A tipping point in dialect obsolescence? Change across the generations in Lerwick, Shetland

Smith, J. and Durham, M. (2011) A tipping point in dialect obsolescence? Change across the generations in Lerwick, Shetland. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 15(2), pp. 197-225. (doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9841.2011.00479.x)

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The dialect spoken in the Shetland Islands is one of the most distinctive in the British Isles. However, there are claims that this variety is rapidly disappearing, with local forms replaced by more standard variants in the younger generations. In this paper we test these claims through a quantitative analysis of variable forms across three generations of speakers from the main town of Lerwick. We target six variables: two lexical, two morphosyntactic and two phonetic/phonological. Our results show that there is decline in use of the local forms across all six variables. Closer analysis of individual use reveals that the older age cohort form a linguistically homogeneous group. In contrast, the younger speakers form a heterogeneous group: half of the younger speakers have high rates of the local forms, while the other half uses the standard variants near-categorically. We suggest that these results may pinpoint the locus of rapid obsolescence in this traditionally relic dialect area.

Item Type:Articles (Other)
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Smith, Professor Jennifer and Durham, Ms Mercedes
Authors: Smith, J., and Durham, M.
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PE English
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
Journal Name:Journal of Sociolinguistics
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
ISSN (Online):1467-9841
Published Online:20 April 2011

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
442661Obsolescence vs. stability in a Shetland dialect - evidence from three generations of speakersJennifer SmithEconomic & Social Research Council (ESRC)ES/E012590/1CRIT - ENGLISH LANGUAGE