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RIP, Cromarty Fisherfolk Dialect

Most people have never heard of the Cromarty Fisherfolk dialect. And now, it’s gone forever. Bobby Hogg, the last living speaker of the dialect, passed away last week. This unique dialect dies with him.

Cromarty is a small fishing community in Scotland with around 700 inhabitants, so the language was always vulnerable. As linguist Dr. Robert McColl Millar of Aberdeen University explained to the Daily Mail,

‘This was always going to be the danger of the Black Isle, as there were so few speakers even when it was healthy, when the fishing was still good. So Bobby Hogg’s passing is a very sad day. It was a very interesting dialect and was unlike any of the others.”

In the Daily Mail, Mr. Hogg himself described his memories of the community he grew up in and the language he grew up speaking:

“Our father was a fisherman and all his folk had been fishermen stretching way back. It was the same on our mother’s side too. When we were young, we talked differently in the fishertown to the rest of Cromarty. It wasn’t written down. It was an oral culture. We had this sort of patois, which I think had both Doric and Gaelic in it. There were words, a lot to do with the fishing, which nobody else could understand.”

According to a publication on the dialect from Ambaile.org, at one time in Cromarty’s history, there were three different dialects: one for the farmers, one for the townspeople, and one for the fisherfolk.

To give you a feel for what’s been lost, here are some of the more interesting and evocative (in my opinion, at least) vocabulary words from the Cromarty Fisherfolk dialect:

  • ablach: odd-looking, awkward
  • belwar: layers of tangles
  • bronyach: poor creature
  • cosfeet, cosfit, cossetor cossits: starfish
  • carcle: to count, calculate
  • crockums or crockuns: refuse of fish livers after oil is extracted
  • droog-droogle: be engaged in wet, heavy work
  • foodge or fooge: to play truant
  • greenga or greengaw: slimy grass left after the tide has receded
  • lyeerin: green slime
  • tumblers: dolphins & harbour porpoises

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Burns Night Celebrates Scots Language

Happy birthday, Robert Burns! The “”national poet of Scotland” was born 254 years ago today, on 25 January 1759. During his lifetime, Burns earned widespread and lasting acclaim for his poetry, much of which was written in the Scots language or in the Scottish dialect of English. His best-known works include “To a Mouse,” “A Red,Red, Rose” and “Tam O’Shanter.” He also collected and preserved existing traditional Scottish songs and poems, including the New Year’s classic “Auld Lang Syne.”

In Scotland, his birthday is celebrated as “Burns Night.” Traditional festivities center around a “Burns Supper.” These gatherings follow a traditional format and menu. First, the host welcomes his guests. Then, the “Selkirk Grace” is recited to give thanks for the meal. The menu includes traditional Scottish foods like Scotch broth, mashed potatoes and turnips, and of course, haggis.

Haggis, in fact, is the centerpiece of the meal, and is brought to the table with great fanfare and to the accompaniment of bagpipes. Burn’s poem “Address to a Haggis” is recited, and everything is washed down with plentiful amounts of Scotch whisky.

This year, there’s an additional bonus for Burns enthusiasts. A previously unpublished letter from Burns to actress Elizabeth Kemble on the subject of slavery (Burns was an abolitionist) will be published for the first time today. In the letter, Burns asks Kemble to take care of an unpublished abolitionist manuscript for him, requesting her to “lay the book under lock & key, when you go out.”

Project director Helena Anderson Wright told the Daily Record:

“It is quite remarkable that, over 200 years after Burns’ death, a find like this is still possible. Now that we have had it authenticated, we are delighted to share this letter with the world. There is still a mystery surrounding its complete interpretation which will no doubt be hotly debated by academics for years to come.”

Fighting for the Scots Language in School

Just in time for Robert Burn’s birthday, a group of more than 80 academics and language activists released an open letter to Michael Russell, the Scottish Education Secretary, calling for increased, compulsory study of the Scots language and Scots literature in Scottish schools.

The letter, excerpted here in The Herald, requests that the study of Scots be made mandatory in school and that Scots literature be included in exams. It also requests that a Scots language department be created within the Scottish Education Quality and Improvement Agency.

The letter also sternly upbraids the Scottish Government for not doing more to promote the language, saying

“Successive Scottish ministers and education policy makers have said Scotland’s language and literature are important to learning and teaching in this country. But each administration has failed to invest adequately in training and resources to ensure this engagement actually takes place. The result is that Scotland has a teaching profession often ill-equipped to teach Scotland’s young people about their own country’s language and literature.”

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