Norn language

related topics
{language, word, form}
{god, call, give}
{island, water, area}
{specie, animal, plant}
{line, north, south}
{land, century, early}
{work, book, publish}
{water, park, boat}

Norn is an extinct North Germanic language that was spoken in Shetland and Orkney, off the north coast of mainland Scotland, and in Caithness. After the islands were pledged to Scotland by Norway in the 15th century, it was gradually replaced by Scots.



It is not known exactly when Norn became extinct. The last reports of Norn speakers are claimed to be from the 19th century, but it is more likely that the language was dying out in the late 18th century (Price 1984: 203). The more isolated islands of Foula and Unst are variously claimed as the last refuges of the language in Shetland, where there were people "who could repeat sentences in Norn,"[1] probably passages from folk songs or poems, as late as 1893. Walter Sutherland from Skaw in Unst, who died about 1850, has been cited as the last native speaker of the Norn language. However, fragments of vocabulary survived the death of the main language and remain to this day, mainly in place-names and terms referring to plants, animals, weather, mood, and fishing vocabulary.

Dialects of Norse had also been spoken on mainland Scotland—for example, in Caithness—but here they became extinct many centuries before Norn died on Orkney and Shetland. Hence, some scholars also speak about "Caithness Norn", but others avoid this. Even less is known about "Caithness Norn" than about Orkney and Shetland Norn. Next to no written Norn has survived. What remains includes a version of the Lord's Prayer and a ballad. Michael Barnes, professor of Scandinavian Studies at University College London, has published a study, The Norn Language of Orkney and Shetland.


Norn is an Indo-European language belonging to the North Germanic branch of the Germanic languages. Together with Faroese, Icelandic and Norwegian it belongs to the West Scandinavian group, separating it from the East Scandinavian group consisting of Swedish and Danish. More recent analyses divide the North Germanic languages into an Insular Scandinavian and Mainland Scandinavian languages, grouping Norwegian with Danish and Swedish based on mutual intelligibility and the fact that Norwegian has been heavily influenced in particular by Danish during the last millennium and has diverged from Faroese and Icelandic. Norn is generally considered to have been fairly similar to Faroese, sharing many phonological and grammatical traits with this language, and might even have been mutually intelligible with it.

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