Shetlandic, usually referred to as (auld or braid) Shetland by native speakers, is spoken in the Shetland Islands
Shetland Islands
Shetland is a subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies north and east of mainland Great Britain. The islands lie some to the northeast of Orkney and southeast of the Faroe Islands and form part of the division between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east. The total...

 north of mainland Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 and is, like Orcadian, a dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

 of Insular Scots
Insular Scots
Insular Scots comprises varieties of Lowland Scots generally subdivided into:*Shetlandic*OrcadianBoth dialects share much Norn vocabulary, Shetlandic more so, than does any other Scots dialect, perhaps because they both were under strong Scandinavian influence in their recent past.It should not be...

. It is derived from the Scots
Scots language
Scots is the Germanic language variety spoken in Lowland Scotland and parts of Ulster . It is sometimes called Lowland Scots to distinguish it from Scottish Gaelic, the Celtic language variety spoken in most of the western Highlands and in the Hebrides.Since there are no universally accepted...

 dialects brought to Shetland from the end of the fifteenth century by Lowland Scots, mainly from Fife
Fife is a council area and former county of Scotland. It is situated between the Firth of Tay and the Firth of Forth, with inland boundaries to Perth and Kinross and Clackmannanshire...

 and Lothian
Lothian forms a traditional region of Scotland, lying between the southern shore of the Firth of Forth and the Lammermuir Hills....

, with a degree of Scandinavian influence from the Norn language
Norn language
Norn is an extinct North Germanic language that was spoken in Shetland and Orkney, off the north coast of mainland Scotland, and in Caithness. After the islands were pledged to Scotland by Norway in the 15th century, it was gradually replaced by Scots and on the mainland by Scottish...

, which was spoken on the islands until the late 18th century.

Consequently Shetlandic contains many words of Norn language
Norn language
Norn is an extinct North Germanic language that was spoken in Shetland and Orkney, off the north coast of mainland Scotland, and in Caithness. After the islands were pledged to Scotland by Norway in the 15th century, it was gradually replaced by Scots and on the mainland by Scottish...

 origin. Most of them, if they are not place-names, refer to the seasons, the weather, plants, animals, places, food, materials, tools, colours (especially of sheep or horses), moods and whims or 'unbalanced states of mind'.

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".


By and large, consonants are pronounced much as in other Modern Scots
Modern Scots
Modern Scots describes the varieties of Scots traditionally spoken in Lowland Scotland and parts of Ulster from 1700.Throughout its history, Modern Scots has been undergoing a process of language attrition, whereby successive generations of speakers have adopted more and more features from...

 varieties. Exceptions are:
The dental fricative
Dental fricative
The dental fricative or interdental fricative is a fricative consonant pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the teeth. There are two types, both written as th in English:*Voiced dental fricative *Voiceless dental fricative...

s /ð/ and /θ/ may be realised as alveolar plosive
Alveolar plosive
In phonetics and phonology, an alveolar stop is a type of consonantal sound, made with the tongue in contact with the alveolar ridge located just behind the teeth , held tightly enough to block the passage of air . The most common sounds are the plosives and , as in English toe and doe...

s /d/ and /t/ respectively, for example [tɪŋ] and [ˈmɪdər] rather than [θɪŋ], or debuccalized
Th-debuccalization is a process in varieties of Scots and Scottish English where a voiceless dental fricative at the beginning of a word and between vowels becomes the voiceless glottal fricative . It is a stage in the process of lenition....

 [hɪŋ] and [hɪn], (thing) and [ˈmɪðər] mither (mother) as in Central Scots
Central Scots
Central Scots is a group of dialects of Scots language. It was spoken by Robert Burns.Central Scots is spoken from Fife and Perthshire to the Lothians and Wigtownshire, often split into North East Central Scots and South East Central Scots , West Central Scots and South West Central Scots ....

. The qu in quick, queen and queer may be realised /xʍ/ rather than /kw/, initial /tʃ/ ch may be realised /ʃ/
and the initial cluster
Consonant cluster
In linguistics, a consonant cluster is a group of consonants which have no intervening vowel. In English, for example, the groups and are consonant clusters in the word splits....

 wr may be realised /wr/ or /wər/.


The underlying vowel phoneme
In a language or dialect, a phoneme is the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrasts between utterances....

s of Shetland Scots based on McColl Millar (2007) and Johnston P. (1997). The actual allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s may differ from place to place.

For an historical overview, see the Phonological history of Scots.
Aitken 1l 1s 8a 10 2 11 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
/ae/ /əi/ /i/ /iː/1 /e/2 /e/ /ɔ/ /u/ /y, ø/3 /eː/4 /oe/ /ɑː/ /ʌu/ /ju/ /ɪ/5 /ɛ/6 /a~æ/7 /ɔ/ /ʌ/

  1. Vowel 11 occurs stem
    Word stem
    In linguistics, a stem is a part of a word. The term is used with slightly different meanings.In one usage, a stem is a form to which affixes can be attached. Thus, in this usage, the English word friendships contains the stem friend, to which the derivational suffix -ship is attached to form a new...

  2. Vowel 3 is often retracted
    Relative articulation
    In descriptions of phonetics and phonology, the manner and place of articulation of a speech sound may be specified relative to some point of comparison...

     or diphthong
    A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

    ised or may sometimes be realised /i/.
  3. Vowel 7 may be realised /u/ before /r/ and /ju/ before /k/ and /x/.
  4. Vowel 8 is generally merged with vowel 4, often realised /ɛ/ or /æː/ before /r/. The realisation in the cluster ane may be /i/ as in Mid Northern Scots.
  5. Vowel 15 may be realised /ɛ̈~ë/ or diphthongised to /əi/ before /x/.
  6. Vowel 16 may be realised /e/ or /æ/.
  7. Vowel 17 often merges with vowel 12 before /nd/ and /l r/.

Vowel length is by and large determined by the Scottish Vowel Length Rule
Scottish Vowel Length Rule
The Scottish vowel length rule, also known as Aitken's law after Professor A.J. Aitken, who formulated it, describes how vowel length in Scots, Scottish English, and to some extent Mid Ulster English, is conditioned by environment.- Phonemes :...

, although there are a few exceptions.


To some extent a bewildering variety of spellings have been used to represent the varied pronunciation of the Shetlandic varieties. Latterly the use of the apologetic apostrophe
Apologetic apostrophe
The apologetic or parochial apostrophe is the distinctive use of apostrophes in Modern Scots orthography. Apologetic apostrophes generally occurred where a consonant exists in the Standard English cognate, as in a , gi'e and wi .The practice, unknown in Older Scots, was introduced in the 18th...

 to represent 'missing' English letters has been avoided. On the whole the literary conventions of Modern Scots are applied, if not consistently, the main differences being:
  • The /d/ and /t/ realisation of what is usually /ð/ and /θ/ in other Scots dialects are often written d and t rather than th.
  • The /xʍ/ realisation of the qu in quick, queen and queer is often written wh.
  • The /ʃ/ realisation of initial ch, usually /tʃ/ in other Scots dialects, is often written sh.
  • The letters j and k rather than y and c, influenced by Norse spelling, the former often used to represent the semivowel
    In phonetics and phonology, a semivowel is a sound, such as English or , that is phonetically similar to a vowel sound but functions as the syllable boundary rather than as the nucleus of a syllable.-Classification:...

     /j/, especially for the palatalised
    In linguistics, palatalization , also palatization, may refer to two different processes by which a sound, usually a consonant, comes to be produced with the tongue in a position in the mouth near the palate....

     consonants in words such as, Yuil (Yule) written Jøl, guid (good) written gjöd or gjüd, caibin (cabin) written kjaebin, kist (chest) written kjist etc.
  • Literary Scots au and aw (vowel 12 and sometimes vowel 17) are often represented by aa in written Shetlandic.
  • Literary Scots ui and eu (vowel 7) are often represented by ü, ö, or ø influenced by Norse spelling.


The grammatical structure of Shetlandic generally follows that of Modern Scots
Modern Scots
Modern Scots describes the varieties of Scots traditionally spoken in Lowland Scotland and parts of Ulster from 1700.Throughout its history, Modern Scots has been undergoing a process of language attrition, whereby successive generations of speakers have adopted more and more features from...

, with traces of Norse (Norn) and those features shared with Standard English
Standard English
Standard English refers to whatever form of the English language is accepted as a national norm in an Anglophone country...



The definite article the is pronounced [də] often written da in dialect writing. As is usual in Scots, Shetlandic puts an article where Standard 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 Shetlandic 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 Standard English. There are a few irregular plurals, such as kye, 'cows' or een, 'eyes'.


Shetlandic also distinguishes between personal pronouns used by parents when speaking to children, old persons speaking to younger ones, or between familiar friends or equals and those used in formal situations and when speaking to superiors. (See T–V distinction)

The familiar forms are thoo (thou), pronounced [duː], often written du in dialect writing; thine(s) (thy) pronounced [daɪn(z)], often written dine(s) in dialect writing; thee, pronounced [di(ː)], often written dee in dialect writing; contrasting with the formal forms ye/you, your and you.

The familiar du takes the singular form of the verb: Du is, du hes ('you are, you have').

As is usual in Scots, the relative pronoun
Relative pronoun
A relative pronoun is a pronoun that marks a relative clause within a larger sentence. It is called a relative pronoun because it relates the relative clause to the noun that it modifies. In English, the relative pronouns are: who, whom, whose, whosever, whosesoever, which, and, in some...

 is that, also meaning who and which, pronounced [dat] or [ət], often written dat or 'at in dialect writing, as in
da dog at bet me... – 'the dog that bit me...'


As is usual in Scots, the past tense of weak verbs
Germanic weak verb
In Germanic languages, including English, weak verbs are by far the largest group of verbs, which are therefore often regarded as the norm, though historically they are not the oldest or most original group.-General description:...

is formed by either adding -ed, -it, or -t, as in spoot, spootit (move quickly).

The auxiliary verb ta be 'to be', is used where Standard 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 coud ('could'), hed ('had'), micht ('might'), most ('must'), sood ('should'), and wid ('would') and then reduced to [ə], often written a in dialect writing: Du sood a taald me, 'you should have told me'.

As is usual in Scots, auxiliary and monosyllabic verbs can be made negative by adding -na: widna, 'would not'. Otherwise, the Scots negative has no where standard English has 'not'.


  • Haldane Burgess, J.J., Rasmie's Büddie: Poems in the Shetlandic ("Fancy, laek da mirrie-dancers, Lichts da sombre sky o Life.") T. & J. Manson, Lerwick. 1913.

External links

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