Writing in Shetland

Language in Shetland
Thin wealth11
Thin Wealth Robert Alan Jamieson

What do people speak in Shetland? And since when have they been speaking it? Learn the answers to these and other linguistic questions below.

It is difficult to know when and how the Nordic language Norn was replaced by the form of Scots which is modern Shetlandic. It is clear however that Shetlandic is essentially a form of Scots with Nordic substratum. Insofar as the grammar of Shetlandic differs from English, the differences can almost without exception be considered characteristic of Scots. However, though Shetlandic may be described in this way, the importance of Norn to its vocabulary should not be overlooked. The Faroese scholar Jakob Jakobsen, researching in Shetland in the 1890s, found about 10,000 Norn words in use there.

Regarding the demise of Norn and the spread of Scots in Shetland, it seems that Shetlanders, over a period of time, adopted Scots and rejected Norn because Scots was the more useful language with the greater status at the time, and Norn had come to be seen as irrelevant.

This model offers parallels to the situation in Shetland today. On one hand, the Shetlandic vocabulary is slowly disappearing so that what remains is a depleted dialect consisting mostly of common English words with Shetland pronunciations. This gradual decline of the characteristic Shetland vocabulary certainly continues throughout Shetland. In the town of Lerwick, however, another situation has arisen: the younger generation does not speak any kind of Shetlandic, but simply standard English, albeit with a local accent.

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