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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 12:33 am 
Shetlandic has been described as 'English taught by Lowlanders...to Norwegians.' (Alexander Ellis, quoted Catford Shetland Dialect, p. 72). This definition was intended to make the point that Shetlandic is not sufficiently typical as a dialect of English to be useful in extrapolating earlier English pronunciations. Although this conclusion was challenged by Catford, the description does make the valid point that modern Shetlandic is a language related to English, which was adopted from Mainland Scotland by Shetlanders who had hitherto spoken a form of Old Norse.

The Death of Norn.

A more useful description of Shetlandic would be that it is a form of Scots superimposed upon a Nordic substratum. The exact time and manner of the replacement of the Nordic language Norn by the form of Scots which is modern Shetlandic is disputed. Traditional explanations, such as those of Jakobsen, Flom and Marwick, saw Norn being gradually replaced by Scots until the speech became more Scots than Norn. The radically different view of Danish scholar Laurits Renboe saw an unadulterated form of Norn surviving until the 1880s, as an expression of resistance against Scots oppression. More convincing than either of these rather speculative conjectures is the explanation offered by Michael P. Barnes, based on modern studies of language death - that Shetlanders, over a period of time, adopted Scots and rejected Norn because Scots was the more useful language with the greater status at the time, and Norn had come to be seen as irrelevant. As Barnes puts it:
The reason Norn died, both in Orkney and Shetland, was because the Northern Isles became more and more orientated towards Scotland. By the seventeenth century most if not all the inhabitants could speak fluent Scots, and as ties with Scandinavia, in particular Norway, weakened, the motivation to perpetuate a low-prestige vernacular with no official status or written form disappeared.

(Barnes, p. 26).
This perception of Scots as the 'high' and Norn as the 'low' language can be illustrated from both Norn and Scots texts. The first, a fragment of (mostly) Norn from Unst preserved from the eighteenth century, shows the pride of Shetland parents that their son has been to Scotland and learnt to speak Scots:

De vara gue tee
When son min guid to Kadanes:
han can caa rossa mare,
han can caa big bere,
han can caa eld fire,
han can caa klovandi taings.

"It was a good time when my son went to Caithness. He can call 'rossa' (O.N. hross) 'mare'..." etc.
(The Norn here shows interesting parallels with Faroese, the words gue (good) and tee (time) having lost the [ð] in Old Norse góðr and tíð rather than changing it to [d] as the modern Scandinavian languages do. Compare Faroese góður and tíð, in which the <ð> is not pronounced, with Swedish god and tid.)
The second example (from Orkney, 1633) illustrates the official attitude to Norn as contrasted with 'right longuag' (Scots):

'Scho aundit in bitt, quhilk is ane Nourn terme and to (be) exponit into right longuag is alse mikill as scho did blaw her breath thairin.'
'She aundit (blew) into a bitt (bucket), which is a Norn term and to be expressed in proper language is as much as to say she blew her breath therein.'
This view of the decline and demise of Norn - which, unlike those of Jakobsen and Renboe, is based on an increasing body of modern knowledge of language death - is important both with regard to the traditional perception of Norn in Shetland, and because of the parallels which it offers to the decline of modern Shetlandic today.
Implications of the Death of Norn.

Firstly, this view recognises that modern Shetlandic is a different language from Norn. On the basis of the traditional view which saw Norn features being gradually replaced by Scots ones, it would be possible to represent Shetlandic as (depending on your point of view) a continuation or corruption of Norn. The 'language death' view recognises that, whereas there may have been a stage where Norn was increasingly influenced by Scots features, there must nevertheless have been a point where, both individually and collectively, Norn was abandoned and Scots adopted. Though this may have happened at different times in different localities, and even in different families in the same locality, it ultimately happened throughout Shetland.
Secondly, this model offers striking parallels to the situation in Shetland today. Until recently, the almost universal assumption, in local writing expressing concern at the decline of Shetlandic, was that this decline would follow the model which it was assumed had taken place in the case of Norn. That is, that the uniquely Shetlandic vocabulary would slowly die out until what remained would be a depleted dialect consisting mostly of common English words with Shetland pronunciations. This gradual decline of the characteristic Shetland vocabulary certainly continues throughout Shetland. In the town of Lerwick, however, a situation much more like the model of language death offered by Barnes has arisen, in that the younger generation (at the time of writing, those in their teens and younger) does not speak any kind of Shetlandic, but simply standard English. That is, although they have a Shetland accent, they speak a language which could be written as standard English without any misrepresentation of grammar, phonology or vocabulary. The change which is taking place is not a gradual blending of one form of speech into another; it is the abrupt replacement of one language - phonology, morphology and syntax as well as vocabulary - by another.
The way in which this appears to be taking place does not exactly follow the model given by Barnes, which concentrates on the failure of parents to transmit the lower-status language to their children. One of the most striking features of the loss of Shetlandic in Lerwick is that children of Shetlandic-speaking parents, both of whom always speak Shetlandic to their children, may nevertheless speak English. In some cases, apparently, older children of the same family speak Shetlandic while their younger brothers and sisters speak English. Whatever the factors involved - and owing to the lack of research explanations which have been suggested (such as the influence of playgroups and a preponderance of English speaking children in the community) must be conjectural - the effect of the wider community seems to be more decisive than that of the family. Nevertheless, it is doubtless the case that toleration of this state of affairs by parents reflects a lowering in the status of Shetlandic as compared to that which it had, say, thirty or even twenty years ago. On the whole, however, much of the description which Barnes gives of the death of Norn could be applied to the death of Shetlandic in Lerwick, between two and three hundred years later.
Thirdly, the Barnes model of the death of Norn makes the important point - which is again reflected in the modern situation - that Norn probably did not die out as the result of a gradual and insiduous process alone; still less was it extirpated by Scots oppression. Ultimately it died out because Shetlanders themselves had come to perceive it as irrelevant.
The Scots Aspect.

Shetlandic, then, is essentially a form of Scots. Insofar as the grammar of Shetlandic differs from English, the differences can almost without exception (the use of the verb to be to form the perfect tense is one) be shown to be characteristic of traditional Scots. Morphologically, features such as the principle parts of verbs - e.g. fin (find), preterite fan, past participle fun - are in most cases similar or identical (allowing for regular phonological and phonetic differences between Shetlandic and Mainland Scots) to those listed in David Purves's A Scots Grammar. Although these are frequently different from the forms found in contemporary Mainland Scots dialects, which tend to converge preterites and past participles - e.g. 'I fun(d) it' rather than 'I fan(d) it' - the Shetlandic forms can be found in writers of more traditional Scots, such as Robert McLellan. In this respect, the grammar of Shetlandic is more conservative than that of most forms of Mainland Scots.
Syntactically, Shetlandic exhibits a number of features typical of traditional Scots, such as the use of singular verb forms with plural nouns but not with plural pronouns (e.g. 'Da men wis comin haem' but 'Dey wir comin haem'.) Shetlandic does not use the singular past tense of the verb to be with plural pronouns as most forms of contemporary Mainland Scots do (e.g. 'Wis ye gaun oot the nicht'; 'Whit wis thay daein thare?'). Again, Shetlandic is more conservative in this respect.
Phonologically, the question of whether Shetlandic exhibits traditional Scots characteristics is rather less clear. Shetlandic shares most of the phonological features which characterise Scots as against standard English - forms like haem (home); lang (long); oot (out); speerit (spirit); ruif (roof), are immediately recognisable as Scots. There are, however, certain features of consonant phonology - such as the lack of a phonological distinction between initial 'qu' as in queen, and 'wh' as in wheel - which are almost certainly of Norse origin. It is generally thought that the tendency of Shetlandic to turn initial and medial voiced and unvoiced 'th' into 'd' and 't' respectively is because of the previous loss of the 'th' sounds in Norn - compare the extant Nordic languages, all of which, with the exception of Icelandic, have lost the 'th' sounds. On the other hand, both the unvoiced, and in some dialects the voiced, 'th' sounds are pronounced in other positions - e.g. rooth (rowing-block); braeth (breath); boedh (booth - [bø:ð] in some dialects; in others boed [bø:d]); and Shetlanders seem to have learned to pronounce the unvoiced velar fricative 'ch', as in 'loch', which non-Scots speakers of English seem to find difficult.
As far as vowels are concerned, Barnes states that 'The vowel systems of modern Orkney and Shetland dialects...are Scots' and adopts Catford's suggestion that Norn speakers, with a rich vowel system but relatively small number of consonant phonemes, could more readily imitate the vocalic than the consonant distinctions of Scots. On the other hand, Catford considers that Norn influence is probably to be seen in one of the most general characteristics of Shetland speech - the structure of the syllable, which generally consists of either a short vowel followed by a long consonant, or a long vowel followed by a short consonant, a characteristic of the Scandinavian languages. As the structure of the syllable involves vowel as well as consonant phonology, this raises certain problems for analysing Scots vowel length purely in the terms generally used for Scots. It is certainly true that, from a practical point of view, the Scottish Vowel Length Rule cannot be relied upon to predict the long vowel sounds which occur in words like loumie, oil-slick; peig, a glimmer of light; and broel, to bellow; and this is an important consideration when it comes to questions of spelling. Another consonant feature noted by Catford (p. 72), the palatalisation of certain consonants in certain circumstances, is related to changes in the preceding vowel sound. While these changes - which are described on this website as 'soft mutation' - are not phonological in themselves, in that they do not affect meaning, they do impinge upon phonology because they are related to the convergence of phonemes in certain localities - for example, the pronunciation of hael (whole) as 'hell' in the Central Mainland and 'heel' in the Northern Isles.
Phonetically (that is, with regard to features which characterise the Shetland accent, rather than features which carry meaning) the pronunciation of Shetlandic exhibits features such as consonant palatalisation and vowel diphthongisation which make it strikingly different from most forms of Mainland Scots.
The Norn Influence.

To characterise Shetlandic as a form of Scots is not to underestimate the profound influence of Norn upon its vocabulary in particular. The Faroese scholar Jakob Jakobsen, researching in Shetland in the 1890s, found enough Norn vocabulary (about 10,000 words) to fill two substantial volumes (in the English edition of his An Etymological Dictionary of the Norn Language in Shetland). Although many of these words were obsolete or obsolescent at the time, and many more have become obsolete since, the Norn element still forms an important part of the traditional Shetlandic vocabulary. Derick Herning, analysing the vocabulary in the glossary to Jarm an Jeemsie, his translation of Max und Moritz by Wilhelm Busch, found that about 23% of the words were of Norn origin, 6% could be either Norn or Scots, and most of the rest were Scots. While the proportion of non-English cognate words used in a literary text such as this is much greater than in normal speech, the relative proportion of Scots and Norn words is perhaps not likely to be much different. Many everyday words in Shetlandic - such as smuck (slipper) - are of Norse origin, whereas some words which would now probably be regarded as 'old' - such as antrin (occasional) - are Scots. In other words, under the influence of standard English, Scots vocabulary is now as likely to become obsolete as Norn vocabulary.
The influence of Norn may also be seen in less obvious features of Shetlandic vocabulary, such as the liking for combinations such as come at (perk up, rehabilitate); aa aboot (alert, intelligent); tak at (be upset) etc. The following sentence contains just one word which does not have a direct cognate in English - guid (went) - and yet would not be easily understood by an English speaker:

He wis dat doon apon it wi dem layin oot for him at I tocht ill aboot him, sae I guid ower wi dat sam an took in for him
doon apon it - depressed
lay oot for - verbally abuse
tink ill aboot - feel sorry for
wi dat sam - immediately
tak in for - defend; stick up for
Although some such phrases are almost identical to those in contemporary Scandinavian languages (e.g. wi dat sam) it is not always clear whether such phrases are of Norn origin or not. Certainly they are of a type which is more characteristic of Scandinavian than of English or Scots. Unfortunately, however, Shetlandic is usually studied by experts either in Scandinavian languages or Scots, rarely in both; and it is possible that there is a tendency for characteristics to be attributed to Norn which can be equally well explained as Scots. Barnes, for example, comments that the distinction in Shetlandic between familiar du and formal you is 'not apparently found elsewhere in Scotland, not even in Orkney, but is general in the Scandinavian-speaking world.' However, the same distinction is certainly found in Orkney between thoo and you. Shetland du is, allowing for the regular change of Scots and English initial voiced 'th' to 'd', the same word as thou, pronounced 'thoo' in Scots, as found in older English (e.g. the Authorised Version of the Bible) and Scots (e.g. The Wyfe of Auchtermuchty); and its parts dee, dy, and dine correspond exactly to older English thee, thy and thine. It is true that the usage in The Wyfe of Auchtermuchty is rather different from that in modern Shetlandic - the wyfe addresses the farm hand as thou and her husband as yow - but the essential distinction between familiar and formal is the same. Similarly, Gunnel Melchers describes Shetlandic phrases such as 'minds du?' (do you remember?) and 'kens du' (do you know?) as 'obviously Norn'; but it is not clear why these could not be explained in terms of older English phraseology, such as 'knowest thou.'
Shetlandic as a linguistic system.

Although the question of the origins of phrases such as the above is interesting from some points of view, it is peripheral to the practical study of Shetlandic. Shetlanders use such phrases without agonising over their etymology, just as English speakers use words such as man, nation and bungalow, irrespective of whether they come from Anglo Saxon, Latin or Hindi. The important point is that Shetlandic, whereas it shares many features with Scots, Norn, standard English and Germanic languages in general, is a linguistic system in its own right, and is used as such by those who speak it.
Paul Johnston writes that the dialects of the Northern Isles 'are not wholly conservative: they are better described as going their own way relative to the rest of Scots, adopting sometimes striking but highly localised innovations including an extensive Clockwise Vowel Shift, far-reaching diphthongisation, a consonant system recast to match the inventory of the Norn that was spoken alongside of Scots, and a strongly Norse-influenced vocabulary and syntax scattered among the archaic features in the linguistic system.' (11.2.6. p. 477). This website seeks to present Shetlandic, its phonology, morphology, syntax and vocabulary, as an entity with its own internal rules and conventions, whether these stem from Scots, Norn, or elsewhere.

Bibliography.

Barnes, Michael P. 1998. The Norn Language of Orkney and Shetland, Lerwick, The Shetland Times Ltd.
Barnes, Michael P. 1996. 'Jakob Jakobsen and the Norn Language of Shetland' in Doreen J. Waugh (ed.) Shetland's Northern Links, Language & History. Scottish Society for Northern Studies.
Catford, J.C. 'Shetland Dialect', in Shetland Folk Book vol. 3.

Johnston, Paul. 1997. 'Regional Variation' in Jones, C., ed., Edinburgh History of the Scots Language. Edinburgh.

Smith, Brian, 'The Development of the Spoken and Written Shetland Dialect: A Historian's View', in ibid.


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 12:55 am 
I thought that this would be interesting to our Irish and English visitors who have doubts as to whether Scots is a language or not, despite only ever hearing Ulster English (which people claim to be Scots) or Scottish Standard English which is English with rhotic consonants and fricatives. Shetlandic, as illustrated above is a dialect of Scots not English, and there are many other equally undecipherable dialects to the Anglophone ear.

In Ulster it is Unionist policy to promote their notion of Scots, however in Scotland it is taboo for Unionists to do so because Doric Scots along with Scottish itself, illustrates one of the many cultural differences between Scots and the rest of the "U.K".


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 10:03 pm 
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LeJockSportif wrote:
In Ulster it is Unionist policy to promote their notion of Scots, however in Scotland it is taboo for Unionists to do so because Doric Scots along with Scottish itself, illustrates one of the many cultural differences between Scots and the rest of the "U.K".

:???: Sounds like the classic unionist shift - tell one side one thing, and the other side the exact opposite, and hope no-one ever actually compares the two lies...

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 11:09 pm 
A Jolly Sailor wrote:
LeJockSportif wrote:
In Ulster it is Unionist policy to promote their notion of Scots, however in Scotland it is taboo for Unionists to do so because Doric Scots along with Scottish itself, illustrates one of the many cultural differences between Scots and the rest of the "U.K".

:???: Sounds like the classic unionist shift - tell one side one thing, and the other side the exact opposite, and hope no-one ever actually compares the two lies...


Exactly! You must wonder what "Ra Pee-pell" from either side of the water actually talk about when they meet up....Probably just how much they hate the rest of the world.


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 11:13 pm 
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LeJockSportif wrote:

Exactly! You must wonder what "Ra Pee-pell" from either side of the water actually talk about when they meet up....Probably just how much they hate the rest of the world.

Kinda sad mentality isnt it.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 11:39 pm 
If you look at Insular Scots (which you may have noticed has particularly caught my attention recently) it has a standard written form because someone dedicated their life to setting it. It is FAR less influenced by English (Hiberno or otherwise) than Ulster Scots is, yet Ulster Scots has funding, bodies to look after it, and most importantly it has political weight. The other amazing thing about Ulster Scots is that the community which supports it in Northern Ireland has bastardised the written form to such an extent (with umlauts and other assorted ornamentation) in order to make the leid look less like English than Gaelige does.

I've heard Ulster Scots being affected and I do realise that it once existed, but a punter from falkirk, or even Caldercruix, or Greengairs would lose them. It's bigot pish.


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 11:54 pm 
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Well spotted. Classic unionist "divide and rule" tactics... So why are there government-sponsored bodies dedicated to its preservation, when Scots have none?

Purely by chance, of course....

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 12:13 am 
....Of course.

It's very simple: The squeaky wheel gets the effin grease. :ranting:


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