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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Orkney Gaelic

11th April 2014

Every once in a while something odd comes along, odd but simple, which raises wider issues about language in Scotland. One such oddity surfaced this week as a text message to the Daily Record (11 April 2014) which read:


After eight weeks working in the Orkney Islands, myself and my friends were extremely impressed by the locals and their gorgeous Gaelic dialect. Andy Smith, Eric Hardie and Paul McCabe, Wishaw.


No doubt it will come as a great surprise to Orcadians not to mention Gaelic organisations to learn that all this time Orcadians have been speaking Gaelic, and not Orkney dialect. Since the end of the Norse period in Orkney, people in the islands have spoken Orkney dialect, blended with Norse accent and words, making it a unique member among the ten dialects of the Scots language. It is all the more surprising that residents of Wishaw, where another form of Scots Central Scots is spoken, should fail to pick up on the features shared in common with Orkney, a sister dialect. Or is it, we wonder, a simple case of calling anything Gaelic which sounds somewhat different, spoken in a different accent?  If so, this should cause concern for Gaelic organisations too. Of course, this simple text raises questions about the state of Scottish culture, and the extent to which we have been made strangers to our own customs, identities, traditions and languages by institutional failures in education, the media and state.