Norn is defined in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) as:
“The variety of Norwegian spoken in Shetland and Orkney … along with Lowland Scots throughout most of the seventeenth century, surviving fragmentarily into the nineteenth century, and now represented mainly in vocabulary”.
An early citation comes from the Orkney and Shetland Records (1485), referring to
“This letter in Norn”.
There follows (in 1633) a rather snippy description from Sibbald’s Orkney and Shetland published in 1711:
“Many of them are descended from the Norvegians [sic], and speak a Norse tongue, corrupted, (they call Norn) amongst themselves”.
John Wallace echoed this in An Account of the Islands of Orkney (1700):
“All speak English, after the Scots way, with as good an Accent as any County in the Kingdom, only some of the common People, amongst themselves, speak a Language they call Norns”.
Some more up-to-date examples include the following from a book review published in the National of November 2019:
“Wark in the Scots an the Gaelic is aye walcome, last year there wis even a bit in Norn, the Nordic langage o the Norn Isles”.
In September 2022, winner of the Scots Speaker of the Year, Marjolein Robertson, observed in the Edinburgh Evening News:
“Fir me da best way is tae keep it alive in wir very mooths. An wi da internet, ders mare opportunity tae share wir dialect an wirds. Shetland is a dialect comprising o wir auld language Norn as weel as Scots. So it's a boannie blend o ancient Norse tongue an Scots language”.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at https://dsl.ac.uk.