No more ‘haypels’ for the teachers of Cromarty
In a remote fishing town on the tip of Scotland’s Black Isle, the last native speaker of the Cromarty dialect has passed away, taking with him a little fragment of the English linguistic mosaic.
Academics said Bobby Hogg, who died last week at age 92, was the last person fluent in the dialect once common to the seaside town of Cromarty, about 175 miles north of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.
What is a dialect? It’s a variation of a language that has its own rules for pronunciation and, often times, different words for certain things and actions. The Cromarty dialect is a variation of English.
The town of Cromarty, which counts just over 700 people, is at the very end of a sparsely-populated peninsula of forest and farmland.
How it’s different: The Cromarty dialect included a helping of Biblically-influenced “thees” and “thous” as well as a wealth of seafaring vocabulary (including three sets of words for “second fishing line.”)
The aspirate “h” was often added or subtracted, so that “house” would be pronounced “oos” and “apple” would be pronounced “haypel.” The “wh” sound was often dropped entirely.
A lexicon of Cromarty words, relying in large part on Hogg’s speech, gave “Oo thee keepan?” as the town’s translation of “How’re you?”
The death of an obscure dialect spoken by a few hundred people at the edge of Scotland may not worry most English speakers — “we’ll all live,” said Robert Millar, a language expert at the University of Aberdeen — but it’s part of a trend that has killed off many regional dialects and other local languages. Linguists often debate how to define and differentiate the world’s many dialects, but most agree that the move to suburbs and the cities, mandatory schooling, and mass media have further wiped out rural dialects.
As the worlds’ melting pots grow ever bigger — half the Earth’s population now lives in cities — lesser-known dialects like those from England’s Forest of Deen to Scotland’s remote island chains are evaporating.
More languages disappear: Minor languages are melting away as well; the British Isles saw two go extinct within living memory, according to UNESCO.
The last native speaker of Alderney French, a Norman dialect spoken in the Channel Islands, died around 1960. The last speaker of traditional Manx, the language once spoken on the Isle of Man, died in 1974.
Donna Heddle, the director of the Center for Nordic Studies at Scotland’s University of the Highlands and Islands, said the loss of each little language or regional dialect leaves the world just slightly poorer than it was before.
“It’s one less little sparkle in the firmament,” she said. “One little star might go out and you might never notice it, but it’s not there anymore.”
Click this link to activate a download of the 44-page Cromarty dialogue book: http://www.ambaile.org/en/download/files/The%20Cromarty%20Fisherfolk%20Dialect.pdf
UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger:
Reported by RAPHAEL SATTER of the Associated Press from LONDON.