Slipan, Sweechan

orkney, Poetry

The English used to the right is an accepted orthography that’s congealed over time: development seems to have stalled. It’s completely inconsistent, but accurate to Standard English speech. There is no guiding principle but convention. I’ll write about different ways of doing Orcadian orthography, and the successes and failures of Standard English, next time.

Slipan, Sweechan

The mor at fok meuv aroon, the mor fok at meuv aroon, the mor tungs we a spaek wi.

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A grod up immersd in twa sindree weis o spaekan: the Standard English o mee femlee, an the Orkney langwach o mee komyoonitee. A nivir fillee adoptid wan or the tither, pikan up vools an konsonants fae both, mee aksent orbitan aroon an unplaesabl sentir, sumtaims slippan north, sumtaims skaitan sooth. A tak on aspekts o the spaekan at’s aboot mee, wharivir A’m at: sumtaims A sweech swithlee, sumtaims slolee. A kin spaek pasabil RP, bit haer an thir a slippid vool will lat on mee reuts; A hae all the unkin nordik vools o Orcadian in mee tung’s raech, bit A kannae baid thir staeblee.

Mee sistir, fouïr an a haf aers ouldir as mee, chaenchis that bit mor dramateeklee. Thir a bit o slipach in hir aksent, bit hid tends tae baid firmlee whariver sheu’s baidan. Sheu kam tae Orkney a cockney, queeklee got Westray, got Edinburgh whan sheu gaed tae yooniversitee, an noo soonds naeraboot totalee Brighton.

A lot o fok fae lang-taim Orcadian femlees sweech a geud bit teu. The most comin sweech is tae baid in an Orkney aksent bit tae drap a the daiälekt wirds an adopt Standard English vool firmaeshins. This is komin enof tae hae a daiälekt wird: “chantan”. Fok affens yeus hid tae anser the fon, tae taech a kless, tae mak a spaech. This daes, thir affens mor sithrin Scots’ idyims an vools in Orcadians’ cheneril spaech, een ithoot chantan, as maigraeshin sofans daiälekts.

Wan set o academik modils at kin eksplaen (or at laest descraib) this is “code-switching” (kod-sweechan), an at’s the term a lot o the fok A’m spokin tae hae yeusd tae tak aboot thir aen daiälekt yeus. Fok deu hid, konshislee an unkonshislee, atween langwachis an daiälekts an registirs (whitiver the unkan, bliree distinkshins atween them terms is). Hid saems gei affens, haer, mibee apees, tae be aboot beelongan, an atheen at entaels: kles, inteemasee, aidentitee, praid, desair…

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Fiona MacInnes’s novil “Iss” – in Engleesh, the taitl maens both “us” an “this”, dependan on the novil’s spaekir – deskraibs most o hids karaktirs kod-sweechan, delibritlee an no. The soshalist postmestir o Gaelic orichins spaeks an aksentid Standard Engleesh most o the taim, bit swichis tae brod Orcadian whan spaekan tae lokals askan fir a hand fae him; his lass fairs oot a the Orcadian fae hir tung whan sheu flits tae Edinburgh fir ert skeul, an than trais tae rekiver hid whan retirnan haem. The novil’s spaekirs ken snellee hoo hoo thei spaek cheenchis ithers’ persepshins, both haem an sooth, an the cheenchis ir rekordid in fonetik daiälog. Bit haer an thir thei kach thirsels oot.

This faels gei treu tae ekspeereeïns, fir mee – the renyee thir is in sweechan sumtaims. The parteeklir Orcadian ekspeereeïns haes its aen parteeklir paens: enkoontirs wi fok wha patronais or patronaisinlee fetishais, amost refleksivlee, rooral aksents; the dos o dekaeds o Orkney langwach beeän eksplisitlee band fae the skeul; the konekshin atween dwainan langwach an 20th sentiree eekonomik deklain; yung fok flitan sooth an diskiveran whit weis thir aksent merks them oot; kles, ai. A o this shoogs ir, A doot, at the seurs o chantan.

Wan raitir A spok tae deskraibd at faelan in the nanosekind afore ye spaek whan ye reealais a the soshil implikaeshuns o the wird-firm yir aboot tae yeus. Hid’s laik verteego. Sumtaims hid kin fraes ye. A rekognais whit sheu wis deskraiban imeedyitlee, an twa-three sentensis laetir foond meesel fraesan, unaebl tae utir ithir “old” or “ald” or “ould”, onee o whit A’d mibee itherweis komfirtablee yeus at difer taims. Sum sweechan hapens unkonshislee, an hid’s that mukl aesyir at wei, fir tae be konshis o the sweechis an slips ye mak is tae git afil ankshis.

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Fok want tae beelong, an fok want tae fael athentik. Afens, getan the cod rang maks ye nithir.

Ernest Marwick rot a skript fir a spot on Radio Orkney kad “The Crime of Speaking Proper”, whar he deskraibs chantan as no an ankshis respons tae poor bit a pretens: “to chant is to try to put one over on our friends and neighbours by pretending to a more refined use of language than they possess”. Heu’s eequalee hersh on inkomirs spaekan (or traiän tae spaek) Orcadian, atakan a traveleen saelsmin fir afektan the langwach fir tae sel theens. His konkleuzhin – in a pees fir spaekan at’s rot in firmil Engleesh – is at “We must speak as naturally as we can in any given situation”.

Is thir sik a theen as an athentik vais, tho? A’m nivir haed een meesel; A cidna. A’m afens been konfyeusd bi the wei poiïts tak aboot “findan yir vais” whan ritan poiïtree, fir A’m nivir haed een tae find: mee poiïtree swichis mods, swichis rechistirs, swichis langwachis, swichis firms. A’m skepteecal o Marwick’s aideeal o athentisitee, seeän hid as a ferlee disipleenaree wei tae merk oot an infors beelongeen (an no beelongeen). Hid risks teu fetishaisan langwachis laik Orcadian as ai beud in a taind reuril past: A’m as skepteecal o Robert Rendall’s eedikt at daiälekt poiïtree kin onlee be geud gin hid is “sincerely wrought and faithfully reflects local life”. Fir mee, the fek o a langwach is in hids reench an adaptabilitee: gin a langwach is livan, hid kin be plaefil, inventiv, unkin, distriblan, fremitan, insinseer. An, fir mee, whit raelee merks oot a langwach is at it kin be laernd.

Most o the fok A’m spokin tae, both ritirs an langwach activists, saed thit “abdee sweeches”. Orkney haes ai been a stopeen paint fir travlirs: afor creus ships hid wis Briteesh impeeryal eksplorirs; afore them, hid wis spulyan an colonaisan Vaikeens; afore them, hid’s fikl tae sei, bit the walee sais o wir sentral neeölithik templ compleks maks mee imachin at fok kam haer fae a weis awei een then. An at maens wir spaekan haes ai been inflooïnsd bi ither spaekan, an monee o us wil ai haed differ fok wir spokan tae wi differ tungs.

Morag MacInnes’s poiïm sequins “Alias Isobel” is rot in the richist an most compleks Orkney langwach A’m seen in contemprir poiïtree, but hid’s calerlee leus in hids cods teu. Speleens (an sicweis, mibee, pronunseeaeshins teu) o the saem wird cin differ fae poiïm tae poiïm, or een inooth poiïms, bit the wark as a hol haes a kaindlee vernaclir flo. Isobel Gunn hersel, a maigrant, sumbdee wha flit Orkney in men’s klaes an rechistird as a mael laebrir, wid laikan o slippid an sweechd as at: the myeusik o the poiïtree rings o treuth. (Mor, A doot, as mee aen ritan haer, whit haes preeöritaisd speleen ouïr kaindleenes as A figir oot whit A’m traiän tae deu.)

A that bai, A’m met fok teu wha dinnae cod-sweech, an sum A’m spokin tae disagree on gin abdee daes hid. Thir brod Orcadians wha had sterklee tae the langwach thei spaek in – whit, firnent skeuleen an skorn an ordnir inflooïns, taks gei mukl fek. Bit ir thir onee mor athentik in thir laifs or thir tungs as the rest o us, an whas spaekan mon we lisen tae whan we rait?

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Thir at laest faiv weis o ritan Orkney langwach A cin theenk o:

The first is tae tak Christina Costie’s aproch, whit rendirs the brodist o Orcadian vernaklir spaekan wi a ferlee konsistint fonetik speleen: the naraetirs o hir storees ir spaekan, no ritan, an thir spaekan a strang an abaidan Orkney langwach. This is vaital tae langwach presirvaeshin, bit hid’s gei fikl tae deu, an taks a gei talentid an treezhird lug fir langwach.

The secind is tae tak Fiona an Morag MacInnes’s aproch (tho thei mak oot the efekt in difer weis), whit is tae rendir contemprir vernaklir spaekan fonetiklee, no fashin aboot speleen bit paintitlee recordan hoo the spaekir spaeks noo, sweechis an a. This is mibee the most acsesibl aproch, an hid’s espeshlee yeusfil fir langfirm naraeshun, makan monee differ entreeweis fir differ levils o intrest. Hid most paintitlee rendirs teu hoo most contemprir Orcadians akchilee spaek.

The third, whit A’m foond in novils rot bi both Orcadians an viseetirs, is tae rait daiälog mostlee in Engleesh, onlee yeusin Orkney wirds an speleens fir spesific merkir wirds at sha the spaeker’s Orcadian. This, fir mee, is the most unsatisfaiän: hid fetishaisis the langwach ithoot rilee contreebyeutan tae hids thraivan. Bit hid cin introdyeus wirds an the thot o ritan Orkney langwach tae beeginirs.

The fouïrd wid bees a modrenist, MacDiarmidait aproch, makan a consistint irthografee an yeusan a thrang o Orcadian wirds an idyims, whethir or no hid reflekts the vernaklir. This is an unpoplir aproch in poiïtree this daes, but A hae a fondniss fir the unkin poor o hids myeusikl an ekspereementl efekts.

The fifd is whit A’m deuan noo, whit is foond teu in Simon Hall’s blog Brisk Northerly (tho wi a differ irthografee), makan a “firmil Orcadian” tae mach firmil rot Engleesh: Orkney speleens, Orkney wirds (bit no that thrangan), but in rot (insteed o spokan) firms. This is, as wi the second aproch, yeusfil fir langwach presirvaeshin an thraivan, an hid’s mor apropreeït tae diskirsiv pros. Hid deus, tho, chans at tainan Orcadian sentins firms tae thir Engleesh or Scots equivilint.

Thir problee ithir weis. An thir sheurlee a saksd, whit is tae meuv gliblee atween this mods dependan on whit’s needid. Fir mee, thir nae athentik corekt ansir on hoo tae rait: hid depends on whit ye want tae deu, whit ye want tae mak oot. We kin be conshis o hoo we spaek, an meuv gliblee ithoot fashin aboot hid that mukl – an mibee insteed o findan beelongan in an inacsesibl athenticitee, we kin find hid in shaerd pleuralitee, the shaerd slippan o monee-myeusikl tungs.

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The orthography used here is based on that used in the Orkney Dictionary, but takes it to its extreme conclusion. (That doesn’t necessarily mean it should be used: this is an experiment.)

Single vowels all represent short vowel sounds. Double vowels all represent long vowel sounds or dipthongs. All the comparisons with SE words below are approximate guides only: in an Orcadian accent, most of the vowels sound slightly differently to their Standard English equivalent.

  • a: very short a as in Standard English “black” and “gather”.
  • e: short e as in SE “red”, “tent”.
  • i: short i as in SE “pit” and “twin”
  • o: short o as in SE “not” and “blot”.
  • u: short u as in SE “dunk” and “but” (except in combination with q; see below).
  • ae: can be the a/ai of SE “place”/“plaice”, the “ea” of “meat”, or something in between, depending on the speaker and region of Orkney. Compare to the same variable sound in “encyclopaedia” and “paediatrician”.
  • ai: as in SE imports “haiku” and “gaia”.
  • ee: as in SE “feet” and “teen”.
  • ei: no SE equivalent. Halfway between the “ay” of “way” and the “y” of “why”.
  • eu: no SE equivalent. In Norwegian, it is represented by ø; it is close to the French “eu” of “bleu”.
  • oi: as in SE “point” and “foil”.
  • oo: as in SE “moot” an “boot”. Not the shorter oo as in SE “book”.
  • ou: as in the SE “about” and “proud”.y and w function with vowels as in SE.

When a vowel appears with a diaresis, it does not change the pronunciation of the vowels itself, but indicates that it is a separate sound, as in SE “Chloë”. Thus “daiälekt” is pronounced similarly to the SE “dialect”. Where four vowels are in sequence, it indicates two separate dipthongs, as in “pronunseeaeshin”, pronounced similarly to the SE “pronunciation”.

All consonants and consonant pairs are as in SE, but note:

  • r: always rotic.
  • ch: as in SE “chair” and “chore”; it never becomes the soft terminal “dge” sound some SE speakers use in “sandwich”.
  • kh: used for the Scots “ch” of “loch” and “nicht”.
  • zh: used for the SE “s” as in “treasure” and “pleasure”.

Depending on the speaker and region of Orkney:

  • qu can also be pronounced as an aspirant “wh” as in SE “what” and “which”. In old Scots this is written as “quh”.
  • wh can also be pronounced as an “f” as in SE “foot” and “fall”, though with more aspiration than in SE English, which is also found in contemporary northeast Scots. (N.B.: this does not mean that the Orcadian “qu” ever becomes an SE “f”.)
  • th can also be pronounced as a “t” as in SE “trouble” and “wit”, especially at word beginnings and endings.
  • k can also be pronounced as “ty” as in SE “boatyard”, especially at word beginnings.
  • d can also be silent, especially in confunction with “l”.

Finally, the SE spelling of most proper nouns has been kept. “Orkney” world otherwise be written as “Orknee” and “Orcadian” as “Orkaedyin”.

I may have made spelling mistakes.

The Orcadian yeusd tae the left is an ekspereemint in irthografee: hid’s still in deevelopmint, bit A think hid’s filly consistint, gin no yet filly pyntit. The prinseepl is at ivree letir or letir paer aywis merks the sam soond, as notid in the gyd beelo. A’ll ryt aboot differ weis o deuan Orcadian irthografee, an the suksesis an faelyirs o this ekspereemint, nekst tym.

Slipping, Switching

The more that folk move around, the more folk that move around, the more tongues we all speak with.

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I grew up immersed in two distinct ways of speaking: the standard English of my family, and the rich Orkney language of my community. I never fully adopted one or the other, picking up vowels and consonants from both, my accent orbiting around an unplaceable centre, sometimes slipping north, sometimes sliding south. I take on aspects of the speech immediately around me, wherever I am: sometimes I switch rapidly, sometimes slowly. I can speak passabl RP, but occasionally a slipped vowel will betray me; I have all the unusual nordic vowels of Orcadian within my tongue’s reach, but I can’t stay stably there.

My sister switches, four and a half years older than me, changes much more dramatically. There is some slippage in her accent, but it tends to stay firmly wherever she’s living. She arrived in Orkney all cockney, quickly became Westray, turned Edinburgh when she went to university, and now sounds almost entirely Brighton.

A lot of folk from long-time Orcadian families switch a lot too. The most common switch is to stay in an Orkney accent but to drop all the dialect words and adopt standard English vowel formations. This is common enough to have a dialect word: “chantan”. Folk often use it to answer the phone, to teach a class, to make a speech. These days, there’s often also more southern Scots’ idioms and vowels in Orcadians’ general speech, even without chanting, as migration softens dialects.

One set of academic models that can explain (or at least describe) this is “code-switching”, and that’s the term a lot of the folk I’ve spoken to have used to talk about their own dialect use. Folk do it, consciously and unconsciously, between languages and dialects and registers (whatever the strange, fuzzy distinctions between those terms might be). It seems very often, here, maybe everywhere, to be about belonging, and everything that entails: class, intimacy, identity, pride, desire…

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Fiona MacInnes’s novel Iss – in English, the title means both “us” and “this”, depending on the novel’s speaker – describes most of its characters code-switching, deliberately or otherwise. The socialist postmaster of Highland origins speaks an accented Standard English most of the time, but switches to broad Orcadian when speaking to locals seeking his help; his daughter pushes all the Orcadian from her tongue when she moves to Edinburgh for art school, and then tries to recover it when returning home. The novel’s speakers are acutely aware of how the way they speak affects others’ perceptions, both at home and south, and the changes are recorded in phonetic dialogue. But occasionally they catch themselves out.

This feels very true to experience, for me – the painfulness of switching sometimes. The particular Orcadian experience has its own particular pains: encounters with folk who patronise or patronisingly fetishise, almost reflexively, rural accents; many decades of Orkney language being explicitly forbidden in schools; the connection between dissipating language and 20th century economic decline; young folk moving south and finding how much their accent marks them out; class, always. All of these shocks are, I think, at the source of chantan.

One writer I spoke to described that feeling in the nanosecond before you speak when you realise all the social implications of the word-form you’re about to use. It’s like vertigo. Sometimes it can freeze you. I recognised what she was describing immediately, and a few sentences later found myself freezing, unable to say either “old” or “aald” or “owld”, each of which I might otherwise comfortably use at different times. Some switching happens unconsciously, and it’s so much easier that way, because to be conscious of the switches and slips you make is to be made very anxious indeed.

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Folk want to belong, and folk want to feel authentic. Often, getting the code wrong makes you neither.

Ernest Marwick wrote a script for a spot on Radio Orkney called “The Crime of Speaking Proper”, where he describes chantan as not an anxious response to power but a pretence: “to chant is to try to put one over on our friends and neighbours by pretending to a more refined use of language than they possess”. He’s equally harsh on incomers speaking (or trying to speak) Orcadian, attacking a travelling salesman for affecting the language in order to sell things. His conclusion – in a piece for speaking that’s written in formal English – is that “We must speak as naturally as we can in any given situation”.

Is there such a thing as an authentic voice, though? I’ve never had one myself; I couldn’t. I’ve often been confused by the way poets talk about “finding your voice” when writing poetry, because I’ve never had one to find: my poetry switches modes, switches registers, switches languages, switches forms. I’m sceptical of Marwick’s ideal of authenticity, seeing it as quite a disciplinary way to mark out and enforce belonging (and not belonging). It also risks fetishising languages like Orcadian as forever penned in a lost rural past: I’m as sceptical of Robert Rendall’s edict that dialect poetry can only be good if it is “sincerely wrought and faithfully reflects local life”. For me, the strength of a language is in its range and adaptability: if a language is alive, it can be playful, inventive, weird, disturbing, alienating, insincere. And, for me, what really marks out a language is that it can be learned.

Most of the people I’ve spoken to, both writers and language activists, said that “everybody switches”. Orkney has always been a stopping point for travellers: before the cruise ships, it was British imperial explorers; before them, it was marauding and colonising Vikings; before them, it’s hard to say, but the vast size of our central neolithic temple complex makes me imagine that folk came here from a long way away even then. And that means our speech has always been influenced by other speech, and many of us will have always had different folk we spoke to with different tongues.

Morag MacInnes’s poem sequence “Alias Isobel”, is written in the richest and most complex Orkney language I’ve seen in contemporary poetry, but it’s also refreshingly loose in its codes. Spellings (and thus potentially pronunciations) of the same word might differ from poem to poem, or even within poems, but the work as a whole has a natural vernacular flow. Isobel Gunn herself, a migrant, someone who left Orkney in men’s clothes and registered as a male labourer, would likely have slipped and switched in this way: the music of the poetry has the ring of truth. (More, I think, than my own writing here, which has prioritised spelling over naturalness while I learn what I’m trying to do.)

All that said, I’ve also met folk who don’t code-switch, and some I’ve spoken to disagree on whether everyone does it. There are broad Orcadians who hold strongly to the language they speak in – which, in the face of schooling and put-downs and ordinary influence, takes a great deal of strength. But are they any more authentic in their lives or their tongues than the rest of us, and whose speech should we listen to when we write?

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There’s at least five ways of writing Orkney language I can think of:

The first is to take Christina Costie’s approach, which renders the broadest of Orcadian vernacular speech with a fairly consistent phonetic spelling: the narrators of her stories are speaking, not writing, and they’re speaking a strong and abiding Orkney language. This is vital to language preservation, but it’s very difficult to do, and takes a highly talented and treasured ear for language.

The second is to take Fiona and Morag MacInnes’s approach (though they achieve the effect differently), which is to render contemporary vernacular speech phonetically, worrying less about spelling and more about accurately recording how the speaker speaks now, switches and all. This is perhaps the most accessible approach, and is particularly useful for longform narration, allowing many different entry points for different levels of interest. It also most accurately renders how most contemporary Orcadians actually speak.

The third, which I’ve found in novels written by both Orcadians and visitors, is to write dialogue on the whole in English, only using Orkney words and spellings for specific marker words that show the speaker is Orcadian. This, for me, is the most unsatisfying: it fetishises the language without really contributing to its thriving. It can, though, introduce words and the idea of writing Orkney language to beginners.

The fourth would be a modernist, MacDiarmidite approach, creating a consistent orthography and using a density of Orcadian words and idioms, regardless of whether it reflects the vernacular. This is an unpopular approach in poetry these days, but I have a fondness for the strange power of its musical and experimental effects.

The fifth is what I’m doing now, also found in Simon Hall’s blog Brisk Northerly (though with a different orthography), creating a “formal Orcadian” to match formal written English: Orkney spellings, Orkney words (but not too densely packed), but in written (rather than spoken) sentence forms. This is, like the second approach, useful for language preservation and thriving, and it’s more appropriate to disursive prose. It does, though, risk losing Orcadian sentence forms to their English or Scots equivalent.

There are probably other ways. And there is certainly a sixth, which is to move fluidly between these modes depending on what’s needed. For me, there is no authentic right answer on how to write: it depends on what you want to do, what you want to achieve. We can be conscious of how we speak, and move fluidly without worrying about it too much – and maybe instead of finding belonging in an inaccessible authenticity, we can find it in shared plurality, the shared slipping of many-musical tongues.

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Readan List

orkney, Poetry

2015-04-22 18.54.15

In the first twa week in Orkney A’m spent maist o me oors bletheran wi local writers an scooran the shelfs o the Orkney Library & Archive – a piece at yet feels lik a haem fae haem, een a decade eftir flittan sooth. (Hid’s uncan whan yir teenage hingoot is Big On Twitter.) A’m tryan tae pit thegither a readan list o aathing A cin find at’s wrote in Orkney language / dialect

Orkney haes a grand writan and publeeshan culture. The Orcadian Bookshop‘s shelves are haevan wi Orkney beuks – local history, memoirs, novels, poetry, bairns’ beuks, photography, archaeology an a haep mair – an the Orkney Room at the Archive is fill o inspiration. Thare’s plenty o fock writan fae here an aboot here. Bit hid’s remerkable tae me at so little o hid, past an present, is wrote in the local language, especially whan the clossest comparator, Shetland, haes that rich a Shetlandic literatur, led bi Shetland ForWirds an the New Shetlander. Hou that is will hae tae bide fer anither time, bit A’d walcome yir thowts.

Christina Costie an Robert Rendall are weel-kent fir thir early mid-20th century Orkney dialect poetry, an cheust recently we’ve haed twatree publeecations o contemporary poetry at cid herald a new floueran. In the years in atween, maist o the use o Orkney dialect haes been in the dialogue in local stories an reminiscences, maist affens publeeshed in the 1980s, but blydely publeeshed yet. Thare’s a peedie bit consistent an culturally-important tradeetion o comic verse forbye, wi o coorse an overlap wi the formal poetry.

This is a stairtan readan list, an A’m likely left oot a haep o whit thare is. Hid’s aathing A’m foond so far at’s wrote in or aboot Orkney language or haes a peedie bit o dialect material. If yi ken o things A’m missed, A’d love tae hear aboot hid.

(Bi the wey, A’m yet feeguran oot hou A want tae spell an use dialect, bit A’m got tae haad tae experimentan tae dae hid, sae thank yi fer yir beirance an feel free tae point oot the mistaks.)

Poetry

Andersson Burnett, Linda (ed): Archipelagos: Poems from Writing the North (2014): Original contemporary poetry respondan tae the literatur o Orkney an Shetland. Includes some o the peedie bit thare is o publeeshed contemporary dialect poetry.

Corrigal, G: Bard of Ballarat (1997, written early 20th C): humorous verse, mixan Orcadian and English gey fluidly. Tape recordan avaelable.

Costie, CM: Wullie O’ Skippigoe: collects dialect poems previously publeeshed in Collected Poems (1974) an But-End Ballans (1949) wi new material. Gey rich an complex use o dialect.

Horne, D: Songs of Orkney (early 20th C). Maistly English, some Orcadian but as a mixter-maxter wi cheneral Scots.

Lamb, G: Come Thee Wiz / Nivver Spaek! (late 20th C). Humorous dialect verse. Tape recordan avaelable.

MacInnes, M: Alias Isobel (2008): Contemporary dialect poetry – the only example o a fill pamphlet A ken o.

Orkney Heritage Society: Orkney Dialect Poetry Competition (2010): Contemporary dialect poetry o ivry kin.

Parkins, HS: Seven year o Yule days (2002) / The long, long night (2005): Humorous dialect verse.

Rendall, Robert: Collected Poems (1940-1966). Orcadian an English, maistly formal verse. His arteecle ‘The Literary Uses of Dialect’ (avaelable in An Island Shore) is an interestan entry intae the language debates o the Scots Renaissance.

Novels

A’m no fully dellit intae Orkney novels tae leuk at the uses o dialect, bit A’m foond at hid’s affen no used e’en whan Orkney folk are takkin in hitoreecal novels, or cheust a wird or twa is used. A’m only foond wan geud exemple yet. As far’s A ken hid’s cheust been used in the dialogue an naebdy’s attemptit an Orcadian narration – yet. So suchestions wid be parteecularly walcome here.

MacInnes, F: Iss (2014). Novel o class an identity. Muckle o the dialogue is dialect, rendered phonetically in a free-flowan non-standardised wey, an gey interestan fer hids attenteeveness tae dialect differs atween pareeshes an classes.

Short Stories

A doot A’m missan a fair few exemples o the genre o reminiscences an stories o local life, maist usan dialect in the dialogue, an maistly publeeshed in the local paper(s) afore anthologisation.

Baldwin, N: Fae Abune th’ Hill (1987). Record o local life fae a serviceman’s perspective, includan muckle dialect dialogue. Wrote pairtly wi an interest in recordan an preservan dialect, but wi ootside lugs.

Campbell, H: Island Notes in War Time (1919) /nJean’s Garden and How It Grew (1927): Muckle dialect dialogue.

Cooper, J: A Pot of Island Broth (1988) / Anither Pot o’ Broth (1989): Stories, reminiscences an poems, wi some dialect dialogue.

Costie, CM: Collected Orkney Dialect Tales (1976): Dialect no cheust in the dialogue bit in the narration, an the richest an maist complex use o dialect A ken o.

Johnson, RT: Stenwick Days (1984) / Orcadian Nights. Humorous stories o local life includan dialect dialogue. Audiobook wi dialect spaekers avaelable.

Nicol, T: Tales from Eynhallow (1992). Stories an reminiscences wi some dialect dialogue.

Sinclair, D: Willick O’ Pirliebraes (1981) / Willick and the Black, Black Oil (1994). Humorous stories o local life wi muckle dialect dialogue.

Stevenson Headley, M: The Voldro’s Nest (1986) / Mixter-Maxter (2006) / Footprints in the Dew (2011). Stories, reminiscences an poems, wi some dialect dialogue.

Anthologies

Firth, H: In from the Cuithes (1995). Some dialect in the dialogue in narratives an stories.

Marwick, E: An Anthology of Orkney Verse (1949). Maitly English, but wi some dialect poetry o the time an some fock poetry rendered in dialect.

Marwick, E: An Orkney Anthology Vol II (2012). pp289-352 collect wird-lists an essays on dialect.

Traill Dennison, W: The Orcadian Sketchbook (1880). Stories, poems an miscellany: a fouondational text o dialect literatur.

Resources an Analysis

Flaws, M an Lamb, G: The Orkney Dictionary (2005): Word-lists fae the Orkney Wordbook, bit includes English-tae-Orcadian section, an suchestions on grammar, spellan an pronunciation – the beginnans o a standardised Orcadian orthography.

Hall, S: The History of Orkney Literature (2010): Sterkly estableeshes an analyses a canon o Orkney literatur reutit in historical an literary contexts.

Lamb, G: The Orkney Wordbook (2012): Extensive word-lists wi etymolochies an usaches.

Lamb, G: Orkney Family Names (2003) / Testimony of the Orkneyingar: the placenames of Orkney (1993): Extensive etymolochies fer the proper noun aspects o the language.

Ljosland, Ragnhild: Chrissie’s Bodle (2011). Biography an analysis o Christina Costie, includan commentary on uses o dialect.

Rendall, T: Voices Aroond the Flow (2013): Analysis o cheenging dialect in the 20th Century in the areas aroond Scapa Flow.

A’m maistly left oot academic an linguistic analysis, fer thare’s that muckle o hid an thare’ll be better bibliographies than A cin pit thegeiher. Hid is vital tae understandan dialect writan, tho. Northern Lights, Northern Words: Vol. 2 of The Languages of Scotland and Ulster is a geud broad survey o the field.

From the Archive

A’m cheust staritit tae dell intae whit’s avaelable here. The papers o J.S. Clouston, S. Cursiter, E.W. Marwick an J. Mooney aa hae dialect stories an poems, some unpubleeshed.

The wallie soond archive is the best resource fer cheust listenan tae spokken dialect. Radio Orkney’s ootput is affens digitised an totally brilliant. Stairt here:

Gaan Haem

orkney, Poetry

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(This version’s written in an Orkney variant of Scots. Skip to the English version if you’d like.)

This mornin A teuk a waak tae the Post Office, n than back haem bi the strand, Newark. Hid’s a waak A ken gey weel; A’m waakit hid fer 15 year, tho wi lang spells in atween. Hid’s cheenged a peedie bit sin A stairtit waakin hid: thare are twa-three mair hooses, n a fair bit mair windmills, n a wheen mair cliff faas. Hid cheenges a bit mair huily as a ceety daes, but hid cheenges, for aa the fields n the roads n the kye n the birds leuk the saem. N the sea.

As A waakit, A foond A cadna cheust mind on wha bided in whit hoose. N than A saw that, tho A thought A kent aapiece o this 30 square kilometres o aamaist-an-islan, thare wis a road on ma left A’m nivver waakit doon.

A’m haem in Orkney, whare A growed up. A flit sooth ten year ago, tho A veesit affens. A’m haem fer a fower month resairch project intae Orkney language n poetry, fundit bi a peedie grant fae Creative Scotland. Acause A luve ma haem, n thare’s mair o hid A want tae ken. Maist o aa, A want tae ken hids wirds.

A’m wrote afore aboot whit fer A write in Scots: hid stairtit as a wey to reenge n claem Scottishness, n haes growed intae an inlin tae yaise margeenal leed tae speak tae minority experience. But Scots is a hyowj aarie o hinkan n scrievan n darg, n A’m anely cheust beginnan tae unnerstaand that aamaist-an-islan o language. This project is early resairch n early hinkan. A’ll be exploran thoughts n quaistens here in this blog, writin aboot chats n meetans, maakan recordans aveelable. The wirk is interviews, lang waaks, spieran at neebours, readan, hinkan n wirkshops. A dinna ken whit A’ll find or whar A’ll gang, but A’m gled tae be on ma wey.

Here’s a curn o the quaistens A’m stairtan wi:

1) Whit’s gaan on wi Orkney language the nou?

Thanks tae active teachers, A learned a fair bit o Orkney language literatur whan A wis at schail. Part o ma stairt as a writer wis reaain Walter Traill Dennison, Christina Costie n Robert Rendall: writers, poets n focklorists wha wrowt in Orkney language, recordan, pleean wi n advocatan fer vernacular leed. Dialect is spoken on Radio Orkney, n A mind on luvin Whassigo, hid’s Call My Bluff sort o gemm, n the local papers hae affens printit bits o dialect story n poetry. Thair wirk is at the foondation o whit A’m hinkan aboot, n his bin vital tae the wider Scots project.

Thare’s tae an increasan wealth o contemporar resairch intae n advocacy fer Orkney literatur n dialect. Simon Hall’s History of Orkney Literature brought tae wider unnerstandan the trends n tradeetions o writan here; Tom Rendall’s Voices Aroond the Flow has recordit n scancit the vareety o dialect forms n cheenges ower time; the Year o Orkney Dialect, Writing the North n relatit projects are supportin Orkney language literatur n resairch faarder. Sae wha’s writan in Orkney language the nou? Whit kin o writin is gaan on? N whar’s hid bein publeeshed? Wha reads hid, n wha daes hid maiter tae? Hou’s the language cheenged, n hou will hid cheenge, n hou daes that maiter? Hou dae fock here feel aboot the language thay speak?

2) Whit wey can we write minority forms o Scots?

The standardeesation o Scots throu the wirk o Scots Language Dictionaries n the Scots Spellin Comatee haes been vital wirk fer the preservation o n advocacy fer Scots leed. Haen common weys o writan hings maks hid aisier tae read wirk, aisier tae share wirk, n aisier tae yaise translation teuls. But, inevitably, houivver muckle the mynd tae accoont fer spoken variety inower standardeesation – n Scots standardeesation haes wrowt tae dae that in a wey English’s mixter-maxter standardeesation n unpossible spellan canna – waachles tae standardise inevitably erase minority forms o language. yaisan standardised Scots tae record Orkney dialect chances marginalisation n erasan Orkney’s language forms. Sae whit wey can we write in Orkney language, n whit wey can that apply tae ither minority forms of Scots?

Hou A write this blogposts will cheenge ower time. A ken A’m no gettan hid right yet. Fer the nou, A’m yaesan standardised Scots wi a wheen o variations as merkers o Orkney-ness, like “aa” fer the Scots “aw” or “au”; “ae” fer the Scots lang “a”; “hid” fer “it”; “an” fer the Scots “in” at wird endans. This is no, A hink, sufficient. Gregor Lamb’s Orkney Wordbook n, wi Margaret Flaws, the Orkney Dictionary, include furder suggestions fer modifyan spellan tae Orkney forms, but thair yaise is inconsistent – n the yaise o spellan bi past n present dialect writers shifts. N than, spellan’s no the haaf o hid, fer gettan hid rite is atweel aboot idiom n grammar maist o aa. Mair yet, whit wirds ye cheuse maiter, fer thare’s Scots wirds no spoken in Orkney, that ring oot wrang in Orkney writan – but than again, the mair the language cheenges, the less wrang they wirds soond. Sae whit’s the right choice?

Tae hink on it anither wey, tae standardise Orkney dialect wad be tae write oot internal vareety, n o that thare’s plenty. To Orkney lugs, thare’s gey o a differ atween Westray n South Ronaldsay, wi whole voul shifts n bytimes thare ain wirds. N whanivver A hink about standardisation, Tom Leonard yollers in ma lugs, pyntan oot that standardisation is a political teul mair’n an artistic wan, pairt o claims tae nationhood n parteecular ideas o history, n that hid daesna necessarly hae that muckle tae dae wi hou, as hid must be, “all livin language is sacred”. He puts the kinchy problems gey weel here:

Yi write doon a wurd, nyi sayti yirsell, that’s no thi way a say it. Nif yi tryti write it doon thi way yi say it, yi end up wit hi page covered in letters stuck thigither, nwee dots above hof thi letters, in fact yi end up wi wanna they thingz yi needti huv took a course in phonetics ti be able ti read. But that’s no thi way a think, as if ad took a course in phonetics. A doan’t mean that emdy that’s done phonetics canny think right—it’s no a questiona right or wrong. But ifyi write down “doon” wan minute, nwrite doon “down” thi nixt, people say yir beein inconsistent. But ifyi sayti sumdy, “Whaira yi afti?” nthey say, “Whut?” nyou say “Where are you off to?” they don’t say, “That’s no whutyi said thi furst time.” They’ll probably say sumhm like, “Doon thi road!” anif you say, “What?” they usually say “Down the road!” the second time—though no always. Course, they never really say, “Doon thi road” or “Down the road!” at all. Least, they never say it the way it’s spelt. Coz it izny spelt, when they say it, is it?

Tae snirkle hings furder, A want tae speir at no cheust hou we can write Orkney language but hou A can write hid. A growed up wi English parents, but learned tae spaek on Westray, but learned tae be an adult in the Central Belt. Bytimes A cry hid “home” n bytimes “hame” n bytimes “haem”. Hou A’m writan nou isna hou A ayewis (or ivver) spaek, whither ye’re radin this in Orkney or English. Thare are wirds n speech forms A’ve lost n want tae relearn, but shoud A? Dae A want tae write hou A speak (n is that e’en posseeble?), or dae A want tae write somethan ither? Whit daes hid beir fer me tae mak this deceesions, wi ma ain personal history? But than, mebbe the quaisten “Whit sall A write?” is aesier than “Whit should we write?” – acause the latter asks me tae mak claims fer the warld, but the former cheust asks me tae mak deceesions aboot whit A want to spaek aboot n hou best tae spaek it, n that’s cheust whit the business o poetry is.

A feenal note n set of quaistens on this: A’m yaised “language” n “dialect” intercheengeably here. This wirds are no intercheengeable. A language is, o coorse, a dialect wi an army n a navy: language is inherently fankelt wi the state. Whan A cry hid “language” A’m makkan a poleetical claim, n mebbe that’s no wan A want tae mak. The fock wirkan on this in Orkney hae maistly cried hid “dialect”. Shoud A yaise that? Hid’s haird, whan as a writer in Scots A’m accustomed tae threap the languageness o ma language. Whit daes hid beir tae gie wans language that minority status? Is that a status A might want? In ma hairt, whan A stairt tae hink aboot this quaistens, A stairt tae imaigine a warld whar thare are nae languages, anely dialects. A wis nivver that fond o armies n navies masel, thou hail navies yaised tae bide here, in Orkney, n wan is sunk at the bottom o the Flow.

3) Whit poems can A airt oot here?

This are big quaistens, but the harder hing still is tae airt oot poems here. A’m wrote a curn o poems o Orkney here n thare n ayewis felt A’m missan somehing. Thare are stane circles n tombs here; thare is history unnerfit; hid’s the first piece a danderan poets’ mynd gaes, that sense o history n place. That n the birds. George Mackay Brown‘s compendious body o wirk records somehing vital in 20th century Orkney n bigs a gey personal mythology n theology, but hid’s no fairly the Orkney A ken, n hid’s no wrote in Orkney’s wirds n aa. The romantic n dramatic Orkney o Edwin Muir‘s poems likewise. But than, nor is the Orkney foond in Robert Rendall n Christina Costie ma Orkney, tho hids past is present. Whit is ma Orkney? N whit dae A hae tae spaek aboot hid?

A’m no shuir. Thare are wind turbines nou, n marine energy resairch bringan skeely employment. The fishan that stowed oot peedie herbours whan A growed up is aa but gaen, n the tourist n craft economy haes boomed. Cars yaised tae be winched aff o boats bi crane; nou thay roll on, roll of, n the isles n thair vyces hae mixt. Thare’s a nightclub that patronisan traivel journalists write aboot. Orkney music pleys throu, stranger than ivver. The sea level rises, cliffs collapse n sae dae bird colonies. A growed up on wan islan n wis a teenager on anither aamaist-an-islan; A’ll be spendan time on baith, n sae whit weys will memory daud intae reality? Whit dae A hink A ken that will be cheenged? Whit poems are here fer me?


GOING HOME

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(This wan’s wrote in standard formal English. Hap tae the Orkney version if ye want.)

This morning I took a walk to the Post Office, and then back home by the beach, Newark. It’s a walk I know very well; I’ve been walking it for 15 years so far, though often with long breaks in between. It’s changed a little since I started walking it: there are a few more bungalows, and a lot more windmills, and a few more cliff falls. It changes a bit more slowly than a city does, but it changes, for all that the fields and the roads and the cows and the birds look mostly the same. And the sea.

As I walked, I realised that I couldn’t quite remember who lived in which house. And then I realised that, though I thought I knew most every part of these 30 square kilometres of almost-an-island, there was a road on my left I’d never walked down.

I’m home in Orkney, where I grew up. I left ten years ago, though I visit regularly. I’m here for a four month research project into Orkney language and poetry, funded by a small grant from Creative Scotland. Because I love my home, and there’s more of it I want to know. Most of all, I want to know its words.

I’ve written before about why I often write in Scots: it began as a way to explore and claim Scottishness, and has grown into a desire to use marginal speech to speak to minority experience. But Scots is a huge area of thinking and writing and working, and I’m barely beginning to understand that almost-an-island of language. This project is early research and early thinking. I’ll be exploring thoughts and questions here in this blog, writing about interviews and meetings, making recordings available. The work is interviews, casual chats, long walks, talking to neighbours, reading, thinking and workshops. I don’t quite know what I’ll find or where I’ll go, but I’m glad to be headed there.

Here are some of the questions I’m starting with:

1) What’s happening with Orkney language now?

Thanks to active teachers, I learned quite a bit of Orkney language literature when I was at school. Part of my learning as a writer was reading Walter Traill Dennison, Christina Costie and Robert Rendall: writers, poets and folklorists who worked in part in Orkney language, recording, playing with and advocating for vernacular speech. Dialect is spoken on Radio Orkney, and I remember loving Whassigo, the Call My Bluff-style game played there, and the local papers have often printed bits of dialect story and poetry. Their work is at the foundation of what I’m thinking about, and has been vital to the wider Scots project.

There’s also an increasing wealth of contemporary research into and advocacy for Orkney literature and dialect. Simon Hall’s History of Orkney Literature brought to wider understanding the trends and traditions of writing here; Tom Rendall’s Voices Aroond the Flow has recorded and analysed the variety of dialect forms and changes over time; the Year o Orkney Dialect, Writing the North and related projects are supporting Orkney language literature and research further.

So who’s writing in Orkney language now? What kind of writing is happening? And where’s it being published? Who reads it, and who does it matter to? How has the language changed, and how will it change, and how does that matter? How do folk here feel about the language they speak?

2) How can we write minority forms of Scots?

The standardisation of Scots through the work of Scots Language Dictionaries and the Scots Spellin Comatee has been vital work for the preservation of and advocacy for Scots language. Having common ways of writing things makes it easier to read work, easier to share work, and easier to use translation tools. But, inevitably, however much the effort to include for spoken varietry within standardisation – and Scots standardisation has worked to do that in a way English’s hodgepodge standardisation and impossible spelling can’t – efforts to standardise inevitably erase minority forms of language. Using standardised Scots to record Orkney dialect risks marginalisation and erasing Orkney’s language forms. So how can we write in Orkney language, and how can that apply to other minority forms of Scots?

How I write these blogposts will change over time. At the moment, I’m using standardised Scots with a few variations as markers of Orkney-ness, like “aa” for the Scots “aw” or “au”; “ae” for the Scots long “a”; “hid” for “it”; “an” fer the Scots “in” at wird endans. This is not, I think, sufficient. Gregor Lamb’s Orkney Wordbook and, with Margaret Flaws, Orkney Dictionary includes further suggestions for modifying spelling to Orkney forms, but their use is still inconsistent – and the use of spelling by past and present dialect writers varies too. And then, it goes beyond spellingbecause getting it right is truly about idiom and grammar most of all. More still, what words you choose matters, because there’s Scots words not used in Orkney, that ring out wrong in Orkney writing – but then again, the more the language changes, the less wrong those words sound. So what’s the right choice?

But then, to standardise Orkney dialect would also be to write out internal variety, of which there is plenty. To Orkney ears, Westray and South Ronaldsay are markedly different, with whole vowel shifts and sometimes different words. And whenever I think about standardisation, Tom Leonard shouts in my ear, pointing out that standardisation is as much a political tool as an artistic one, part of claims to nationhood and certain ideas of history, and that it doesn’t necessarily have much to do with how “all livin language is sacred”. He puts the problems best here:

Yi write doon a wurd, nyi sayti yirsell, that’s no thi way a say it. Nif yi tryti write it doon thi way yi say it, yi end up wit hi page covered in letters stuck thigither, nwee dots above hof thi letters, in fact yi end up wi wanna they thingz yi needti huv took a course in phonetics ti be able ti read. But that’s no thi way a think, as if ad took a course in phonetics. A doan’t mean that emdy that’s done phonetics canny think right—it’s no a questiona right or wrong. But ifyi write down “doon” wan minute, nwrite doon “down” thi nixt, people say yir beein inconsistent. But ifyi sayti sumdy, “Whaira yi afti?” nthey say, “Whut?” nyou say “Where are you off to?” they don’t say, “That’s no whutyi said thi furst time.” They’ll probably say sumhm like, “Doon thi road!” anif you say, “What?” they usually say “Down the road!” the second time—though no always. Course, they never really say, “Doon thi road” or “Down the road!” at all. Least, they never say it the way it’s spelt. Coz it izny spelt, when they say it, is it?

To complicate things further, I want to ask not just how we can write Orkney language but how I can write it. I grew up with English parents, but learned to speak on Westray, but learned to be an adult in the Central Belt. Sometimes I say “home” and sometimes I say “hame” and sometimes I say “haem”. How I’m writing now isn’t how I always (or ever) speak, whether you’re reading this in Orkney or English. There are words and speech forms I’ve lost and want to relearn, but should I? Do I want to write how I speak (can I?), or do I want to write something else? What does it mean for me to make these decisions, with my own personal history? But then, maybe the question “What shall I write?” is easier than “What should we right?” – because the latter asks me to make claims for the world, but the former just asks me to make decisions about what I want to say and how best to say it, and that’s what the business of poetry is.

A last note and set of questions: I’ve used “language” and “dialect” interchangeable throughout. These words are not interchangeable. A language is, of course, a dialect with an army and a navy: language is inherently bound up in the state. When I say “language” I’m making a political claim, and maybe that’s not one I want to make. The folk working on this in Orkney have mostly used “dialect”. Should I use that? It’s hard, when as a writer in Scots I’ve become accustomed to assert the languageness of my language. What does it mean to give ones language that minority status? Is that actually a status I might want? In my heart, when I start to think about these questions, I start to imagine a world where there are no languages, only dialects. I was never that fond of armies and navies myself, though whole navies used to live here, in Orkney, and one is sunk at the bottom of the Flow.

3) What poems will I find here?

These are big questionns, but the harder thing still is to find poems here. I’ve written a few poems of Orkney here and there and always felt like I’m missing something. There are stone circles and tombs here; there is history underfoot; it’s the first place the wandering poets’ mind goes, that sense of history and place. That and the birds. George Mackay Brown‘s compendious body of work records something vital in 20th century Orkney and builds up a very personal mythology and theology, but it’s not quite the Orkney I know, and it’s not written in Orkney’s words either. The romantic and dramatic Orkney of Edwin Muir‘s poems likewise. But then, nor is the Orkney found in Robert Rendall and Christina Costie my Orkney, though its past is present. What is my Orkney? And what do I have to say about it?

I’m not sure. There are wind turbines now, and marine energy research bringing skilled employment. The fishing that filled small harbours when I grew up is all but gone, but the tourist and craft economy has boomed. Cars used to be winched off the boats by crane; now they roll on, roll of, and the islands and their voices have mixed. There’s a nightclub that patronising travel journalists write about. Orkney music plays through, stronger than ever. The sea level rises, cliffs collapse, and so do bird colonies. I grew up on one island and was a teenager on a thinly connected peninsula; I’ll be spending time on both, and so what memories will prove false? What do I think I know that will be changed? What poems are here for me?

Photo by Colin Moss, licensed under Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0.