The Shetland Islands provide an interesting site for studying dialect death
What is happening to the Shetland Islands dialect? Is this distinctive dialect dying out along with many other traditional dialects as research on British varieties in recent years has indicated? Researchers Jennifer Smith (University of Glasgow) and Mercedes Durham (University of Aberdeen) conducted a sociolinguistic study in order to test such claims as they relate to the Shetland Islands, focusing specifically on the main town of Lerwick, the commercial and industrial centre of Shetland.
The Shetland Islands are situated in the North Sea, between Norway to the east and Scotland to the south. The Vikings invaded Shetland in the 9th Century and while the dialect is described as a variety of Scots, there are still traces of the Viking language, Norn, in evidence. The dialect has a number of features which are unique to the Shetland Isles but also others which are used more widely throughout Scotland.
Thirty adults were sampled in the study (15 male, 15 female), divided equally into three different age groups - 17-21 years, 45-55 years, and 70+ years old – to represent three generations of speakers. The study used spontaneous speech, elicited during sociolinguistic interviews lasting 1-2 hours conducted in each participant’s home.
The researchers report on six features. The first two are lexical items, peerie (a Shetland-specific word to mean small, tiny, little as in the title above) and ken (a Scotland-wide word to mean know). The second pair of features are grammatical structures: the Shetland-specific use of the verb Be as in ‘they were been coopers as well’ where standard English would have the verb Have i.e. ‘they had been coopers as well’, and secondly, the more Scotland-wide use of yon to mean that, as in the example ‘what’s yon?’ Finally, the researchers consider two phonological features: the Shetland-specific use of [d] to replace the <th> in words such as that, then, those and the use of the more Scotland-wide feature of pronouncing words such as all, ball and call as a’, ba’ and ca’.
This summary was written by Sue Fox