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Letters / A mongrel accent

I felt after my 31 years of life, seeing Shetland change for the worse that something needs to be said about the changes which are affecting the way we as Shetlanders speak.

I’ll start from when i started school in the late 80s. I was in a class in the Hamnavoe Primary School with around a dozen other bairns my age. Now out of all of them from that day till the day I left secondary school in 2009 in Scalloway there were none that didn’t speak Shetland dialect (even the ones that were fae sooth learned it), and the dialect spoken varied even between Burra and Scalloway and other parts of Shetland. And as far as i can tell at least 10 years after I left school this was still the case on a broad scale.

Now what is happening is frightening, i feel that we will lose a big part of our heritage and identity if we lose the dialect along with the variations in the dialect by place/island, maybe not in this generation but certainly in the coming one or two.

I’ll go back to when i was at school again for instance, there were English classes taught by mostly Shetland-born teachers, there was no requirement to speak to the teachers in what the young ones now seem to think is the proper way of speaking.

Nowadays I am hearing there are Shetland dialect classes in schools now what a turnaround that is in 20 years.

There are several misconceptions I keep hearing from the younger generation when I speak to them on this subject, I’ll mention a couple of them and explain the reasons that they are misconceptions rather than fact.

1: if we don’t speak like this then our friends won’t understand us – well when I and my peer group and older were young, we spoke the way we spoke and anyone from elsewhere just had to learn the dialect and get on with it. Most of the people who came to Shetland then just learned the dialect and most, not all but most ,speak it to some degree, but all understand it (I take this as being similar to moving to another country, you would try to learn the language out of respect for where you were).

2: we need to speak like this to get on well when attending university, college or work on the mainland and further afield – wrong again, I myself and many of my friends can and do both speak broad Shetland dialect when at home and for want of a better way of putting it speak to be understood when away.

I could keep going on and listing the reasons people don’t want to speak Shetland, but there are many reasons to keep speaking it in my eyes and I hope that there are people left in Shetland with the same sense of pride in their heritage that are willing to keep it going. Also I feel it is stimulating for children’s learning, your “first language” if you want to call it that could be Shetland dialect. Then the second language is English.

Now Shetland dialect is recognisable all over Scotland, the UK and the world.

From personal experience in my years of working all over the world; when people ask where I’m from they usually can guess Shetland from the unmistakable dialect coming through.

Now if Shetlanders carry on to speak the way I hear most of the younger generation now there won’t be the distinguishing accent any more. I have worked with people from Land’s End to John O’Groats and no one speaks in any way close to the mongrel tongue the younger generation of Shetlanders seem to be using. I keep hearing “we are speaking proper”, well no to be brutally honest you’re not. There is no similarity between the accent being used and any other accent in the home nations “especially a so-called proper accent from southern England” it is, as I say, a mongrel accent and has been born from the older generation’s way of knapping to their bairns.

It doesn’t matter where you go in the UK and Ireland every place has its own distinctive accent and dialect, this is evident to everyone who lives in the British Isles, you would never mistake a Geordie for a Scouser or an Aberdonian with a Glaswegian. But in a couple of generations which really isn’t that far away, people from Shetland won’t have a dialect and just as easy could be mistaken for an English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh person all depending on which teacher or TV programme they have picked up their accent from. Anyone who wants this I feel needs their heads looked at, people from Shetland are proud of their heritage and identity, so why lose one of the main parts of it, and probably the most distinguishing part?

Now as a final note I’m sure a lot of people will find some way to be offended through this and good luck to them. But at the same time, I’m not directing this at anyone; i just think the arguments for keeping the Shetland dialect far outweigh the ones for the mongrel tongue which is in fashion at the moment.

Robert Laurenson

Hamnavoe, Burra