The Shetland dialect

Having recently finished a truly fascinating read on the old Norwegian settlements in and around Great Britain, I decided to write something about the dialect of Shetland. My interest in Shetland has been consistent for some time now, and has largely been due to me getting to know a few Shetlanders through a DNA-project. I’m very passionate about all things having to do with the past and, certainly, the ancient bonds with Shetland and Orkney, are ever more interesting. Especially when I, as a Norwegian, recognize words and phrases that are native to my own tongue, do I find the ancient ties to these islands more than simply interesting. Still, in both the language and the culture of Shetland, these ties hark back to a time when Shetlanders, or Hjaltlendingar, were thought of as being but fellow Norsemen.

What little we know about the ancient language of Shetland, Norn, comes from the work of one man by the name of Jakob Jakobsen. This Faroese linguist, who in the late 19th century set out to document what remained of the Norn language, managed to prove that at the time when he was in Shetland, there were as many as 10,000 words of Norwegian origin still being put to use in the common dialect.

Mainly based on the online John J. Graham’s Shetland Dictionary, I’ve compiled a list of words familiar to both Shetlanders and Norwegians alike. In addition to the recordings already provided by the online dictionary, I’ve also included the proper pronunciation in Norwegian.

Shetlandic English Norwegian Old Norse
Bondi (n) Farmer Bonde Bóndi
Kuna, kunie (n) Wife Kone Kona
Laks (n) Salmon Laks Lax
Geng (v) Go Ganga
Hame (n) Home Heim Heimr

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