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Shaetlan is Daed

Shaetlan is Daed - Lang live Dialect

Some Consequences of the Public Concept of Dialect

(Paper originally given at the Shetland dialect conference Dialect '04)

(Standardised version here)

In a article aboot Scots sociolinguistics, Jim Miller contrasts da Public an da linguistic concepts o dialects - dat is, whit linguists means bi da wird, compared wi whit fock in general tinks he means. He writes:

According to the public concept, dialects have no grammar or at best partial rules of grammar, possess a small vocabulary, are unwritten, and enjoy a limited range of uses. Languages, in contrast, have grammar rules and a wide vocabulary, are written, and are used in any situation, including those in which dialects are used.

Miller gaes on ta disagree wi dis public concept o dialect. Hoosumever, hit seems ta me at, whitiver linguists micht mean bi da wird ‘dialect’, hit’s dis public concept o dialect at we hae ta wirk wi, caase if we oese da wird ava, hit’s dat public concept at fock tinks at we mean. Whit implications, dan, duis dis wird ‘dialect’ hae?

1. Dialect haes nae identity.

Miller points oot at da contrast atween dialect an language onnly comes aboot whaar ee language is emerged as da written standard. In idder wirds, ta caa a language a dialect is juist whit you caa it fae da viewpoint o anidder, standard form o language.

Noo, I canna mind ever haein a guid memory, bit I dui seem ta mind at whin I wis young we spack Shaetlan - we onnly needit da wird ‘dialect’ if we wir spaekin English, whin we wid maestly caa it ‘The Shetland Dialect.’ Whin we wir spaekin in Shaetlan, da distinction atween dialect an language didna crop up - hit wis a artefact o translation, a distinction at onnly appeared whin you wir leukin at Shaetlan fae a English-language viewpoint. Da wird ‘dialect’ implies at ee language is a hentilaag o anidder language. Hit’s a purely relative term, at onnly comes ta be relevant whin your seein a tongue fae a ootside point o view.

Laetly, toh, I’m notticed at mair an mair fock oeses da wird ‘dialect’ ta describe da Shaetlan tongue even whin dae’r spaekin (or writin) Shaetlan. Whaar fock wis wint ta spaek aboot ‘spaekin Shaetlan’, noo dey maestly spaek aboot ‘spaekin da dialect’ or even juist ‘spaekin dialect.’ Ta me, dis shaas a change at’s come ower foo Shaetlan fock sees dir midder tongue. Whaarby whin I wis young hit wis Shaetlan - dat is hit’s association wis wi da plaece, caase hit wis da tongue at nearly aa Shaetlan fock spack - noo hit’s ‘dialect’; dat is, da perspective seems ta be shiftit fae internal - da haemaboot viewpoint - ta external - da Sooth viewpoint; an fae bein associatit wi da plaece, ta bein assigned tae a certain category o language. An whaar Shaetlan wis eence da language at Shaetlan fock spack, noo hit’s da dialect at some Shaetlan fock spaeks. In idder wirds, fae bein dialect fae a UK point o view in a national context, hit’s noo dialect even fae a Shaetlan point o view, even ithin da Shaetlan context.

So whaar da wird ‘dialect’ wis wint ta be a English description o da Shaetlan tongue, noo hit’s displaeced da wird ‘Shaetlan’ as da naem - no juist da description - o dat tongue. Dis means at, insted o spaekin aboot a Shaetlan tongue at haes a connotation o Shaetlan identity, we’r spaekin aboot dialect, at haes a connotation o backabootness, even ithin hits ain bonhoaga.

2. Dialect haes nae defineetion.

Miller parteecularly disagrees wi da idee at dialects haes nae grammar. He writes:

The varieties of English and French (and other languages) that emerged as standard languages did not acquire grammatical rules just when they became standard languages; they already had a grammar. The other varieties did not lose their grammars just because they were not chosen as the standard.

Bit agen, if we oese da wird ‘dialect’, hit’s da public concept o dat wird at we man wirk wi. Ta shaa foo I tink da wird ‘dialect’ differs fae da wird ‘Shaetlan’, I’m gaein ta gie you twaartree examples o different kinds o spaek at you micht (or micht no) hear ithin Shaetlan. Dae’r aa baesed on whit da parkin warden micht a sed.


Da first example is:

"I’ve booked all those folk who were wrongly parked."

Dis is juist standard English. Of coorse, technically standard English is a dialect tui, bit as we aa kaen, dat’s no whit we mean whin we say ‘dialect’?


Da saecond example is:

"I’m beukit aa dem at wis wrang parkit."

Dis is whit I wid caa Shaetlan - dat is, whit we caad Shaetlan whin I bed in Shaetlan. Da strynds at sinders hit fae standard English is:

1. Da verb ta be insted o to have (or for dat maiter ta hiv) ta mak da perfect tense - dat is, ‘I’m beukit’ for English ‘I’ve booked.’

2. Syllabic ‘it’ endins on verbs at ends in p, t, k, b, d, an g soonds. So ‘beukit’ an ‘parkit’ for English ‘booked’ an ‘parked.’

3. ‘aa’ for English ‘all’

4. ‘dem’ insted o English ‘those.’ Nottice at dae’r twa differs here. First, da phonology o da wird is different fae da English ‘them’; an saecond, dae’r a grammatical differ i da wye at da sentence is pitten tagidder.

5. ‘at’ for English ‘who.’

6. ‘dem at wis parkit’ for English ‘those who were parked.’ In idder wirds, a singular verb wi a plural subject.

7. ‘wrang’ oesed adverbially for English ‘wrongly.’

Maest o dis strynds is recordit in Grammar and Usage of the Shetland Dialect (GUSD for short - or FLAN, as we wid say) an you can see dem in writers o tradeetional Shaetlan laek J.W. Laesk. Dis is da wye at I spack whin I wis a bairn, da wye at I still spaek, an whit I wid a caad, an wid still caa, Shaetlan.


Da third example is:

 "I’ve booked aa those wha wir wrongly parked."

Dis is grammatically exactly da sam as da first, standard English, ene. Da onnly differs is ‘aa’ for ‘all’, an ‘wha wir’ for ‘who were.’ In idder wirds, da differs is onnly i da pronunciation. Yit I doot at maest fock wid still say at dis wis dialect - an here we’r comin closser ta whit we actually mean whin we say ‘dialect’. Whit we mean is, in effect, onything at’s obviously closs sib ta English, bit different fae standard English.


Da fort example is:

 "I’ve booked aa dem fock whit wir wrong parked."

Dis haes twa strynds - ‘dem’ afore ‘fock’, an ‘whit’ as a relative pronoun - at’s nedder tradeetional Shaetlan or standard English, toh dey’r coamon in idder kinds o non-standard English. Bit agen, I doot at maest fock wid say at dis wis dialect; an maybe - caase o da pronunciations o ‘dem’, ‘fock’ an ‘whit’ - dey wid say at hit wis Shetland Dialect.

You’ll nottice, bi da wye, at naen o dis examples, includin da ene at I’m caad Shaetlan, haes ony non-English wirds ithin him. Dis is no caase I duina tink at wirds is important. Hit’s ta emphasise da fact at grammar is juist as important a strynd o da Shaetlan tongue as wirds is.

Koen Zondag maks dis sam point in a article aboot bilingualism in Friesland. He says, "Lexical interference only damages the surface of a language, whilst morphological, phonological and syntactic interference attack its very roots." In idder wirds, as lang as da rickle o baens is hael you can ey hing a grain mair flesh apon him; bit eence he’s mirackled, aa at you’r left wi is a poer aamos, lamalaeg body at can haardly hirple atween da bed an fire.

3. Dialect canna be consolidatit.

If we wir spaekin here aboot somethin caad Shaetlan, at we micht translate inta English as Shetlandic, an if we believed at dis tongue wis deein oot, dan we wid be trang identifeein da strynds o Shaetlan, an comin up wi structured teachin material sae at dey wid be passed on ta bairns. In idder wirds, we wid be strentenin da rickle o baens, as weel as maetin da boady.

Bit of coorse we’r no - we’r spaekin aboot ‘dialect’. An as we kaen, i da public concept o da wird, dialect is laek a whaalblub - hit haes nae baens, nae grammar.

Tom Morton illustrates dis public concept o dialect in ene o his ‘Nippy Sweetie’ articles i da Shetland Times. He writes:

How much of a gesture is Shetlandic, to give the varying forms of dialect a jarringly jargonistic name? It will never be a consistent set of grammatical rules and pronunciation. It is not and never has been, though there have been various attempts to control it, to render it in some kind of set form.

Dis staetment duis a lock ta shoard up da public concept o dialect.

First, hit pits doon ony attempt ta oese ony wird idder as ‘dialect’ ta describe da Shaetlan tongue. Dis means at ony examples fae idder plaeces i da world whaar dey’r kyuckered up dir midder tongues - laek Faera, Catalonia, Friesland, Wales - is seen as bein irrelevant, caase dey’r languages, an Shaetlan is a dialect. An if you try ta win awa fae dis veecious circle bi oesin da wird Shetlandic, aathing at you write can be dismissed as ‘jargon.’

Saecond, hit points oot at ‘dialect’ consists o ‘varying forms’. Da wird ‘dialect’ here is laek a collective noun - a wird laek ‘watter’ or maybe better ‘mist’, at refers ta ooncoontable things at aa runs tagidder an at you canna git a had o.

Third, since dialect duisna hae ony consistent grammar an pronunciation, dan ony attempt ta write dis grammar an pronunciation doon - laek in Grammar and Usage of the Shetland Dialect, or on my ain website, or da appendices o my Guid Unkens efter Mark, or in my article ‘Some Characteristics of the Shetlandic Vowel System’ in Scottish Language 19 - aa dis man be (in Morton’s wirds) ta ‘control’ it, ta ‘restrict’ it, or ta ‘invent their own versions of it, as part of a reclamation process.’

In idder wirds, you maana caa Shaetlan onything idder as a dialect; an onything at you dui wi a language at’s kent as a dialect, idder as laeve hit be, man be artifeecial. Dis is a inevitable affgaeng o da public concept o dialect.

4. Dialect canna be promotit.

If da wird ‘dialect’ haes inherent in hits meanin da idee o non-standardness - an hit duis - dan dat means at a lock o da things at we say aboot it duisna mak sense. For example, i da literature report we git phrases laek "standardised system of dialect"; "standard Shetland dialect"; "dialect policy"; an "dialect strategy." I dunna kaen if dis phrases cam fae Alex or fae his sources, bit ta me dey aa soond laek contradictions in terms. Caase if you standardise a dialect, dan hit’s no a dialect ony mair - hit’s a language. Da wird ‘dialect’ haes da effect o makkin da possibeelity o policy, strategy, spellin, standards, or onything systematic ta dui wi Shaetlan soond oot o da question afore dey can even be spocken aboot.

5. Dialect is infinitely variable.

Anidder thing I’m notticed is at, whin fock duisna spaek aboot ‘spaekin dialect’ dey spaek aboot ‘spaekin Burra’ or ‘spaekin Whaalsa’ or da laek. Dis is whit I caa micro-dialect. You can brack da wird ‘dialect’ doon as faar as you laek - Aest Burra, Wast Burra, Sooth Wast Burra, Nort Wast Burra, Hamnavoe. I’m heard it sed at teachin Shaetlan wid kill it aff, caase if - for example - you hae a Burra teacher spaekin Burra dialect ta bairns in Whaalsa, dat’s gaein ta kill aff da Whaalsa dialect. We pit up wi aa kinds o different pronunciations o English wirds - English, Scottish, American - an yit we canna pit up wi Shaetlan pronunciations fae idder isles. Dis is caase we duina hae a concept o Shaetlan as a hael. An while we try ta hain wir micro-dialects fae idder micro-dialects, standard English is killin dem aa aff.

An dan dae’r whit I caa macro-dialect. As weel as cannin ta nairoo doon dialect as muckle as we laek, we can widen it as muckle as we laek. So while we greet aboot Burra teachers condamnin da Whaalsa dialect, da bairns at da schuil is readin The Steamie an Tom Leonard.

In idder wirds, for want o a consolidatit entity at we can caa ‘Shaetlan’ - or ‘Shetlandic’ whin we’r writin aboot it in English - we’r raelly spaekin aboot onything, or aathing, or naethin. In computin dey spaek aboot GIGO - ‘garbage in, garbage out’ (or ‘bruck in, bruck oot’ as we micht say if we could spaek aboot modern things laek computers in dialect.) In a lairnin context, whit bairns lairns aboot dialect can onnly be OIOO - onything in, onything oot.

6. You canna teach dialect.

If da wird ‘dialect’ can cover aathing idder as standard English, dan hit can never be wrang. An if hit can never be wrang, dan you canna teach it. You canna mis-spell a language at haes nae spellin. You canna mak grammatical mishanters in a language at haes nae grammar. An you canna oese da wrang wird in a language at haes nae vocabulary. I micht tink at da phrase ‘I’m gotten a staenloopen i mi luif’ is Shaetlan, an ‘I’ve got a blister on my palm’ is English; bit ‘I’m got a blister on mi palm’ is nae doot dialect. If I come across da phrase ‘no very muckle’ written in a context whaar hit’s obviously supposed ta mean ‘not very big’, dan wha im I ta say at dat’s a mistak, caase muckle meanin big is never oesed predicatively, an sae ‘no very muckle’ ey means ‘not very much’? Hit canna be a mistak, caase you canna mak mistaks in a grammarless dialect. If somene spells ‘plaet’ as P-L-I-T, as if hit rhymed wi ‘bit’ insted o wi ‘baet’, whit’s wrang wi dat? Hit’s dialect, an you can write hit ony wye at you laek.

In a article ‘The Demography of Scots’ in Scottish Language 19, Dr Caroline Macafee writes:

The idea of ‘bad’ Scots (parallel to ‘bad English’) has generally been rejected outside narrow activist circles as educationally damaging and out of step with progressive, sociologically-informed thinking.

Dis micht soond very progressive in a fitnot in a academic journal, bit whit hit means in practice is at, if you richt bairns’ English, you’r helpin dir education, whaarby if you wir ta richt dir Scots or Shaetlan, dat wid be damagin dem educationally. Dis lats English be teached juist da sam as hit ey is been, bit hinders Scots or Shaetlan fae ever bein teached. Hit means at hit’s still wrang ta pit Shaetlandisms in English writin, bit aaricht ta pit Anglicisms in Shaetlan writin. Hit ensures da sacrosanct status o standard English as no onnly da standard, bit da onnly form o language at haes ony standards ava.

Contrast Koen Zondag’s comment on bilingual education in Friesland:

If a child makes a mistake in Frisian in grades 1 to 6 (ie, from 4 to 10 years of age), the teacher has to correct the word and/or sentence by repeating it in the correct way.

Whin we read at teachers in Friesland i da laet 1800s spack aboot ‘That insufferable Frisian dialect’ which ‘puts so many obstacles in the way of instruction in the Dutch language’, we can see da differs in approtch atween plaeces whaar fock is makkin a serious shaep at kyuckerin up dir ain tongues, an da waenglit ideologies at influences foo we tink aboot ‘dialect’ in Shaetlan. Whit’s progressive language policy in Friesland wid be ‘narrow activism’ in Scotland.

Da SOED paeper on English Language staetes,

Far from diminishing the significance of English, an understanding of the operations of dialects will enrich awareness of the need for a standard form of language.

Dat ‘standard form of language’ is, of coorse, standard English. In da Scottish education system, lairnin aboot dialects is juist anidder wye o shoardin up da existin poseetion o English as da onnly language at you can identifee, define, promote, read or write fluently, or teach actively.

7. Dialect canna dee oot.

In yun sam ‘Nippy Sweetie’ article, Tom Morton writes:

There will always be a Shetland dialect, just as there will always be some form of distinctive Ayrshire speech, Caithnessian usage, Lallans or Doric.

Tom Morton can say dis ithoot faire o contradiction, caase ‘Shetland dialect’ is datten oonveive an asky a term at hit can mean onything. Sae you cood ey claim at dae wir a ‘Shetland dialect,’ even if hit consistit o phrases laek ‘I seen all dem fock whit done da burglary.’ Da public concept o dialect means at hit haes nae identity, an sae ony variation fae standard English can still be caad ‘Shetland dialect’. So whin whit I caa Shaetlan is daed, you’ll still can ta say - lang live dialect.

8. Fock at spaeks dialect needna can ta read or write it.

Dae ir ee aspect o da public concept o dialect at Miller duis agree wi. He writes:

In a given country the language is the variety used in both speech and writing...Dialects are typically used only in speech in domestic conversation, at the workplace among the blue-collar workforce, or in local shops.

Somene eence sed at a language is a dialect wi a airmy an a navy. I wid traep at, in practice, we tink on a dialect as a language if hit haes a recognised written form. On da idder haand, we tink on a language as a dialect if hit haes nae written form.

In da sam ‘Nippy Sweetie’ article, Tom Morton spaeks aboot da problems o writin in dialect.

There is the temptation to render the dialect thought in the English that may not come naturally in speech, but certainly does when written or word processed. Writing in dialect is forever dealing with the tension between the sound of the words and how to put them on the page. And with the temptation to write for the sake of the dialect form rather than for emotional, intellectual, poetic content.

I sood laekly say here (or maybe I soodna) at Tom Morton roeses ene o my ain poiems (Da Reffelation o Santit John) as bein ene whaar ‘the joins between thoughts, speech and the printed words are mostly invisible.’ Ah, bit you see, I cheatit. I practiced writin Shaetlan aforehaand.

If Shaetlan wis a language, an no a dialect, dan whit Morton is describin here wid be caad ‘illiteracy’, an dae wid be a ootcry for somethin ta be duin aboot it. Bit leeteracy ithin a dialect wid be anidder contradiction in terms. Sae dis problem o da tension atween da spokken an da written wird can never be teckled under da public dialect concept, caase dat concept coonts hit oot.

I wis wint ta traep wi Shaetlan fock at we sood gie Shaetlan a wirkin orthography. I’m lang syne whet dat, caase da argument ey gied da sam wye.

Ta begin wi, fock wid traep at you coodna gie Shaetlan a standard spellin caase dat wid mean at you wir standardisin da dialects - in idder wirds, you wid hae ta baese da spellin on wan dialect - a central Mainland ene, say - an dat ene wid come ta be a standard at wid dui awa wi aa da idder enes.

Dan I wid gaeng on ta shaa dem at dis wisna da caese - at in fact, haein a standard spellin cood hae da opposite effect, if onnly hit wis richt wrocht oot i da first plaece.

Da best example o dis is da dooble AA spellin. I write dis in wirds laek baak, baarn, taaties, faa - aa wirds at some Shaetlan dialects says wi a ‘aa’ soond an some wi a ‘aw’ soond. Bit I duina write a dooble AA in wirds laek haff an watter, at - as faar as I’m awaar - naebody says wi a ‘aw’ soond. Dis means at da dooble AA spellin coud be a standard spellin for wirds at’s sed ‘aa’ in some dialects an ‘aw’ in idders, an dat wid mean at you wid onnly need ta hae wan beuk printit for bairns in aa pairts o Shaetlan ta can ta read it wi dir ain pronunciation.

On da Migrant CD bi da Shaetlan baand Shoormal, dir a sang caad Bohus. Freda Laesk at sings dis sang haes a lock o ‘aw’ soonds in wirds laek faa, an maas, bit i da cover o da CD, dis wirds is written doon wi a dooble AA. Shui seems ta hae nae budder readin dis wirds oot wi her ain pronunciation. Forby dat, shui haes nae ‘ch’ soond in wirds laek dicht, fecht, an sae on; yit dis wirds is written wi a CH i dem, even toh shui duisna soond it. Bit if I suggest at we sood follow dis practical example, an write wirds laek baak wi dooble AA whidder we say dem ‘aa’ or ‘aw’, an wirds laek fecht wi a CH whidder we say da ‘ch’ soond or no, aabody ey agrees wi ene anidder, an fornent me, at dat wid obviously be silly. Whit we accept ithoot tinkin aboot it in a language - for example, da different pronunciations o wirds laek ‘more’ an ‘there’ in Scottish an English accents - we cringe awa fae whin we’r spaekin aboot dialect.

Whit I up da laetest realised wis at fock duisna traep fornenst dis caase dey railly tink at hit canna be duin. Da fact is at dey dunna want it ta be duin, an you canna traep fornenst dat. Maest fock at wants Shaetlan ta live on seems ta want it ta live on as a dialect - or, redder, a lock o different dialects - dat is, ithoot ony o da status at we associate wi languages laek Welsh, Gaelic, Faroese, Catalan, Frisian - or ony idder wye whaar spaekers is kyuckerin up dir midder tongues wi giein dem kirsen stroods. I wid laek ta see ony evidence fae onywye at dis idee at dialects can be kyuckered up as dialects is onything idder as a himmlesfaird.

Of coorse, da irony is at bairns wid hae nae budder wi ony o dis. Dey wid hae nae budder pronuncin T-O-C-H-T as ‘towt’ or ‘tocht’ accordin tae dir ain dialect, ony mair as Freda Laesk duis. Dey wid hae nae budder sayin B-A-A-K as edder ‘baak’ or ‘bawk’, or H A E L as edder ‘hale’, ‘hel’ or ‘heel’. Hit wid juist tak ee generation o bairns ta establish leeteracy in Shaetlan. Bit under da public dialect concept an da Scottish anti-orthographic ideology, dat can never happen.

I’ll laekly hae ta say somethin here aboot dis Scottish anti-orthographic ideology, caase I doot hit lies ahint a lock o foo we tink aboot dis in Shaetlan. Whin Faera kyuckered up her midder tongue shui hed da example o Iceland ta follow. We, on da idder haand, faa ta drittle ahint da example o Lowland Scotland. Of coorse dae’r a footh o different opeenions aboot Scots in Scotland. Derrick McClure is traepit for Scots orthography an language development for decades, an baith him an John Law wis on da sam spellin gadderie as mesel. Bit da view o maest o da academic an leeterary establishment is at written Scots haes a plaece in creative writin, bit English man be oesed for aa idder thing. Dis is of coorse da opposite o da approtch at’s wrocht in plaeces laek Faera.

Ene o da maest influential figgurs in Scots Language circles eenoo is James Roberston, an dis is whit he haes ta say aboot spellin:

One argument against a standardisation of Scots spelling is that one of the language’s very strengths lies in its flexibility and its less-than-respectable status: writers turn to it because it offers a refuge for linguistic individualism, anarchism, nomadism and hedonism.

In idder wirds, Scots is ta be keepit in a trussy staet no for da sake o dem at spaeks it, bit for da sake o a minority o writers at wants ta exploit hits ‘less-than-respectable’ status. Dis attitude ta language is sometimes caad negative prestige. Da best kent examples o dis is of coorse Tom Leonard an Irvine Welsh. Tom Leonard in parteecular writes whit I wid caa ‘up yours’ language - deleeberately spelt sae as ta suggest dis doon-toon, anti-establishment attitude.

Hit’s a guid question foo mony fock at actually spaeks laek dis reads Leonard’s poiems. In ony caese, hit’s certainly ironic foo dis kind o thing is become fashionable wi maestly middle class English spaekin leeterary fock, in whit’s been caad a ‘literary love of squalor.’ I wid laeve hit ta you ta tink whidder dis is da kind o example at we want ta follow for wir midder tongue.

Da idee at orthography an creative writin is incompatible is a myth at seems ta be ingrained i da Scottish academic an leeterary psyche. In a article caad ‘Lea the Leid Alane’ in Lallans 57, Dr Caroline Macafee writes,

But wad creative writers walcome a monolithic Staundart Scots? Tak tent at this wad mean giein up experimental ‘phonetic’ writin, likes o Tom Leonard’s; shockin ad hoc rendeitions o urban slang, likes o Irvine Welsh’s; an faithfu, fackfu writins in local dialecks, likes o Sheena Blackhall’s. Ah hae ma douts.

Dis is anidder ene o da faase dichotomies at mirds ithin Scottish writin aboot da subject. Exactly whit wye da existence o a standard spellin - whidder for Scots or Shaetlan - sood mean at writers wid hae ta gie up experimental writin is faar fae obvious. In fact, da hael idee is a lock o bruck. Writers at wants ta record da kind o doon-toon urban demotic at’s in leeterary fashion eenoo will dui dat whidder dae’r a standard spellin or no. Da idee at a standard spellin wid scomfish experimental writin is juist anidder ideological illogicality. Bit da want o a standard spellin scomfishes leeteracy i da midder tongue.


Is da Shaetlan tongue daed dan? Na, hit’s no - no yit. Bit hit’s no mad livin edder. Da idee at da Shaetlan tongue is alreddy as guid as daed, an da idee at hit’s livin an life tinkin, is baith myths ta shoard up da sam conclusion - at you edder canna, maana, needna, or duina faa ta dui onything serious aboot hit. Hit’s no daed yit. Bit if you glinder your een, you can aesy see da feyness oagin inbi by da floer droagin da faa ahint him, da sam as Hoasie o Houbinsaeter in Lang Lies Lowrie at da Mill.

In The Norn Language of Orkney and Shetland, Michael P. Barnes writes:

The reason Norn died ... was because the Northern Isles became more and more orientated towards Scotland ... as ties with Scandinavia ... weakened, the motivation to perpetuate a low-prestige vernacular with no official status or written form disappeared.

"A low-prestige vernacular with no official status or written form." Dat’s as guid a defineetion o da public concept o dialect as I’m heard. Dat’s certainly whit Shaetlan is eenoo. An if dae’r nae will in Shaetlan ta gie hit dat prestige, dat offeecial status, an dat written form, dan spaek aboot ‘preservin da dialect’ is laek da dumba at da pirr blew fae da flaaki in Psalm Wan; an aa wir truitles at dis gadderie will kerry aboot as muckle wecht as da skeetiploots at bairns wis wint ta tweet for laalies.

Tanks tae you, an Gud be aboot you.

John M. Tait.


Barnes, Michael P. The Norn Language of Orkney and Shetland, The Shetland Times Ltd, 1998.

Cluness, Alex. Developing Literature in Shetland, Shetland Arts Trust, 2000.

Graham, J.J. and Robertson, T.A. Grammar and Usage of the Shetland Dialect, The Shetland Times Ltd, 1991.

Macafee, Caroline I. ‘Lea the Leid Alane’ in Lallans 57, edited by John Law, The Scots Language Society, 2000.

Macafee, Caroline I. ‘The Demography of Scots’ in Scottish Language 19, edited by J. Derrick McClure, Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2000.

Miller, Jim, ‘Scots: a sociolinguistic perspective’ in The Scots Language, its place in education, edited by Liz Niven and Robin Jackson, 1998.

Morton, Tom, Dialect left them both thunderstruck, du kens, in The Shetland Times, 13th June 2003.

Robertson, James, ed. A Tongue in yer Heid, B&W Publishing, Edinburgh, 1994

Sinclair, G.M. ‘Lang Lies Lowrie at da Mill’ in Shetland Folk Book VIII edited by John J. Graham and Jim Tait, Shetland Folk Society, 1988.

Tait, John M. (trans), Guid Unkens efter Mark - Mark’s Gospel in Shetlandic, 1999.

Tait, John M. ‘Some Characteristics of the Shetlandic Vowel System’ in Scottish Language 19, edited by J. Derrick McClure, Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2000.

Tait, John M. Inbuis ta Shaetlan, website at www.wirhoose.co.uk

Zondag, Koen, ‘Issues of bilingualism’ in The Scots Language, its place in education Edited by Liz Niven and Robin Jackson, 1998.