University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group > The problem of finding sources for the study of Norn, the Scandinavian language of Caithness and the Northern Isles.

The problem of finding sources for the study of Norn, the Scandinavian language of Caithness and the Northern Isles.

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Norn is an extinct North Germanic variety which was spoken in Shetland, Orkney and Caitness – the former Norse Earldom of Orkney. The estimates for when the language died out vary from around 1700-1750 (Barnes 1998; Knooihuizen 2005) to as late as around 1880 (Rendboe 1984). A long period of societal bilingualism preceded its extinction, with Scots speakers settling in the isles from at least the mid-14th century onwards (Marwick 1929) before the islands were formally passed from Denmark-Norway to Scotland following a royal wedding in 1468. This talk investigates the problem of finding sources for the study of the Norn language. Early sources may be sought in runic inscriptions and medieval documents, while late sources include remembered verses and phrases which were written down in the 18th and 19th centuries. Each of these sources presents its own problems. One might also consider whether a substrate of Norn can be traced in the modern dialects spoken in the area.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group series.

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