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  1. Shetland Norn: Language Death and Reconstruction In 1774, George Low, a young Scottish clergyman, visited the Shetland Islands in pursuit of philological and scientific knowledge. His subsequent book, A Tour through Orkney and Schetland, discusses his finds, among them the last traces of an antique and curious dialect spoken by farmers on some of the more remote islands. This language, known as Norn, was a North Germanic language, brought by the Vikings a millennium before to Shetland and Orkney. It was, however, made obsolete by the growing use of Scots throughout the islands. Originally spoken throughout Orkney and Shetland (Jakobsen 1), by Low’s time the language was spoken only by elderly or isolated Shetlanders, such that he had to travel to the remote island of Foula to find even a few speakers; it was, as Low observed, “the language of the last age, but will be entirely lost by the next†(Low 105). Fortunately for modern linguists, however, Low did manage to compile a modest word list, as well as transcribe a song as related by an elderly Norn speaker. During the next century Shetland Norn was swallowed up entirely by Scots; however, it still retains a significant influence on Shetland Scots, and several online groups have recently formed with the purpose of reconstruction and revitalization. The development of a genuine revival is still in its infancy, maintained generally by only a few enthusiasts. Myriad issues are faced when one considers Norn revival; among them low prestige, a small literature, and heavy corruption from Scots at the time of its extinction. Therefore, I argue that while Norn cannot be revived in its original form, it is entirely feasible to reconstruct the language in a manner that borrows heavily from Faroese, Norn’s closest living relative. In the context of this paper, I will refer generally to Shetland Norn, which was longer-lived and had a greater influence than the Orkney variety. The 19th-century Faroese linguist Jakob Jakobsen, in his lecture The Old Shetland Dialect, provides a background on the circumstances leading to the rise and fall of Norn: Vikings settled the Northern Isles in the 800s, bringing with them the Old Norse language. There they displaced the Pictish culture that had previously existed (Jakobsen 2), and brought the islands under the Norwegian kingdom, where it would remain until the 14th century. At that time, Norway came under the Danish crown, “But hardly a century after the union was completed, the islands were handed over to Scotland, pledged for a certain sum of money, which formed the dowry of the Princess Margaret of Denmark, who was married to King James the Third of Scotland†(Low 3). The islands were thus under Scottish control by the late 1400s; this transaction ultimately proved a death sentence for Norn, albeit one that was not carried out until the 18th century. In fact, it is clear that, for at least forty-one years after the 1468 betrothal, a Norse culture and language was dominant, at least on Shetland. A 1509 legal document from Shetland, currently held by the University of Bergen, reads thus: Allum monnum them sem thetta breff see edher heyra heil-/ sum vy Thomass Rikardsson vppa Skatz ... dum Bryniolff Einarsson/ Eirikur Markusson ock Ion Iuarsson logretto menn i Voghim i Hiet-/ lande med guds kuedio ock vorom kunnigt giorande med thessu voro/ oppno breffe at ver vorum thar ihia a steffno i Medalbæ a Sandnese/ saum ock heyrdum vppa at heidarligin mann Gutthorm Nielsson log-/ mann i Berghen spurde at alla tha menn vnga ock gamla sem thar voro/ eff their hæffde nockurn tima heyrt eda vitad ath sira Gregorius Iuars-/ son haffde nockrar thær sakir giort i sina daga at fforneffnder sira Gre-/ gorius Iuarsson haffde fforbrotid sitt godzss laust ock ffast vid konung/ eda biscup. suarado tha allir bæde vnger og gam[ler at th]eir heyrdo/ din ffedur och fforelldre seiga at sira Gregorius Iuarsson var ein godur/ dande mann alla sina daga. ock han (fforbraut) ecki sina peninga huorke/ vid konung eda biscop ock alldre heyrdo their nockur klago maal eda/ akæro fforneffnd(h sira) Gregorius Iuarsson vara tiltalad suo lenge sem / hann liffde. ock till sanninda her vm heingiæ vy fforskriffade menn vor/ incigle ffyrir thetta breff sem giort var næsta dag ffyrir sancte Kate-/ rine virgins et martiris, dag anno domini mo. do. nono --Universitet i Bergen, Dimplom fra Shetland datert 24.november 1509 The English translation is as follows: To all the men who see or hear this letter, we Thomass Rikardsson of Skatztader, Bryniolff Einarsson, Eirikur Markusson and Ion Iuarsson, lawrightmen in Voghar in Hietland, send God’s greeting and our own. We make known with this our letter patent that we were present at a meeting in MedalbÅ“ in Sandnes, and saw and heard that the honourable man Gutthorm Niellsson, lawman in Berghen, asked all the men, young and old, who were there, if they had at any time heard or known that ‘sira’ Gregorius Iuarsson had committed any offences in his time, such that the aforementioned ‘sira’ Gregorius Iuarsson had forfeited his property, moveable and fixed, to the king or bishop. Then all, both young and old, answered that they had heard their fathers and ancestors say that ‘sira’ Gregorius Iuarsson was a good and worthy man all his days, and had not forfeited his possessions to either king or bishop, and that they had never heard that any charges or accusations had been brought against the aforementioned ‘sira’ Gregorius Iuarsson so long as he lived. And in confirmation hereof we the aforesaid men hang our seals on this letter, which was made the last day before the feast of St Katherine, virgin and martyr, in the year of our Lord 1509. --http://shetlopedia.com/The_last_known_document_from _Shetland_written_in_Norse, The last known document from Shetland written in Norse The above document can tell us, firstly, that the Norwegian language was still being used to record events in a court of law in 1509, forty years after the islands were pawned to Scotland. This signifies a continuing high prestige of the language, and hence little linguistic interference from the Scottish. Also worth mentioning is that the above document contains few if any Scots loanwords, indicating the language was still in its prime. Culturally, the Scottish seemed to have interfered but little; two generations after Scotland’s takeover, Norse patronymics were still used, as well as a large, democratic assembly in which legal decisions were made (Norn ting, from Old Norse Þing “assembly, councilâ€). On the other hand, the content discussed within the document suggests a growing Scottish presence; it appears to be a grievance against the local government for confiscating the property of a man unanimously seen as innocent. It is not unreasonable to wonder if this seizure is representative of consolidation of power by the Scottish crown; property confiscation is one of the easiest ways to disenfranchise any group. This letter may perhaps shed some light as to the methods employed by the Scottish government in bringing the people of the Northern Isles under their control. In any case, however, a North Germanic culture and language was allowed to survive on Shetland, at least for the time being. Between the 1509 document and George Low’s account, the Norn language appears to have gradually lost its prestige, and was spoken by fewer and fewer people. Determining the exact date of extinction is difficult, given the lack of literature on the subject. While Low claims that the language was all but lost even in isolated communities, Jakobsen claimed that “the amount of Norn remains still to be found in Shetland is truly astonishing, considering the fact, that the proper old dialect became extinct during the latter half of the last century†(53). More recently, Remco Knooihuizen of the University of Edinburgh suggested, in the 2008 paper Fishing for Words: the Taboo Language of Shetland Fisherman and the Dating of Norn Language Death, that “In the early part of the eighteenth century, Norn is already said to have been in decline, with Scots being the main language of the islands. From the middle of the century, Norn is described as a thing of the past, being spoken only by old people†(Knoohuizen 102). Also significant is that Low’s informant, an “old man†who spoke supposedly the best Norn on the island (Low 107), was in fact a non-fluent speaker who inaccurately translated a ballad he performed for Low (Knooihuizen 103). If, during Low’s time, the last elderly speakers were non-fluent, the shift from Norn to Scots can be tentatively placed in the early 1700s. With respect to reconstruction, Norn presents a challenge in that unlike other revived languages like Hebrew, few texts survive to the present, and Norn to this day retains a very low prestige in Shetland. To examine Shetlanders’ views on Norn revival, I opened a thread on the internet forum www.shetlink.com/forum.viewforum.php?f=31, part of a website aimed at the Shetland community, including the fairly open-ended question “Should Norn be revived?â€. In the thread were discussed various definitions of “revivalâ€; among linguists, as a literary language, or as a language taught in schools. The responses were generally negative or indifferent: thirteen of twenty-two polled responded “No†or “No opinionâ€. While certain enthusiasts were eager to discuss revival, the majority of those polled questioned the validity of the language in the modern world. As one of my informants said, “It died for a reason(s)… Convince me it has practical use and benefit, and I'll find it difficult to argue recreating it is a bad thing, but if its [sic] just for novelty value ‘because we can’, I'd say its best left up to those who have a genuine interest in it and believe in it to do with it as they see fit†(personal communication). In other areas of the United Kingdom, such as Wales and Cornwall, dead language revival has become an expression of regional or ethnic pride, modern Shetlanders see no reason to dust off what they consider an obsolete, and mostly forgotten, tool. Interestingly, however, there is a considerable degree of pride in Shetland Scots, locally known as Shaetlan. While Shetlink, built and maintained by the Shetlander community, has an active “Shaetlan wird o’ da Day†thread, the general consensus of Norn revival appears to be exemplified in one participant’s opinion: “To try and force this reinvented language on Shetlanders today is a rather peculiar and slightly sinister idea†(personal communication). Still, I feel that, from a scholarly standpoint, Norn reconstruction is a worthy pursuit. It is the right of interested islanders to learn their ancestral language. To advance this goal, I have below taken Low’s translation of the Lord’s Prayer, and compared it with Faroese and Old Norse versions: Norn (Low 105): http://i1030.photobucket.com/albums/y370/busheys89/nornlordsprayer.jpg Faroese: Faðir vár, Tú, sum ert í Himli. Heilagt verði navn Títt. Komi ríki Títt. Verði vilji Tín, sum í Himli, so á jørð. Gev okkum í dag okkara dagliga breyð. Og fyrigev okkum syndir okkara, so sum vit eisini fyrigeva teimum, ið móti okkum synda. Leið okkum ikki í frestingar, men frels okkum frá tí illa. Tí at títt er ríkið, valdið og heiðurin um allar ævir. Amen. Old Norse Faþer vár es ert í himenríki, verði nafn þitt hæilagt Til kome ríke þitt, værði vili þin sva a iarðu sem í himnum. Gef oss í dag brauð vort dagligt Ok fyr gefþu oss synþer órar, sem vér fyr gefom þeim er viþ oss hafa misgert Leiðd oss eigi í freistni, heldr leys þv oss frá öllu illu. While all three texts are quite similar, even a cursory glance reveals that the former two are more closely related than the third, and suggest that Faroese would be a more appropriate basis for Norn reconstruction than Old Norse. Specifically, I present the following as evidence that Faroese more closely approximates Norn than Old Norse. Syntactically, Faroese and Norn share more similarities than either appears to have with Old Norse. Take, for example, the simple Norn sentence Halaght vara nam dit “Hallowed be thy nameâ€; or, more literally, “Hallowed be name thineâ€. The Faroese word order is exactly the same with Faroese Heilagt verði navn Títt, showing a similar placement rule for possessive pronouns and adjectives, as opposed to Old Norse Verði nafn þitt hæilagt, literally “Be name thine hallowedâ€, which places the adjective at a sentence-final position, rather than initial. This very basic similarity in word order suggests that a Faroese, rather than Old Norse, model ought to produce more accurate results when reconstructing Norn sentences and clauses. With respect to lexicon, it can be suggested that Norn take generally from Faroese, but with certain phonological shifts applied, as discussed below. Indeed, upon examination of the prayer samples, one may easily conclude that Faroese and Norn were mutually intelligible; or nearly so, were it not for a considerable number of Scots and English loanwords in the language recorded by Low. For instance, La konningdum din kumma “thy kingdom come†is composed almost entirely of loanwords from English, along with a French definite article. This borrowing suggests that, instead of coining neologisms, Norn speakers simply took what they needed from the languages around them. Should Norn be revived as a spoken language, it may be prudent for accuracy’s sake to “Nornicize†words from Scots, as opposed to creating entirely new terms. Several phonological shifts occurred in Norn and Faroese alike. First among them is that dental fricatives of Old Norse /þ/ and /ð/ have been dropped by both Norn and Faroese. Although the latter, known as Eth, survives in Faroese, it is only in a vestigial orthographic form; instead of a fricative, it now represents a spoken glide. For example, Faroese góð•ur “good†is in fact pronounced [É¡É”wwʌ ̈ɹ Ì], and bað “bath†pronounced [bea•], as collected by Paul Heggarty for the McDonald Institute for Archeological Research. Norn seems to have developed a similar phenomenon; although Low’s orthography can be called primitive at best, he appears to record no fricatives in brau and lia, meaning “bread†and “lead!†respectively. Faroese finishes both breyð and leið in glides, whereas Old Norse records brauð and leiðd as both having voiced dental fricatives. Therefore, Norn and Faroese appear to have followed the same trend in dropping dental fricatives, especially in word-final cases. In word-initial instances, such as Old Norse þitt “thineâ€, in both Faroese and Norn the dental fricative changes to an alveolar plosive, producing Faroese títt and Norn dit. Interestingly, the Norn version appears to have gained voicing, while in Faroese the stop remained voiceless. It is worth mentioning, however, that two major change appears to have occurred in the Norn language, that was absent in Faroese. In Faroese, placing an accent marker over a vowel turns it into a diphthong; the words trý “three†and bít “bite!†are realized as [tʰɹʊiË‘] and [bÊŠiË‘t] (Heggarty). Norn employs a further step: Faroese word-initial back vowels, generally, become rounded in Norn. Below are several words, as taken from Knooihuizen’s transcription of Low’s 1774 list. English Haddock Boat Ewe Spoon Cow Mare Shoe Faroese Hýssan Bátin Aerin Spónin Kyrin Ryssa Skógvin Norn Hoissan Bodin Oron Sponin Kurin Russa Skeugin In every case, the initial back vowel takes its rounded equivalent. In the final instance, that of Norn skeugin “shoeâ€, it may be observed that /v/ has been dropped. Upon further examination, every entry containing /gv/ exhibited the same phenomenon; for example, Faroese húgvan becomes Norn ugan. This leads me to believe that /gv/, initially a pairing of a stop and a fricative, gradually lost the fricative in Norn, at which point it became a glide, as /g/ is used in Faroese today (Heggarty). This in mind, then, the scholar can rely on three basic phonological and orthographical rules for reconstructing Norn: 1. Word-initial back vowels are generally to be rounded. 2. In the case of an Old Norse word-final /þ/ or /ð/, the fricative shifts to a glide. In word-initial and other instances, they should shift from dental fricatives to alveolar plosives. 3. Faroese /gv/ will drop /v/, and become a glide represented by /g/. These proposals are by no means comprehensive or final; indeed, the generalizations I make are quite broad, and so will almost certainly have major flaws. Much work remains to be done on Norn; the language remains all but lost. As the language is further explored, however, the wheels of innovation may turn, just as they did for Hebrew, for Welsh, for Cornish. New, more specific, rules of language may well come to replace old ones. Norn is a language given little attention by linguists. As awareness of this tragically lost language grows, so will its scholarship; as scholarship grows, so will the possibility of, someday, Norn’s return as a spoken and living language. Works Cited 1. "Diplom fra Shetland datert 24. november 1509." Universitet i Bergen. Universitet i Bergen, 13 Dec 1980. Web. 21 May 2010. . 2. Heggarty, Paul. "Faroese: standard." Languages and Origins in Europe. The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, n.d. Web. 8 Jun 2010. . 3. Jakobsen, Jakob. The Dialect and Place Names of Shetland. Lerwick: T. & J. Manson, 1897. Print. 4. Knooihuizen, Remco. "Fishing for Words: the Taboo Language of Shetland Fishermen and the Dating of Norn Language Death." Transactions of the Philological Society. 106.1 (2008): 100-13. Print. 5. Low, George. A Tour Through the Islands of Orkney and Schetland. Kirkwall: William Peace & Son, 1879. Print. 6. "Shetland's written and spoken form." Shetlink Forums. Shetlink-Shetland, 08 Jun 2010. Web. 8 Jun 2010. . 7. "The last known document from Shetland written in Norse." Shetlopedia. Shetlopedia, 18 Feb 2008. Web. 21 May 2010. . [/img]
  2. Hey guys, I'm back! I can't believe this thread is still going! Sorry for not being around, but I was in China over the summer, and university work kept me away from Norn for the last month. I finished the paper earlier this summer. If you guys want, I'd be happy to post it here. So right now, I'm trying to get funding from my university to come to Shetland and do a sociolinguistic study of Shetland dialect use vs. attitude toward Norn. Hopefully, someday soon, I can talk to some of you in person--it would be an honor!
  3. Hey all. Probably no one remembers me, but I was the American student who was researching Norn on Shetlink this spring. Just as I was starting to get into the community, I got a job in China, without a computer, and consequently got pulled away from Shetlink for most of the year. I'm back now, and was wondering what the biggest events in Shetland have been since this summer. What's been going on around the islands?
  4. I've just been offered an English teaching job in Wuxi, People's Republic of China. I'm in the process of getting a visa, and assuming everything goes smoothly I should be off in the next few weeks. Have any Shetlinkers been to China? What are some things I should expect? What should I do while I'm there?
  5. I've been into couchsurfing for a while now, the first time I tried it was when I hitchhiked around Iceland last spring. Some of my best travel experiences come from couchsurfing, whether off the website or just with local people you meet: My favorite, when I was in the Czech village where my grandfather had grown up. I accidentally walked into an old couple's house, and instead of calling the police, they let me stay with them! The Italian policeman who picked me up while hitchhiking. I thought he would ask for a bribe, but instead he took me into his home! Stayed with some friends while urban backpacking in Japan in March. My ATM card was damaged, so they saved me from sleeping in the park! Three days in Iceland with a group of Christian hippies! The beautiful German girl stuck in an Icelandic village of 700! It is an incredible way to make friends while traveling! I highly recommend it, especially if you're traveling solo. If you're ever near Seattle or Vancouver, drop me a line!
  6. Shoormal, very interesting! Do you mind if I quote your post in a paper I'm writing? I'm looking for Norse words that are still used in Shaetlan, so this would be a great example. If that's what you're looking for, there's no need for you to be short of them! Very many of the words used in traditional Shaetlan (by which I mean, as spoken by my generation - I'm 55) are Norse in origin. Just for a start, here's an extract from a paper I once wrote: "The Concise Scots Dictionary explicitly states that it does not contain the Norse vocabulary which is peculiar to Caithness, Orkney and Shetland. This vocabulary comprises not only a large amount of words which would now be regarded as obsolete or literary - Jakobsen's Dictionary of the Norn Language in Shetland (which is actually not a dictionary of the Norn language but of the Norn vocabulary element in Shetlandic) consists of two substantial volumes of such words - but also many everyday words and expressions such as aaber (eager), aalie (orphan^), broel (bellow), clatch (besmear), clooky (tricky), clour (claw; scratch - not a blow as in Scots), clump (make a heavy noise), duiless (inactive), filskit (high spirited), forsmo (snub), frush (splutter), glaep (gulp down), glinder (peer), gluid (glow), helly (weekend), hent (gather), leid (diligence), lui (listen), luid (mood), minkie (very small), mird (swarm), oag (crawl), oub (moan), peel (scrap; small mussel), pipper (tremble), plag (garment), smuck (slipper), mooratoug (ant), yasp (energetic), rein (squeal), scrime (observe), sloo (lazy person), smeig (smirk), smoot (slink), soe (bait), spret (burst), sprickle (convulse), stirn (shiver), swee (smart*), trivvle (grope), varg (messy work), tully (kitchen knife), tusker (peat cutter), nyaarm (bleat), etc, etc, etc. ^but see the recent discussion on this word in another thread here. *that is, smart with pain - not the adjective meaning 'clever'. .... In a Shetlandic story printed in Lallans magazine the writer commented that at the top of his list of revolting jobs was "rooin munts-owld oagin crangs" (plucking the wool from months-old carcasses crawling with maggots). This single phrase contains three words - 'roo', 'oag' and 'crang' - none of which are in the Concise Scots Dictionary, and which would be familiar to any Shetland crofter but incomprehensible to a reader of general Scots. " (Footnote: 'crang' is actually from the Dutch 'kreng' originally meaning, I think, the carcase of a whale. It's possible that some other words in this list may not be Norse - my main purpose was to demonstrate words which are not general Scots - but I think most of them would be.) Depooperit, thank you so much for this list! It's going to be incredibly useful. I'll make sure to post the finished paper on this forum!
  7. Shoormal, very interesting! Do you mind if I quote your post in a paper I'm writing? I'm looking for Norse words that are still used in Shaetlan, so this would be a great example.
  8. glasshouses and stones comes to mind. should we talk about the death penalty. styles was fishing to cause trouble look at his last posts and think why he waited a year to post on this thread. Don't even get me started on the death penalty. The majority of Americans I know (including myself) are firmly against it, but the government retains the practice because of pressure from law enforcement. Threatening the death penalty results in more guilty pleas, which makes the police look good... At least, that's the way I understand it.
  9. Just terrible. It's really sad, my Saudi friends are great people, it makes me wonder how they can live under such a horrific government.
  10. My favorite language at work again! ...well, second after Spanish. The Icelandic and Faroese is Vetur, which is probably indicative of what people used to call it.
  11. I would agree with you, but I would also point out that dead languages have in fact been revived before, the most prominent examples being Hebrew and Sanskrit. However, both were high-prestige languages with extensive literary documentation. Furthermore, Hebrew revitalization was a necessity because the Israeli population was, in the late 40s, linguistically diverse. Norn, obviously, is not high-prestige, and has no literature besides a few songs, prayers, and a court document. However, I also believe it is everyone has the right to learn and use their ancestral language, or whichever language they please for that matter. I therefore posit that Norn should be reconstructed and made available, but not necessarily mandatory, in schools. It satisfies everyone--no one's forced to learn it, but Kavi Ugl gets to use as much Norn as he pleases. This seems to be a growing mentality in people, and it really worries me. First of all, there is no unified variety of English used throughout the world. An argument could be made for written Academic English, but even this has regional variants (color/colour, etc). Second of all, there is no such thing as a "bad" language. I agree with you as to language's fundamental purpose (efficient communication), but it's also important to remember that language is a key factor in diversity. Frankly, I would hate to live in a world where everyone spoke the same language. Not only would I be out of a job, but each language is a unique lens through which the world is viewed--every time a language dies, one of those lenses is smashed. The first step toward marginalizing a group is to take away their language. Australians did it to the Aborigines, and my country did it to the Native Americans. There's an incredibly slippery slope here; marginalizing a language marginalizes its people, which implies they're inferior, which leads to persecution, or even genocide. Linguistic diversity is a treasure, my friend, and a fundamental human right.
  12. I've been talking with a few Norn enthusiasts lately, and I was wondering what the general opinion of Shetlanders was on Norn revitalization. Is Norn a part of your heritage that you'd like to have back, or do you feel like it's unnecessary in the modern world?
  13. Thanks a lot for the help everyone. The link especially will be very useful.
  14. Looks like they've got it in Norn, but not Shetlandic (Shaetlan? Which is more correct?) Thanks for the help anyway.
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