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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Insular

Insular basically means ‘island’ and covers the two island groups of Orkney and Shetland. In ancient times Pictish was spoken but was replaced by Norwegian when the Vikings invaded and settled. People on the main land who spoke Scots called the language of the Vikings Norn. Orkney and Shetland owed allegiance to Norway, but the islands became involved with Scottish politics and a Scottish family succeeded to the earldom of Orkney in the 14th century.

By 1400 Scots was spoken in Orkney and also in Shetland by 1500. The king of Denmark-Norway pawned the islands in 1468 and 1469 and they were annexed to the Scottish crown in 1472. Because the Scots and Norwegian tongues both drew from a common Scandinavian inheritance, and because power had shifted to Edinburgh, the Scots language became dominant and gradually replaced Norwegian which ceased to be spoken during the 18th century. Since that time only the Orkney and Shetland dialects have been spoken as native tongues, but the influence of Norwegian accent and words is very strong, making the Orkney and Shetland dialects among the most distinct today.

The two principal towns in this region are Kirkwall and Lerwick. To learn more about the characteristics of the two dialects of this region, and something about the cultural background, please follow the individual links.