4.1 The Scots dialect of the Shetland Isles

The text below will tell you about the history of Shetland, looking specifically at this one dialect of Scots, and the details which have shaped the linguistic features of the Isles.

The related activities will assist you in developing your knowledge of dialect diversity and understanding of Scots language. Learning about the dialect of Scots spoken in the Shetland Isles is also important for understanding the influence of Norn on Scots language.

Activity 4

Search the online Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] for the two words quoted in section 1, kist and howk. Because of the dialect diversity present in Scotland, the DSL lists where Scots words have been used and spelled differently in different parts of the country.

  • a.Read the quotations in the DSL for howk. Find the reference for Shetland indicated by the abbreviation (Sh.) and note it in the textbox along with the translation.
  • b.Then list other spellings of howk and note down the regional dialect or area where this spelling was found. What changes in the different spellings?
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  • a.hock, hok(k) (Sh.);

    Sh. 1888 B. R. Anderson, Broken Lights. “He made a pit, an' hockit deep.”

    English translation: “He made a pit, and dug deep.”

  • b.hoke – Wigtown

    houck – Edinburgh

    howck – Ayr

    hock, hok(k) – Shetland

    hauk – Orkney

    huck – Glasgow

The vowel changes from monophthong hoke [hok] to the diphthong hauk [hʌuk].

The length of the vowel changes as well from the short hock/kk [hɔk] to the longer hoke [hok].

It is interesting to see that in the very south and north of Scotland the vowel in howk is pronounced as a monophthong, whereas in more central areas of Scotland it is pronounced as a diphthong.

Language links

Scots, like all other languages, has a number of different dialects. These can be distinguished by different sounds and pronunciation of words as well as different vocabulary and sometimes even grammar.

For example, the German language, which is historically closely related to Scots, has a wide range of dialects from the Franken and Schwabian German in the South to Plattdeutsch in the North. People from these areas often have to revert to speaking standard German to be able to understand each other. These dialects are mostly spoken and hardly ever appear in printed form.

The difference between Scots and German is that German has a mutually agreed standard form, Hochdeutsch, which is the standard in written communication in Germany, whereas Scots mainly exists in the form of dialects and does not have an officially accepted standard.

4. Introductory handsel

4.2 Dialects of Scots in today’s Scotland