Shetlandic is a dialect of Insular Scots spoken in the Shetland Islands, north of mainland Scotland. It is derived from Northern Scots with a degree of Scandinavian influence from the Norn language, which is an extinct North Germanic language.
The other Insular Scots dialect is Orcadian, which shares more features with Shetlandic than with any other Scots dialect, perhaps because they both were under strong Scandinavian influence in their recent past (McColl Millar 2007:5).
Like Doric in North East Scotland, Shetlandic retains a high degree of autonomy due to geography and isolation from southern dialects. Because of a large amount of unique vocabulary, and a degree of Shetland patriotism, it is sometimes treated as a separate language by its speakers.
"Shetland dialect speakers generally have a rather slow delivery, pitched low and with a somewhat level intonation" (Graham 1993: xxii)
By and large, consonants are pronounced as in Standard Scottish English
(SSE). Exceptions are:
The dental fricatives
/đ/ (as in English 'mother') and /þ/ (as in English 'thing') are realised as alveolar plosives
/d/ and /t/ respectively in initial and medial position (i.e. not at the end of the word).
English 'thing' - Shetland ting
, English 'mother' - Shetland midder
Shetland dialect is very rich in vowel sounds, which may even vary in different regions of the same island.
Vowel length is by and large determined by the Scottish vowel length rule
, although there are a few exceptions (see Melchers 1991:468).
The following two charts summarise the most important vowels and diphthongs that are found in the central Mainland of the Shetland Islands as described by Graham (1993: xxiii).
|| Shetland |
|| flan (gust of wind) |
|| no real English equivalent, drawn-out, raised version of /æ/
|| claag ('cackle') |
|| waar ('seaweed') |
|| hent ('gather') |
|| faird ('afraid') |
|| creepie ('stool') |
|| wilt ('lost') |
|| mott ('mote') |
|| coarn ('small quantity'), often diphthongised into /o:e/ |
|| cloot ('rag') |
|| stoor ('dust') |
|| no equivalent in English, like French creux
|| böd ('booth') |
|| like French 'creuse', German Öl
|| bröl ('bellow') |
|| dub ('bog') |
|| Shetland |
|| kye ('cows') |
|| lowe ('flame') |
|| gloy ('straw') |
The grammatical structure of the Shetland dialect is mainly English, with traces of Norse and Scottish patterns (Graham 1993: xix).
The definite article is da. There are a few instances where Shetland dialect (as in Scots) puts an article where English would not:
gyaan ta da kirk/da scole in da Simmer-- 'go to church/school in summer'
da denner is ready 'dinner is ready'
hae da caald 'have a cold'
Nouns in Shetland dialect have grammatical gender beside natural gender. Some nouns which are clearly considered neuter in English are masculine or feminine, such as spade (m), sun (m), mön (f), kirk (f).
The plural of nouns is usually formed by adding -s, as in English. There are a few old plurals, such as kye, 'cows' or een, 'eyes'.
There are two kinds of personal pronoun in the singular. Beside the English form 'you', there is the familiar du, mainly used when talking to friends, children or animals.
|| Respectful |
|| ye, you |
| dine, dines
|| yours |
|| you |
The familiar du takes the singular form of the verb: Du is, du hes ('you are, you have').
These are all cognate with the old English "thou", "thee", "thine" and "ye".
The English relative pronouns who, which, that, are represented by at, as in
da dog at bet me... – 'the dog that bit me...'
The past tense of the verb is formed by either adding -ed, -t, or -it, as in spoot, spootit (move quickly).
The auxiliary verb ta be 'to be', is used where English would use 'to have':
I'm written for 'I have written'.
Ta hae 'to have', is used as an auxiliary with the modal verbs could, hed ('had'), micht ('might'), most ('must'), sood ('should'), and wid ('would') and then takes the form a: Du sood a taald me 'you should have told me'.
Auxiliary and monosyllabic verbs can be made negative by adding -na: widna, 'would not'. Otherwise, the Scottish negative particle no is used instead of the English 'not'.
Shetland dialect contains many words which come from the Norn language which was spoken on the islands until the late 18th century (Price 1984: 203). Most of these words, if they are not place-names, refer to the seasons, the weather, plants, animals, places, seasons, food, materials, tools, colours (especially of sheep or horses), moods and whims or 'unbalanced states of mind' (Barnes 1998: 29).
Examples of Shetland dialect vocabulary can be found in the Shetland Dictionary, a project by the team of the Shetlopedia
- Barnes, Michael. 1984. Orkney and Shetland Norn. Language in the British Isles. Ed. Peter Trudgill. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Graham, John J. 1993. The Shetland Dictionary. 3rd ed. (1st ed. 1979, 2nd ed. 1984). Lerwick: The Shetland Times.
- Melchers, Gunnel. 1991. Norn-Scots: a complicated language contact situation in Shetland. Language Contact in the British Isles: Proceedings of the Eighth International Symposium on Language Contact in Europe, Douglas, Isle of Man, 1988. Ed. P. Sture Ureland and George Broderick. Linguistische Arbeiten 238. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.
- McColl Millar. 2007. Northern and Insular Scots. Edinburgh: University Press Ltd. ISBN 978 0 7486 2316 7
- Price, Glanville. 1984. The Languages of Britain. London: Edward Arnold. ISBN 978-0713164527
- Robertson, T. A.; Graham, John J. 1991. Grammar and Usage of the Shetland Dialect. 2nd ed. (1st ed. 1952). Lerwick: The Shetland Times.
- Wirhoose Very informative and detailed site on Shetland dialect, with hilarious text samples.
- http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/dialects/nis.html McColl Millar's internet extension to 'Northern and Insular Scots' 2007, with recordings of regional dialect variants of the Shetland Islands
- ShetlandDictionary.com The online Shetland Dictionary that anyone can update. Contains over 2,000 words from the Shetland dialect
- Introduction to modern Scots: Insular Scots