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Letters / A Shetlander’s perspective

In reference to Michelle Lisalo’s letter (A soothmoother’s perspective; SN 17 June 2020), I have read her view and the views of numerous people commenting on social media.

A soothmoother’s perspective

I was born and raised in Shetland, by my parents who are both Shetlanders, as were their parents and their parents before.

The word ‘Soothmoother’ was always used by us to describe someone arriving here from out with our islands. The vast majority of Shetlanders use the word as it is part of our dialect and if anyone cares to look this up in the Shetland Dictionary, the word means ‘incomer to Shetland’, or someone who travelled to Shetland via the ‘sooth mooth’ by boat and for the vast majority of the time, the word is not used in a derogatory way.

I was raised speaking the Shetland dialect; I speak it all the time and write in dialect at every opportunity. The Shetland dialect is fast becoming a thing of our past and it is very sad for people like me that this is the case because I feel a great sense of pride when it comes to my home, our dialect, our culture and history and our island community.  Our dialect is part of our individuality and Shetlanders are proud of that.

Different areas of Shetland used different dialect names for the locals such as, Lerrik toonies or whitings, Burra haddocks, Whalsaa piltiks, Cunningsburgh nort yaks, sooth turks, Sandness burstin brunnies, Fetlar russey foals, Bressay sharks, Yell sheep ti’efs, Whiteness & Weisdale, gaats and gruelly bags, Scalloway smadrinks, Papa Stour scories, Delting sparls, Ness liver coids, Aithsting smuks, Mid Waas gentry, Wast o Waas settlins, Doon o Waas dirt, Unst midden slues.

I’m sure there are many more but it is important to remember that all of these terms for people from a different place could be seen as derogatory if individuals perceived them as such.

Most of these dialect names have been lost over the years but some still remain and are used. I have always been called a ‘toonie’ regardless of the fact I have not lived there for 33 years.

I am very saddened to hear that the author of the letter, and numerous people commenting on it, have had to endure what they perceive as prejudice because of a word which is part of our dialect. For that I am truly sorry, however it can be and is very dependent on the context in which it is used.

It is absolutely ‘not about how something is intended, it is how it is received and interpreted’ and with that I wholeheartedly agree.

I found school quite difficult as did many countless others.  Children unfortunately do have a tendency to pick what they see and turn it around to use it in an inflammatory way against that individual.

As the years progressed and as many other hurtful comments were made it became clear to me adults also do this if your opinion differs from theirs and how they view it. It is more prevalent now thanks to social media and the society in which we live.

By writing this I want to be clear, I am in no way trivialising the issue many incomers feel they have faced, nor do I wish to be accused of ‘whataboutery’ but I do think many Shetlanders will agree that we also face prejudice when travelling to places or interacting with others, whether that be here locally from ‘incomers’, from other places in the world or even just on the phone.

I have heard many terms used.  Sheep sh***ers, idiots, backward, unworldly, gormless, yokels. ‘Shetlanders are inbred’ seems to be a particular favourite.  The list goes on as does the constant insinuation that we are all entirely stupid.

Prejudice works both ways but I am not offended, neither are the majority of Shetlanders. By being on the end of this kind of criticism and labelling it says nothing of who we are as individuals as Shetlanders but ultimately it says everything about the person doing the labelling and making that criticism.

I am not suggesting that my experience of a small minority of individuals from out with Shetland speaks for all Shetlanders’ experiences, but I am willing to bet that I am not alone.

I feel quite sad to have read the recent news articles in respect of the racism issues in Shetland as my parents taught me that everyone is equal regardless of who you are, where you come from, the colour of your skin, your beliefs or opinions and I live by that upbringing and raise my children by those beliefs.

Prejudice of ALL kinds is most definitely alive and kicking in Shetland, as it is everywhere else in the world. Shetland is not immune but only we as individuals have the power to take ownership of that and make the changes required to make it a better place.

Linda Hughson