Shetland

Shetland dialect

SUB DIALECT OF INSULAR SCOTS:

SHETLAND

Name

When using English, we say 'Shetland dialect' or just 'the dialect'. 'Shetlandic' is an English name used when writing in English. But, for dialect speakers among dialect speakers, the word is 'Shetland' (pronounced Shaetlan). The name of the speech and the name of the islands are the same.

Characteristics

The modern Shetland dialect shares much with other branches of Scots, though the legacy of Norwegian is obvious still in place-names, vocabulary, expressions and pronunciation. One of the most distinctive features is the second person singular pronoun: friends, equals and family members are likely to be addressed as du instead of you (the plural form is you). After du comes the same part of a verb as would appear after he or she: e.g.: Du is daft if du believes him!

The objective form is dee e.g.: I dunna laek dee.

Inanimate objects are often called he or she/shö. E.g.:
I lost dat book, or maybe Mam dumpit him.
Da new car? Shö's a lock faster. (Shö is a local pronunciation.)

Some Shetland vowel sounds are common in Scandinavia, the most obvious being ö. There are differences in pronunciation throughout the isles, mainly with vowels. The distinctive short ae sound as in paet and spaek etc., is found in all areas. Another noticeable Shetland-wide feature is the tendency to use t in place of English or Mainland Scots th, e.g:
this dis
that dat
there dere


thin tin
thick tick
thrive trive


When talking about the past, it is common practice to use the verb to be:
'Is du heard?' 'Yes, I'm heard'.

Shetland dialect today is alive and in daily use. It belongs, for example, in the world of tankers, ferries and fairmin da sea: in the voes, gios, stackes, da banks broo, da shoormal, da tap fl'd, da waar and da tang, for example. Gyells and flanns blow round our windmills, steekit mist stops the planes, the antrin moolie blocks roads. We all buy our helly errands, try not to chuck bruck, and hope to avoid feeries. And as for people: weel-laek, fanted-laek, aaful fine, braaly perskeet, or downright poor-amos - there's quite a lot to say! Radio Shetland features dialect, the public flocks to dialect plays, concerts and poetry readings, and the 'Shetland ForWirds' committee, established in response to public pressure, aims to promote the continued use of Shaetlan as a lively spoken tongue.

The following excerpt, from a newspaper article appearing in the Shetland Times from 1890, gives an example of writing in the Shetland dialect:

‘Ill niver firyet, as lang as I can mind, da time wir Patie cam’ hame frae da Edinburrie Infirmary. He gade awa’ at da first o Aprile, wi da auld style, an’ we never kent onything mair aboot him til we hed a letter frae a man at yon place in Edinburrie whar dey cuir folk – an’ kill dem tu fir dat maiter – an’ hit was ret ta Daa sayin’ at wir Patie had been taen suddintly ill wi’ som Laetin name or anidder. Daa exed da skulemester, an’ he said hit was juist da Habrue name fir sturdy, an’ he said wir Patie hed been taen yon wy whan da ship wis some wy aff o’ a licht-hoose ‘at stands oot-a-decks frae Leith Docks. I niver ken muckle aboot dat pairt o’ it, bit onywy wi’ hed anider letter frae wir Patie’s nain hand, tellin’ wis a’ aboot it, an sayin’ he was haelin’ up bonnily, and dey wir a kind o’ a scruif comin’ oot ower him an’ at he wis comin tü no sae ill, an’ ‘at he expeckit ta be hame wi’ da first mune-licht.

Thumbnail History

The Shetland Islands were originally peopled by the Picts, but they were invaded and settled by the Norse - or Vikings - during the 9th century AD. Thereafter the lordship of Shetland was variously joined with or separate from the earldom of Orkney, subject to the king of Norway. In 1469 the king of Denmark-Norway pawned Shetland to pay for his daughter Margaret's marriage with James III of Scotland. The islands have remained under Scottish rule since that time. The local form of Norwegian (known as Norn in Scots) was the usual language of administration until the 16th century by which time the Scots language had begun to replace it. It continued to be spoken until the 18th century since which time a form of Scots has been the main community language.

Region

The capital of Shetland is Lerwick (Lerrick) while the economy is based on farming, fishing, and the oil industry. The Shetland Isles are also well known for their traditional knit ware industry and for the iconic Shetland Pony, or Sheltie, and the Norse past is remembered annually in the Uphellya celebrations. Perhaps one of the most well known people associated with the Shetland dialect is the late John J Graham, and there are a number of dialect writers including Laureen Johnson, Christine De Luca, Robert Alan Jamieson and John Magnus Tait.

To learn more about the history, background and present issues of Norn, Shetlandic and Scots please follow this link to John Magnus Tait's website: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/wirhoose/but/

This is a link to a website dedicated to Shetland dialect and culture. Created by the Shetland dialect campaign group Shetland ForWirds, it contains education resources for all levels, information about Shetland literature and an online dictionary. The website is continually updated with news of language events and a Sayin o da Week feature.
Shetland ForWirds