29 August 2010

Norn But Not Forgotten

I drew attention to Shetland Forwirds, the group that is encouraging the use of the dialect in a post last April - and repeat that their website is well worth a visit if you're interested. Now I'm writing this while listening to a programme about Shetlandic on Radio 4, and particularly about poets and their use of the Shetland dialect (which is of course a form of English, or rather Scots). The 'Norn' element of this dialect consists mainly of lexical items (or 'words') which have survived from the old Norn language, which died out in about the eighteenth century. Much of this lexicon is to do with the landscape, weather, animals and so on, and such words are perhaps mostly of interest to either farmers or poets. It's interesting that several of the contributors describe finding words that have effectively died out but are, or were, still known to the older generation. Of course quite a lot of words that are strange to South Britons, even in Shetlandic, are just standard Scots words, this is hinted at in the programme, but no real distinction is made between the Scandinavian element and the Scots element. And I feel the programme misses an opportunity to explain the history of language in Shetland in a bit more detail, there is a tendency to present it as just another weird dialect, strange because it is so remote from the centres of culture, even Edinburgh.
But the poems sound great, so well worth listening again on the BBC website if you're in this country. I am pleased to note that the native Shetlanders, in particular, don't yet suffer from that ghastly falling intonation that affects so many modern poets in English when reading their work - that is enough to put you to sleep, or even worse, and certainly would put you off poetry entirely.

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