“Another language” is the theme this week for the #52ancestors challenge. If you’ve been reading my blog for a bit, you’ll know that most of my ancestors were from Orkney so this could be a difficult topic. Or not.


No no, people do not speak Gaelic in Orkney and never have done to the best of my knowledge. However some incomers did speak Gaelic, including my x6 great grandfather Alexander Moncrieff. He was appointed SSPCK (Society in Scotland for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge) schoolmaster at Harray, Orkney in 1712 “with the plan to find a post in the Gaelic Highlands as soon as one became available for him. He remained in Orkney, however, the society acceding to his request not to move him to the new school at Gairloch in 1714.” (Source: Gray, Nathan Philip (2011)  ‘A publick benefite to the nation’: the charitable and religious origins of the SSPCK, 1690 -1715. Unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Glasgow. p 177. Available online)


All of my ancestors who lived in Orkney would have spoken Orcadian or Orkney dialect. To me it is rapidly dying out, with significant changes in my lifetime. I’ve just come back from Orkney and I’m saddened that even older folk use far more English, sometimes to make sure others understand them for there are differences. Whar’s that – could be who is that or where is that. Hoo aer you? Usually how are you. Whin time, whar at – makes sure you get the meaning.

As a child my mother called her parents and siblings thee and thoo (thou), the familiar form of you. If she called her mother you, grandma thought she was angry with her. Thee and thoo are very rare in Orkney now. For more on significant features of the dialect see this piece from the Scots Language Centre.

If you follow the link above you’ll find two recordings but neither is particularly strong dialect though the accent is distinctive. I’ve struggled to find a recording of stronger dialect but too many folk switched to English in the face of a microphone in the past.

Tom Rendall speaks about Orkney dialect use here. Dave Gray who interviewed him is from Kirkwall, Tom is not, the way they speak is different, there are quite noticeable differences between different parts of Orkney. Enchoy! (j is/was pronounced ch as in change in Orkney, so I’m Chane.)


The Orkney Dictionary



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2 comments so far

  1. Karen Wirth says:

    My maternal grandmother was first generation Canadian with Orkney roots. She spoke much like this! I always thought it was just "her way", but I'm now so happy to hear it was indeed an Orcadian dialect.

    1. Janealogy says:

      Glad you've found out a little more about your grandmother's background. My post this week (usually goes up towards Thursday or Friday) should include a link to another dialect speaker.

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