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Shetland Dialect Co-ordinator reports

3rd October 2010

Bruce Bruce Eunson is Shetland's new Dialect Co-ordinator. Here he explains what his job involves and outlines some of his plans for the coming months.

In April of this year I started a 3 year contract in the post of Dialect Co-ordinator. At a rate of about 3 times per-week, with 4 weeks in every month, that means that in the 5 months since I’ve been doing my job I’ve been asked about 60 times, “What are you doing with yourself now Bruce?” and not once, after I respond, has anyone had a clue what a Dialect Co-ordinator is, or does. But I don’t blame anyone or take any offence; how could I? When I applied for the job I didn’t fully know what I’d be doing either. All I knew was it sounded like a fantastic opportunity and something I’d be very interested in.

It was only after I took up my post that I began to understand why it had been created and what I would be doing. The post is primarily funded by the European Funding organisation LEADER, then by Shetland Islands Council, Shetland ForWirds, Shetland Amenity Trust and Shetland Arts, who all provide both cash and “money in kind” for the post.

On a day-to-day basis I work for the Council, in the Schools Service, as part of the Creative Links team, but I keep close correspondence with Shetland ForWirds, the local voluntary group whose aim is to promote Shetland dialect.

I am in regular contact with schools and have visited over 20 so far. ForWirds have already developed some dialect teaching material, specifically for nursery and lower primary age groups. Part of my job is to promote the use of this material by the teachers. This will be an ongoing task that requires treating each school and each teacher differently as every group of children present a different challenge in terms of language dexterity.

For the 2010/11 school year I hope to bring out new material for upper primary classes. Obviously this cannot simply be making up a teaching pack and handing it over – it would be put into the cupboard and never used. Instead it is my and Shetland ForWirds aim to understand what teachers want to teach the children, and how, so we can then offer a dialect version of lessons they already have planned. The aim is always to never add to their workload, instead simply to offer an alternative – which, in a way, is what choosing to speak dialect is.

Wanting to speak dialect is in fact a large aspect of what the job involves. I need to convince teachers as much as I do pupils that it is worth including in their already busy classroom schedule and this is made all the more easy if the lessons are appealing and interesting for those involved. But, as I said in the presentation I gave as part of the interview for this post, I believe in the benefits that local dialect holds for communities, and that it is imperative to make sure the youngest of the community are as interested and well-versed in it’s dialect as possible.

Contact Bruce at