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Community / Local grammar book is a world first

THE WORLD’s first ever bilingual grammatical description of the local language – Shaetlan – has just been published by a group of enthusiasts.

The 119-page primer, written by Dr Viveka Velupillai and Roy Mullay, is very much seen a working document – it is available for free on the I Hear Dee project’s website – and it will be updated and tweaked on a regular basis.

The driving force behind the project, linguist Dr Velupillai, said she felt a “bit excited” when she was congratulated for the work by the UN’s Decade of Indigenous Languages project.

Dr Velupillai, who is a professor at the institute of Anglistics at the University of Giessen in Germany, works with local speakers Roy Mullay, Julie Dennison and Andrew Blance on the I Hear Dee project.

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

The group has recently introduced Shaetlan to predictive text apps for Android and iPhone devices, and are active on social media to promote the use and understanding of the local tongue.

They estimate that between 30 and 50 per cent of local people are able to speak the distinctive language variety.

She said the primer is meant for the non-specialist: “The targeted readership is the interested layperson. In other words, this is not aimed at the linguistic expert.

“This is aimed at the Shetland community specifically, to show the speakers of Shaetlan that their language is as viable, elegant and structured as any other variety.

“It is also aimed at teacher trainees, and any other school related staff that will be working with Shaetlan speaking children, as well as the health care profession, any new settler in Shetland who wishes to learn the language, the interested visitor and the linguistically curious in the wider world in general.”

Dr Velupillai added that the document was written in a way so that her linguistic colleagues can also use it for their research.

“In that way it brings Shaetlan into the international scene of linguistics and language descriptions, making it possible for this language variety to also be part of the kind of global surveys and databases that my branch of linguistics works with.”