Shetland speaks up for Norn

A new scheme for teaching dialect is poised to take Shetland's mother tongue out of the hearth and place it firmly in the classroom.

The last native Norn speaker died on the remote island of Foula early in the 18th century and the old Norse tongue of Britain's most northerly island group slowly atrophied. Despised by clergymen and generations of teachers, it was all but forbidden in public places and now survives in present-day dialect which is a meld of Norn, Scots and English.

Three large loose-leaf folders for early years, primary and secondary schools contain stories, poems and information about Shetland culture and environment. Each contains a series of cassette tapes and suggestions for activities. The packs have been designed to accommodate work in the dialect produced by new generations of children and to complement the Scot's Language Project's Kist.

Lollie Graham, a retired teacher and well known writer in the dialect, played an important role in the project. "We tried to select poetry, prose and tapes that focus on weather, seasons, childhood and growing up. All these things are part of children's experience and the local scene So is the dialect and this makes it a valid medium to use."

Mr Graham adds: "Dialect speaking is an advantage to pupils in learning another language. So, people should have no fears about speaking dialect interfering with learning English at school."

Chris Brown, assistant adviser, in English, says: "We are not talking here about teaching Shetland dialect as a foreign language. Instead we are trying to encourage the use of dialect among native speakers and confidence in its use. Also, we are looking at non-standard English in a wider context. All dialects should be explored."

Any non-standard English, such as Doric, spoken by either the teacher or any child in the class could be the focus of language study. "Some people," Mr Brown says, "might feel that what dialect speakers really need is greater confidence in speaking English. I hope they get both with the introduction of the new scheme."

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