Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg Anglistisches Seminar Seminar: Languages of Scotland Lecturer: Anne Hoyer, M. A.

Semester: Summer 2007 Author: Andreas Kull, stud. phil. Date of Submission: 01.09.2007 Title: Norn – The Scandinavian Influence in Modern Orcadian and Shetlandic Speech or: A Linguistic Puzzle about an Unknown Language

The Scandinavian Influence in Modern Orcadian and Shetlandic Speech
or: A Linguistic Puzzle about an Unknown Language

Table of Contents
1. Preface ................................................................................... 4 2. History of Norn and Norn Research .................................... 4-6 3. Bad Data Problem of Norn ................................................ 6-10 4. Reconstruction Issues of Norn Phonology ...................... 10-11 5. Influence of Norn ............................................................. 12-14 6. Conclusion ...................................................................... 14-15 7. Appendix .............................................................................. 16 8. Bibliography .................................................................... 17-19 9. Antiplagiatserklärung ............................................................ 20

1. Preface
Norn, a Scandinavian language spoken between the 9th and 19th century in Orkney, Shetland and probably even on the Scottish mainland and the Hebrides, seems to be a quite extravagant topic for a second year English student at first, but the attempts to linguistically describe this largely undiscovered language enables us to understand the basic mechanics of Linguistics. We can learn about language contact, language death, the methods of data acquisition and the problems that can arise and have arisen by collecting fragments of Norn and their linguistic interpretation. After a short history of Norn and Norn research there will be a review about the general features, with a focus on the phonology, to illustrate the “bad data problem” (Labov 1994:10-11) which Norn scholars have to face. Highly speculative hypotheses that seemed more like religious belief than science were skipped. Finally the influence of Norn on modern Orcadian and Shetlandic speech were analysed and summarised, conclusions were drawn and the future perspectives of linguistic research on Norn were reviewed.

2. History of Norn and Norn Research
Norn, which is derived from Old Norse norrœna and means Northern language, was first mentioned in 1485 (Barnes 1991:430). Its history began with the first Scandinavian settlements of Vikings from Westand Southwest Norway around 800 (Tierney 1967:74-7, 115-16). Although this date is debatable – like everything that is said about Norn – because the Latin Historia Norwegiæ tells us, that a person named Rognvaldr “ [...] seized the inhabitants of Orkney [...] ” (Barnes 1998:3) in 700 which is confirmed by “Viking town 4

generics” (ibid.), e.g. <-heimr> (home, dwelling) in place names of Shetland and Orkney. When “ [...] Shetland was removed from the earldom of Orkney [...] ” (Barnes 1991:446) in 1195 the islands built closer ties to Norway and started trading with Hanseatic and Danish merchants – which of course had impact on the language. Modern Orcadian and Shetlandic speech even show nowadays traces of Dutch and Low German (ibid. 445). During this period there were only Norse speaking officials in Shetland (ibid. 446) which made Norn the predominant language until the beginning of the 13th century when “Scots gradually began to replace Norn” (ibid. 429). This language shift started when the Scots speaking “Sinclairs succeeded to the earldom” (ibid.) in 1379. The actual 'death' of Norn began when Orkney and Shetland “were pledged to King James III of Scotland as marriage dowry by King Christian I of Denmark and Norway” (ibid.). At the time of the reformation in Scotland in 1560 all officials and the clergy were Scots speaking and Scandinavian law were gradually replaced by Scottish until 1611 (ibid.). The last Scandinavian document in Orkney was signed in 1426, the first Scottish document in 1433. The last Scandinavian document in Shetland was written two-hundred years later, in 1607, the first Scottish document in 1525 (ibid.). Norn withdrew to small isolated communities of speakers on the northern Mainland of Orkney and Shetland were the last official reference to Norn was made in 1750 (ibid. 447) and probably the last native speaker died on the island Unst in 1850 (Jakobsen 192832:xix). The first studies about Norn were primarily about collecting words and explaining their etymology. Edmondston released the first comprehensive collection with his Etymological Glossary of the Shetland and Orkney Dialect in 1866 which was succeeded by Jakob Jakobsen's Etymological Dictionary of the Norn Language in 1928. At the same time the Orkneyman Hugh Marwick presented his pioneering book The Orkney Norn which can be seen as the first 5

linguistic acceptable work on Norn that focused on specific issues. Nowadays there are a few notable scholars – like Michael Barnes who managed to obtain a certain degree of publicity for his work The Norn language of Orkney and Shetland – which is related to high requirements a Norn scholar have to comply and the bad source data of Norn.

3. Bad Data Problem of Norn
For a language that was almost spoken a whole millennium and has had a huge impact on the Orcadian and Shetlandic dialect and culture – only 60 place-names on the isles are of Scots origin in contrast to 600 of Scandinavian or Norn origin (Stewart 1970:318-19) – we have to deal with “extremely bad data“ (Knooihuizen 2006:6). Michael Barnes one of the few modern Norn scholars wrote (Barnes 1991:436):
Lack of data and lack of explicitness by the investigators are clearly both to blame for this messy and confusing picture. What the modern scholar can do to unravel the twisted strands is not immediately apparent.

Those quotation illustrates the hopeless and sad situation which we have to face when we are trying to reconstruct the 'dead' language Norn without drifting too far into the realms of speculation. For instance, the fields of syntax and morphology cannot be reconstructed at all with the source material we have, since only a few fragments of phrases of doubtful origin have been found lately. The only field of research we can talk about with some kind of certainty is the field of phonology and lexicon which enables us to make speculations with a certain probability. Norn researchers actually do not even have a common idea of what 6

Norn is. Some scholars like Johnston and Jón believe that Norn is just a “Scandinavian language opposed to Scots” (Barnes 1991:430) were other scholars define Norn as a “mixture of Scots and Scandinavian” (Saxby, Sandison, Graham; ibid.). Personally I think all those scholars are right and we have to divide Norn in three phases. The first phase of Norn started with the Viking settlements. At this point Norn was not a distinct form of the West-Norwegian language, but exactly the same and only defined by the opposition to the language of the native inhabitants. Phase two started when the stream of immigrants from West-Norway run dry and the settlements began to trade with Dutch, Hanseatic, Scots and English merchants. In this period the former settlers intermingled through intermarriage with the natives and began to construct an own identity which was expressed through their very own language that now began to deviate from its Scandinavian origin. Phase three sealed the 'death' of Norn and the beginning of the unique Orcadian and Shetlandic dialect. Scots became more prestigious because of certain political events (see chapter History of Norn and Norn Research) and functioned as “[...] sole language of public affairs [...]” (Donaldson 1958; Barnes 1991:451) and replaced Norn gradually over decades. Decades in which Norn influenced Scots (ibid.) – although this fact is denied by Rendboe who said that it remained pure until its 'death' (Renboe 1984-87; Barnes 1991:432f). Flom even numbered the “[...] steadily decline ratio of Norn to Scots” (Flom 1928-9; Barnes 1991:432 ) to 12:5 in 1850 and 1:1 in 1900 (ibid.). Gunnel Melchers, known by various field studies, listed the three main problems of “identifying the Scandinavian component in Shetland dialect” (Melchers 1991:462). The first problem which we have to consider, is that we do not have a “linguistic acceptable account of the Shetland dialect” (ibid.). This applies to George Low's recorded data which I will review in more 7

detail in the phonology section of this paper. All material which we can use for research was not recorded by native speakers, but was handed down orally for generations. Secondly and additional to the first problem, we cannot identify “[...] English loan or independent innovation[s]” (ibid.) because we actually do not know what to search for and the “absence [of specific features of Norn] might be revealing as their presence” (Barnes 1998:11). The third and last problem applies to the important data of Jakob Jakobsen which did not differentiate between “high versus low language contact” (Melchers 1991:462), i.e. whether a “[...] exotic small group of speakers influenced others” (ibid.) or the feature can be seen as representative for the language and a larger community of speakers. The most problematic issue of Norn research is to analyse the Scandinavian material and how Norn deviates from it. This is particular a problem because we do not know how Norn deviates from Old Norse and whether the deviations are just idiolectic expressions or derived from dialects spoken by a minority. Michael Barnes divided the source material in groups (Barnes 1998:10):
1. runic inscriptions 2. documents written in the roman alphabet 3. continuous pieces of spoken Norn recorded before the language died 4. words and forms preserved in scaldic verse 5. place names 6. fragments of spoken Norn that might be expected to yield information about the language in function

There are 52 runic inscriptions in Orkney, due to the 33 carvings found in Maeshowe, which are likely not written by inhabitants, but visitors and are not comprehensible text and fragmentary (ibid. 10f). Additional to the 7 carvings found in Shetland we can say that the


language in this period was not distinguishable “from contemporary Norwegian” (ibid.) and therefore “only proofs the West-Scandinavian character of Norn” (ibid.). The disappointing situation of bad data continues when we are trying to find features of Norn in documents written in the roman alphabet. All scribes of documents related to Orkney and Shetland were either from Norway or Denmark or they learnt their craft there, since the first school opened in Shetland around 1611 (ibid. 11). According to Marwick it is “[...] a complete failure to find any 'Orkneyisms' [in those documents]” (Marwick 1929:xxi). All recordings of spoken Norn suffer the same problem – the dichotomy of written and spoken language. For instance the two Lord's Prayer in alleged Orkney Norn (see appendix 1; recorded by Wallace 1700:68-9) and Shetland Norn (see appendix 2; recorded by Low 1774:105) as well as some scaldic verses and phrases. We all know that especially biblical texts and lyrics were not composed in everyday speech, but in a formal, elaborated, archaic style and therefore are not legitimate for drawing conclusions. Another problem is that we neither possess information of their sources nor age nor the way of transmission and how much were lost or modified due to orally transmission – hence the scientific usability is almost nil. The so called Shetland Diploma of 1355 (reprinted in Low 1774) and the place names of Orkney and Shetland are a rich source of Norn lexemes. Words like <yealtaland> for Shetland (Sibbald 1845:11, 68) or <iarlin> for earl puzzle Norn researchers because of their missing progressive i-mutation which indicates that Norn was not affected by this Germanic sound change that started between 450-500 AD and affected all Germanic languages except Gothic. There is no explanation for this unique curiosity yet, but we can state two more obvious possibilities additional to the possibility above. The first would be that Viking settlers arrived before the sound change took place, before 450 AD - this would be terrific and has to be proved by archeology yet. The second possible explanation, that sounds even more unbelievable, is that a Non-Germanic language 9

influenced Norn. We know that a Non-Germanic language existed before the Vikings arrived and the evidence (Historia Norwegiæ) makes it clear that the native language was Pictish, although it is a common belief that the “Pre-Viking inhabitants were assimilated, exterminated or driven out and their language withered away” (Barnes 1998:2) without even leaving slightest traces in the new language.

4. Reconstruction Issues of Norn Phonology
Based on the attempts of several scholars to reconstruct the phonology of Norn, this chapter wants to illustrate and substantiate the problems that were described briefly in the previous chapter. Therefore five studies1 (collected in Barnes 1991:435-6), that deal with the analysis of short rounded vowels in the rich Norn vowel system, are reviewed and their sources explained and criticised. The first Norn scholar who dealt with vowels, Hægstad, identified seven different short rounded vowels: [o], [ȯ], [ø], [å], [u] and what he called a throng [o] and an open [u] which are the Norn allophones of the Old Norse phoneme /o/ (Hægstad 1900). Hægstad's inventory of short rounded vowels of Norn is based on George Low's data (Low 1879) which Low collected during his field trip through Foula by recording from hearsay or speech which have been handed down since generations orally. At this point Norn was nearly extinct (Barnes 1991:448) and the clergyman Low was of course not a linguist and did not possess the linguistic abilities of collecting faultless data. We can assume that he had no knowledge of phonology and perhaps only two or three other Germanic sound systems for comparison – he did not know Scandinavian that is for sure – so he wrote utterances down as they was perceived by him. The fact that Foula's inhabitants were eradicated by smallpox and
1 Please note that some phones and diacritics do not meet the IPA standards of 2007, but were often exclusively created and used by the authors of the studies.


was repopulated from other parts of Scotland (Edmondston 1809:85; Baldwin 1984:55) makes Low's collected data too critical to be considered – I think, but it is one of the few source materials which we have at all. Jakobsen, so to say the founder of modern Norn study, identified in his doctoral thesis: [å], [o], [ɔ], [ɔ.], [ȯ], [u], [ø], ([ö]) (Jakobsen 1897) and thirty-one years later in his Etymological Dictionary: [å], [o], [ɔ], [ɔ.], [ȯ], [u], [ø], [ö], [aö]2 for Old Norse /o/ (Jakobsen 1928-32). Jakobsen's assumptions are based on his own collected data, which involves the problem that he did not define regional areas for his source. Therefore several regional and very small dialects, and probably even idiolects, have the same linguistic status in his dictionary as varieties spoken by a larger community of people. Later scholars such as Barnes proofed that Jakobsen's 10000 collected items contained words of no Scandinavian or Norn influence at all, but were influenced by Scots pronunciation (Barnes 1991: 435). Rendboe, another well-known researcher, identified the allophones [ɔ], [ȧ], [o], [u], [y], [ø] which he assumed to reflex the Old Norse phoneme /o/ (Rendboe 1987). Rendboe's inventory, which also uses George Low's data as source material, can be used to illustrate the problem of conclusions that are based on bad data. When we compare it to Hægstad's, who also analysed short rounded vowels based on Low's data almost a century before, we immediately recognise the difference – although they used the same source material. Where Hægstad has 7 allophones (two of unclear status) Rendboe has only 6 and [y] totally exclusive and not found by another researcher. The phonology is considered the most productive and safest field of research of Norn which demonstrates how frustrating the others must be. This fact broaches a new problem: how do you measure the influence of something you do not know?

2 Read [aö] as ligature


5. Influence of Norn
The question asked in the previous chapter illustrates the problem of determining the influences of Norn on modern Orcadian and Shetlandic speech. There are but a few linguistic Scandinavian traces left which can be identified in the dialect without hesitation. It is a common feature of modern Shetlandic in the 20 th century and early Orcadian dialect in the 18th century to generally drop the [ð] and [Ɵ] due to what is called the “Scandinavian loss” which have occurred in all Scandinavian languages except Icelandic (Barnes 1991:436). These losses and other extreme variations in modern Shetlandic and Orcadian speech are rooted in the rich vowel system of Norn which had on the other hand a relatively small consonant inventory and hence could not adopt all Scots consonants faultlessly. Catford describes this situation with following words (Catford 1957:71f):
Norn speakers had a smaller 'repertoire' of consonants than the incomers and failed to acquire some of the essential consonantal distinctions of Scots.

Catford also stated that the CVVC or CVCC syllable pattern in “stressed monosyllables closed by a consonant” (ibid.) is typical for Shetlandic and Orcadian speech and was influenced by Norn (ibid.). He draws comparisons to other Scandinavian languages which obviously have this syllable pattern due to the Great Quantity Shift that occurred between 1250 and 1550. This would explain forms like <faat> instead of <fat> or <mett> instead of <met> (Melchers 1991:462). Another interesting topic is the Scottish Vowel Length Rule (SVLR) and how it applies in Orkney and Shetland. Because of the Norn influence on the Scots' vowel system we have instead of – and in some cases additional to – the SVLR the Scandinavian Quality Shift 12

(SQS). According to the SVLR a general shortening of long vowels in certain environments occurs - the SQS, in contrast to the SVLR, is an “uniformisation [sic] of syllabic quantity” (ibid. 465f). This is very confusing in certain contexts and not easily to identify, because the SVLR and SQS are often differently regionally realised and can even variate in the spelling of the same person (ibid.). Melchers pointed out that the contrast is only clearly visible in a few monosyllabic words with “fully long vowels before /d/ as in <meed> (landmark used by fishermen)“ (ibid. 467f). A smaller and rather specific case of the phonetic influence of Norn is the example of Auslautverhärtung, like in Neuhochdeutsch, but only in cases where a word ends in <d> as in <cloud> (ibid. 468f). We also have the “final consonant lengthened” (ibid.) in a handful of cases as in <löf> (palm) (ibid.) and in this particular example we also have a second Norn leftover – remains of Old Norse /ø/. Another assured and, through various field studies, proved feature of the modern Orcadian and Shetlandic dialect, is that “disyllabic words tend to have long vowels followed by relatively short consonants“ (ibid.) for example in <later> instead of <letter>. In large parts of Scotland we have the initial [hw] or [kw] sound which does not exist in Shetland at all and did not exist in Orkney until the 18th century. (Barnes 1998:20). Besides the influence of Norn phonology, we have numerous words of Norse or Norn origin especially in semantic fields concerning weather, fishing, hunting, plants, agriculture, colours, movement, seasons, animals and ludicrous behaviour (Nässėn 1989; Melchers 1981:260b). Of course those words have undergone semantic changes such as narrowing or broadening. The verb <blinks> in the sentence <shö blinks> uttered by fishermen now means “that a fish shows itself” (Melchers 1991:470). The noun <drums> for 'gloomy, peevish mood or person' was converted to the verb <to drum> which has the meaning of 'to sulk' (ibid.). In Foula and Papa Stour farmers are <sproning da seed> which is derived from Old Norse sproena for 'to squirt, spit out' (Fenton 1978). The 13

Norwegian verb 'hent' is nowadays exclusively used in Shetland for “ [...] collecting wool [or] digging up potatoes” (Melchers 1991:472).

6. Conclusion
As I proved in the previous chapters, it is almost impossible to reconstruct this 'lost' language and many wrong assumptions were uttered. Every false utterance might be another stepstone that functions as a jigsaw piece to point out the contours of Norn. But time is blurring the contours rapidly and much is getting lost due to influences from other languages. The old expressions are disappearing and are only slightly visible in the language of endangered and ostracised crafts like fishing. Perhaps in two or three generations there will be no Scandinavian element left or recognisable and no one cared to document it – so the past will be lost forever. Is this dramatical conclusion a bad thing? Why to research dead languages anyway? What do we get from dealing with dead languages? Profit? Perhaps. The identity of a human beings is like an onion. We have several layers that constitute our personality. Tradition; education; experience; environment among others. In a biological sense we have not changed much from our ancestor, the caveman – only a handful of genes make the difference. If change occurs over decades or even centuries it becomes hard to identify it for the ones involved. The inhabitants of Orkney and Shetland would not have recognised this change if linguists like Michael Barnes had not cared to do research and inform the public. A bit of reality would have been lost, since of what reality is constituted if not of language? With a gleam of hope I quit this last chapter by an optimistic prediction of Gunnel Melchers that is crying for new Norn scholars: “ [...] the data is not exhausted yet and a great deal of instrumental


analysis remains to be done” (Melchers 1991:469).


7. Appendix

1. Lord's Prayer in Shetland Norn (recorded by Low, 1774): Fy vor or er i Chimeri. Halaght vara nam dit. La Konungdum din cumma. La vill din vera guerde i vrildin sindaeri chimeri. Gav vus dagh u dagloght brau. Forgive sindor wara sin vi forgiva gem ao sinda gainst wus. Lia wus ikè o vera tempa, but delivra wus fro adlu idlu.

2. Lord's Prayer in Orkney Norn (recorded by Wallace, 1700): Favor i ir i chimrie, Helleur ir i nam thite, gilla cosdum thite cumma, veya thine mota vara gort o yurn sinna gort i chimrie, ga vus da on da dalight brow vora. Firgive vus sinna vora sin vee Firgive sindara mutha vus, lyv vus ye i tumtation, min delivera vus fro olt ilt.


8. Bibliography
Monographs and collections:
Barnes, Michael P. 1998. The Norn language of Orkney and Shetland. Lerwick: The Shetland Times. Donaldson, Gordon 1958. Shetland Life under Earl Patrick. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. Edmonston, Arthur 1809. A View of the Ancient and Present State of the Zetland Islands II. Edinburgh: Ballantyne. Edmonston, Thomas 1866. An Etymological Glossary of the Shetland and Orkney Dialect. Edinburgh: Publications of the Philological Society. Fenton, Alexander 1978. The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland. Edinburgh: John Donald. Graham, John J. 1984. The Sheltand Dictionary (2nd ed.). Stornoway: The Thule Press. Hægstad, Marius 1900. Hildinakvadet. Kristiania. Jakobsen, Jakob 1897. Det norrøne sprog på Shetland. København: Doctoral Thesis. Jakobsen, Jakob 1928-32. An Etymological Dictionary of the Norn Language in Shetland I-II. London/Copenhagen: D. Nutt/V. Prior. Johnston, Alfred W. and Amy Johnston 1907-42. Diplomatarium Orcadense et Hialtlandense 1-3. London: Viking Society for Northern Research. Labov, William 1994. Principles of linguistic change. Volume 1: internal factors. Oxford: Blackwell. Low, George 1879. A Tour through the Islands of Orkney and Shetland. Kirkwall: William Peace & Son. Marwick, Hugh 1929. The Orkney Norn. Oxford: University Press. Nässėn, G. 1989. Shetland Weather Words. Stockholm: Stockholm University, Department of English. 17

Rendboe, Laurits 1987. Det gamle shetlandske sprog. Odense: Odense Universitetsforlag. Sandison, William (ed.) 1953. Shetland Verse: Remnants of Norn. Shrewsbury: Privately published. Sibbald, Sir Robert 1845. Descriptions of the Islands of Okrney and Zetland. Edinburgh: Thomas Stevenson. Tierney, J. J. 1967. Dicuili liber de mensura orbis terrae. Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies. Wallace, Rev. James 1700. An Account of the Islands of Orkney. London: Jacob Tonson.

Baldwin, John R. 1984. “Hogin and Hametoun: Thoughts on the Stratification of a Foula Tun”. In: Crawford, Barbara E. (ed.) Essays in Shetland History. Lerwick: The Shetland Times, 3364. Barnes, Michael P. 1991. “Reflections on the Structure and the Demise of Orkney and Shetland Norn”. In: Ureland, P. Sture (ed.) Language Contact in the British Isles. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 429-60. Catford, J. C. 1957. “Shetland dialect”. Shetland Folk Book 3: 71-5. Flom, George T. 1928-9. “The transition from Norse to Lowland Scotch in Shetland 1600-1850”. Saga-Book 10: 145-64. Knooihuizen, Remco 2006. “Language Shift, ethnolinguistic vitality and historical sociolinguistics: testing the models”. Proceedings of the Edinburgh University LEL Postgraduate Conference. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University 20-21. Melchers, Gunnel 1991. “Norn-Scots: A Complicated Language Contact Situation in Shetland”. In: Ureland, P. Sture (ed.) Language Contact in the British Isles. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 461-77.


Graham, John J. 1983. “Social changes during the quinquennium”. In: Withrington, Donald J. (ed.) Shetland and the Outside World 1469-1969. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 216-33. Jakobsen, Jakob 1911. “Nordisk minder, is ær sproglige, på Orknøerne”. Maal og minne: 318-47. Melchers, Gunnel 1981. “The Norn element in Sheltand dialect today – a case of 'never accepted' language death”. In: Ejerhed, Eva and Inger Henrysson (eds.) Tvåspåkighet. Umeå, 254-61. Rendboe, Laurits 1984. “How 'worn out' or 'corrupted' was Shetland Norn in its final stage?”. Nowele 3: 53-88. Saxby, Jessi M. E. 1907-08. “Notes on Shetland dialect”. Saga-Book 5: 65-9. Stewart, John 1970. “Place names of Fula”. Fróðskaparrit 18: 30719.


9. Antiplagiatserklärung
Hiermit erkläre ich, dass ich die vorliegende Hausarbeit selbständig verfasst und keine anderen als die angegebenen Quellen und Hilfsmittel verwendet habe.

Andreas Kull