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Community / ‘Have you done today’s Wirdle?’ – popular word game given Shaetlan slant

A PROJECT seeking to put Shetland dialect on the map globally has harnessed its distinctive linguistics to create a localised version of the viral word game Wordle.

The small team behind I Hear Dee – which aims to document Shaetlan as “a language variety in its own right” – launched ‘Wirdle’ on Saturday night and within three days have already drawn in more than 2,500 players from “all over the world”.

The original Wordle was developed by software engineer Josh Wardle, who recently sold the game to the New York Times for an undisclosed seven-figure sum after it developed into a worldwide craze with millions logging on to play every day.

A new puzzle is generated only once every 24 hours and gives players six tries to figure out that day’s five-letter word through a combination of guesswork and elimination.

Wirdle adapts those principles using local dialect words.

Professor Dr Viveka Velupillai, from Giessen University in Germany, is leading the I Hear Dee project and said it “all ties into the larger context of what we are working for”.

“Wordle is an excellent, fun way for speakers of marginalised languages to reclaim their language: it forces us to look at it as a language in its own right, rather than some kind of haphazard hodge podge,” she told Shetland News.

“Just like with English, there are right and wrong answers, but just putting in a random English word won’t work: that’s a different language list altogether.

“Just like it won’t work to put in a Swedish word in a Danish Wordle. They are similar, but not the same.”

Professor Velupillai said localised Wordles had already been produced for several marginalised languages around the world, including sign language.

A map of where Wirdle users are playing from.

She has even received a message from a colleague at the University of Helsinki who is using the new tool to learn Shaetlan.

“And our Shaetlan Wirdle will be used as a template for a Kreyòl (Haitian Creole) Wordle, for which we have already set up a little group,” she said.

“So I think the wider Wordle phenomenon is absolutely great: a free, fun way to reclaim your language and identity, while at the same time thinking about and learning the language, and, equally important, exercising your brain. A real win-win!”

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

Asked if she was anticipating a similar seven-figure bid for Wirdle from Shetland News or The Shetland Times, she joked: “We’ll see if any offer is made!”

I hear dee will post weekly solution sheets every Sunday with the words, their meaning and etymology. Words used in Wirdle come from a 28,500-long wordlist embedded in the Shaetlan SwiftKey keyboard “so anyone who has the keyboard will be able to sneak around for tips!”

Native Shaetlan speakers Roy Mullay and Julie Dennison are working with Professor Velupillai on I Hear Dee.

You can learn more about the project via its own bilingual website, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube accounts.

There is also a feature on the international Lingoblog platform describing “what sets Shaetlan apart as a contact language in its own right”.

Professor Velupillai added: “Our bilingual output is a way to show by action that Shaetlan is as structured as any language variety (and not just some kind of ‘quirky slang’) which can be used to speak about anything and everything, not only for cartoons, but also to speak about complicated abstract academic topics like linguistics and history.”