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Community / Local dialect predictive text comes to mobile keyboard

Roy Mullay and Professor Viveka Velupillai trying out a new predictive text system they established last year.

IT HAS long been the annoyance of many local folk – typing a message on a phone in Shetland dialect and predictive text offering no help. 

But now that should be a thing of the past after Shaetlan was added as a language on the Microsoft SwiftKey mobile keyboard platform.

More than 10,000 words have been added to the system – around the size of Jakob Jakobsen’s Shetland dictionary.

The move forms part of a wider research initiative called A Grammar of Shaetlan, which is led by Professor Viveka Velupillai with the collaboration of Roy Mullay.

It is being promoted through the Facebook and Instagram groups I Hear Dee, which aims to make academic research more accessible and inclusive to the general public, and especially to the Shaetlan speakers themselves.

SwiftKey is a free keyboard app available on Android and iPhone devices.

Adding Shaetlan as a language on the app means that predictive text will now show up for Shaetlan words and phrases.

Predictive text is when software will suggest your next word when typing a message on a phone.

Under the new Shaetlan option, if you type ‘noo’, then ‘den’ will come up as a suggested follow-up, or ‘laek’ and ‘daday’ will come after ‘whit’.

People can also search for emojis in Shaetlan – so looking up ‘smoorikin’ will find the kiss icon, and ‘sharn’ brings up…well, you get the drift.

Velupillai said the process of submitting the word list took a “very, very intense four months”.

The SwiftKey team took in all the language data and word lists and added it to the system.

More information on how to access the app, and how to add Shaetlan to the languages, can be found here  or at @iheardee.

Meanwhile the research project aims to produce an “in-depth grammatical description of Shetland dialect”.

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It highlights that a “steady shift” from Shetland dialect to English has accelerated in the last generation, and that has been claimed to in part be due to the “radical economic and demographic changes” the oil industry boom brought to the isles.

Shetland based Velupillai is affiliated with the University of Giessen in Germany.

The project has also gone global, with I Hear Dee on the syllabus for a seminar called “Linguistics and Social Rights” at the MIT in Boston.

Meanwhile Velupillai said the keyboard initiative also led to “congratulations and appreciation” from colleagues as far-flung as from the US, Puerto Rico and Spain.

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