Lerwick

Topic:
Margaret talks about Up Helly Aa - Europe's largest fire festival that takes place annually in Lerwick in which a replica Viking longship is ceremonially burned.
Speaker:
Margaret Sinclair (female)
Date:
1998
Duration:
3'30"
Shelfmark:
C900/21125 © BBC


Transcript for Lerwick

Margaret: We never did anything like Hogmanay. Uhm, it just, well, we just, it was the New Year and that was it. We mebbies stayed up; we generally stayed up till midnight — I’m speaking about when I was quite young — we’d stay up till midnight and it was the novelty of staying up and hinging up the new calendar; taking down the old calendar, hinging up the new calendar and then we just gaed to bed; that was it. But it was New Year’s Day, after New Year’s dinner, then we would see what we were going to go guizing with. And we’d get all our guizing claes and our fause faces, our masks and, uhm, we’d all get ready; we’d all gather at the one house and then everybody gaed around all the, the houses. And when I was peerie, before I was, uh, allowed to go out, then we stood in the windows, because folk had torches, they’d blinkies and you could see them going fae one house fae one house waiting with great excitement for, for the guizers tae arrive. And, uhm, they usually had accordions and guitars and dancing; they’d clear the table and chairs, cause there were nae carpets at that time and mebbe have an eight-some, eight-some reel. So

Interviewer: [inaudible] We’ve done the whole of Shetland and not asked anybody about Up Hell, Up Helly Aa [laughter]. Can you tell us what it, I mean, just what it is for people that are

Margaret: Yeah, well I could tell you some folk that you could go and ask; they would be able to tell you about Up Helly Aa better than me. My, uhm, Up Helly Aa, I was always in the town for Up Helly Aa, so it was great excitement on Up Helly Aa morning to see the galley. That was what you wanted: you wanted to see the galley before you went to school. And, uhm, the galley shed was not just too far fae where we lived, so out our side window we could actually see the galley shed. So it was sitting in the window waiting to see the galley coming out of the shed without its head, because the head could only be putten on once it got on outside. Uhm, it was just an exciting day. Uhm, the junior galley was taen to the school playground and, uhm, it was just, uh, an exciting day; you could just feel something in the air that it was Up Helly Aa day. But even yet you feel it, but you have to be, I, I would say you have to have been born and brought up in Lerwick to actually feel Up Helly Aa. Anybody fae the country coming in and seeing it, it, it’s no the same as actually having been born and brought up with it fae your very first memories of seeing the galley and feeling the excitement. It lives with you; country folk donae have it.

Interviewer: And is it the same now?

Margaret: It’s the same, it’s the same now: it is a great excitement with the bairns. Whereas at, when we were at school the galley was just in the playground and we gaed out to see it; the bairns now are actually taen to see the big galley as it comes in ower; they, they’re all taen in ower to, to see it. And it is great excitement: the jarl squad goes around the schools and the, the bairns dress up and they make their Viking helm, paper Viking helmets and there is great excitement with the bairns Up Helly Aa. But you have to be born and brought up in, in Lerwick to, to really have the feeling.

Scots Transcript for Lerwick

Margaret: We never did anything like Hogmanay. Ehm, it juist, well, we juist, it wis the New Year an that wis it. We mebbies steyed up; we generally steyed up till midnicht — Ah’m speakin aboot when Ah wis quite young — we’d stey up till midnicht an it wis the novelte o steyin up an hingin up the new calendar; takkin doun the auld calendar, hingin up the new calendar an then we juist gaed tae bed; that wis it. But it wis New Year’s Day, efter New Year’s denner, then we wud see whit we war gaun tae go guizin wi. An we’d get al wir guizin claes an wir fause faces, wir masks an, ehm, we’d al get ready; we’d aw gaither at the wan hoose an then everybody gaed aroond aw the, the hooses. An when Ah wis peerie, before Ah wis, eh, alloud to go out, then we stuid in the windows, becaus folk haid torches, they’d blinkies an you cud see thaim gaun fae wan hoose fae wan hoose waitin wi great excitement for, for the guizers tae arrive. An, ehm, they usually haid accordions an guitars an dancin; they’d clear the table an cheers, cause there war nae carpets at that time an mebbe heve an aicht-some, aicht-some reel. So

Interviewer: [inaudible] We’ve done the whole of Shetland and not asked anybody about Up Hell, Up Helly Aa [laughter]. Can you tell us what it, I mean, just what it is for people that are

Margaret: Yeah, well Ah cud tell you some folk that you cud go an ask; they wud be able tae tell ye aboot Up Helly Aa better than me. My, ehm, Up Helly Aa, Ah wis always in the toun for Up Helly Aa, so it wis great excitement on Up Helly Aa mornin tae see the gailey. That wis whit ye wantit: ye wantit tae see the gailey before ye went tae scuil. An, ehm, the gailey shade wis not juist too faur fae whaur we lived, so oot wir side window we cud actually see the gailey shade. So it wis sittin in the window waitin tae see the gailey comin oot o the shade athoot its heid, because the heid cud only be putten on once it got on ootside. Ehm, it wis juist an excitin day an the junior gailey wis taen tae the scuil playgrund an, ehm, it wis juist, eh, an excitin day; you cud juist feil somethin in the air that it wis Up Helly Aa day. But even yet you feil it, but you heve tae be, Ah, Ah wud say you heve tae heve been born an brocht up in Lerwick tae actually feil Up Helly Aa. Ony-body fae the countrey comin in and seein it, it, it’s no the sam as actually hevin been born and brocht up wi it fae yer very first memories o seein the gailey and feilin the excitement. It lives wi you; countrey folk dinnae heve it.

Interviewer: And is it the same now?

Margaret: It’s the sam, it’s the sam noo: it is a great excitement wi the bairns. Whauras at, when we war at scuil the gailey wis juist in the playgrund an we gaed oot tae see it; the bairns noo are actually taen tae see the big gailey as it comes in ower; they, they’re al taen in ower tae, tae see it. An it is great excitement: the jarl skwad goes aroond the scuils an the, the bairns dress up and thay mak thair Viking helm, paper Viking helmets an there is great excitement wi the bairns Up Helly Aa. But you heve to be born an brocht up in, in Lerwick tae, tae really heve the feilin.

Commentary for Lerwick

There are several aspects of Margaret’s speech that immediately identify her as a speaker of Scots dialect. Listen, for instance, to the localised vocabulary she favours over more mainstream equivalents, such as hing for ‘hang’, gae for ’ go’, claes for ‘clothes’, peerie for ‘little’, folk for ‘people’, bairn for ‘child’ and jarl for ‘earl’. Until relatively recently several of these were present in broad dialect speech in the north of England too, but today most are restricted to parts of Scotland. It is particularly interesting to hear her use the words bairn and jarl. Both show how Shetland Islands’ English continues to reveal the influences of Norn — an Old Norwegian dialect spoken in the islands until some time in the late eighteenth century. The word jarl (modern English earl) was a Scandinavian title roughly meaning ‘chieftain’, while bairn surfaces in modern Danish, Sweden and Norwegian as barn.

Scots vowels

The vowel system of Scots is significantly different to that of most other accents of English, particularly in terms of the length of certain vowel sounds. Listen above all to the duration of the vowel sounds in words in the following two sets:

  1. speaking, reel, feel, feeling and really
  2. bed, shed, head

Listen also to the vowel sound Margaret uses in the words about, around, houses, allowed, out, town, without, outside and now. This actually reflects a much older pronunciation that was common both to Middle English and Middle High German and is an illustration of the Germanic origins of modern English. Likewise, listen to the vowel sound she uses in the word playground. There are several words in English that end in <ound>, whose modern German equivalents end orthographically in <und>: pound — ‘Pfund’; hound — ‘Hund’; round — ‘rund’ and so on. Although the vowel sound most speakers in the UK now use for these words has changed over the course of time, there are still speakers in the North East of England and more commonly in Scotland where the pronunciation reflects the original Germanic vowel. You can still hear speakers in this part of the country pronouncing found so that it is indistinguishable from ‘fund’ and mouse so that it is homophonous with ‘moose’. This demonstrates perfectly how conservative forms are often retained in traditional dialect long after the ‘prestige’ standard language has moved on.

Between two forms

The marked difference between Margaret’s speech and speakers of more mainstream English dialects also illustrates perfectly the linguist’s dilemma in categorising Scots as a dialect or a language. Look at both the Standard English and Scots transcriptions of Margaret’s text. It is difficult to say with absolute conviction which text is a more accurate representation of her speech. If we are to accept the version written in Standard English, then we permit the occasional dialect word that has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary — as we would with a speaker of any other English regional dialect, who for instance uses the word bairn or folk. If we sense she is speaking a different but closely related language, Scots, then we transcribe the vast majority of her words with a different orthography, accepting large numbers of English loan-words.

Unfortunately, closer inspection reveals flaws in both approaches as Margaret, like most speakers, actually drifts between both forms. The statement we never did anything like Hogmanay contains an English language pronunciation of the initial vowel sound in any, but later she uses the Scots version of the same prefix in the statement anybody fae the country coming in / onybody fae the countrey comin in. We could interpret this in several ways. Firstly we could accept it as simply a matter of local pronunciation. If this is the case we should use the same spelling on both occasions, regardless of whether we are writing in Scots or in English — we do not, for instance, differentiate in the written form between speakers who occasionally pronounce make to rhyme with ‘flake’ and on other occasions to rhyme with ‘fleck’.

Alternatively we could treat both these statements as English, but that the latter contains the Scots dialect word ‘ony-thing’. Or maybe both statements are made in Scots, but the first contains the English loan-word ‘anything’. Either way, the decision we make will involve numerous similar quandaries. Ultimately, the preference for either the English interpretation or the Scots interpretation is probably made on political and ideological rather than purely linguistic grounds.