You’ll often hear folk say: “Young eens ir no spaekin da dialect ony mair,” particularly when they are referring to life in Lerwick. Next month there will be an opportunity to find out if that’s really true or not when Jennifer Smith from Glasgow University reveals the findings of her recent research into the dialect.
She will be giving a lecture at the Shetland Museum and Archives next month under the heading Shetland Voices: language changes across three generations. The lecture is being hosted by Shetland ForWirds, the local organisation which promotes the use of the dialect.
Dr Smith comes originally from Buckie and she has carried out similar research into her own native tongue. The sound of the Shetland dialect piqued her curiosity.
She said: “It’s just so different to what you hear on the mainland. When I tried to find out about Shetland there was a lot of talk about the dialect disappearing, but not much on exactly where, how quickly and why.
“There’s a lot of information from the historical record and also some great stuff on the present day dialect, but there wasn’t any type of large scale study to see how true the claims of dialect loss were.”
This proved the spur for Dr Smith to embark on research, with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.
The research is based on hour-long conversations with 30 people in three different age groups: the over 70s; people in middle age; and young people under 25.
All of them were recorded in Lerwick.
As Dr Smith explains: “It’s the place where most people claim the dialect is being rapidly lost.” Shetland ForWirds was delighted to be able to help and Mary Blance, Laureen Johnson and Douglas Sinclair carried out the interviews. As they are all dialect speakers, this side-stepped the problem of folk being tempted to kidnap to the microphone.
The interviews were all transcribed at Glasgow University and the results were analysed by Dr Smith and her research assistant Mercedes Durham.
“We looked carefully at how the different age groups compared with respect to various dialect forms,” Dr Smith said. “These were grammar, pronunciation and use of words. We looked, for example, at the use of ‘d’ for ‘th’ and ‘yon’ for that/those.”
Mrs Johnson said: “It’s been exciting to be involved in such a significant piece of research into the real spoken language of today and we’re looking forward to hearing what Dr Smith has discovered.
“We’re also very pleased that she’s coming north to share her findings and we hope that everyone with an interest in our dialect will come along to the talk.”
Dr Smith’s lecture is at Shetland Museum and Archives at 7.30pm on Thursday, 9th April.