:] Like yaw in Eng. yawl

Notes.

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.

2. Soft 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', etc.

3. Before 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', 'sowld'.

7. The 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.

8. a-e 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.

4. Consonants.

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 table.

Spelt Sym. Examples Approximate Pronunciation
sh S shair [Se:r] as in share
-ge Z vaidge [vë:dZ] like the s in leisure
th T footh [fuT] as th in thick, thin
th D boeth [bø:D] like the th in the, there.
l L hail [he:L] a 'dark' l, pronounced with the back of the tongue raised
l l hael [hël] a 'clear' l, pronounced with the back of the tongue unraised
ng N finger [fIN@r] as ng in Eng. singer (not as in Eng. finger)
r r reir [ri:r] produced by tapping the tip of the tongue just behind the teeth.
wh W whaar [Wa:r] unvoiced bilabial fricative, made by blowing through rounded lips.
ch x roch [rO;x] as ch in German ach, SSE loch.
ch C micht [m@iCt] like ch in German ich.
y j yalder [jäld@r] as the y in yellow.


5. Stress.

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.

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