Vowel length in Shetland Norn

Contact, change, and competing systems

June 9, 2016

First AMC Symposium, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland

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Categories:  North Germanic Scots Historical phonology Language contact

(with Remco Knooihuizen)

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One of the areas in which Scandinavian influence is apparent in the traditional Shetland Scots dialect is the distribution of vowel length: Shetland Scots generally follows the Scottish Vowel Length Rule, but also shows the complementary distribution of consonant and vowel length known from modern North Germanic languages.

During the earliest development of Shetland Scots, three different systems of vowel length can be argued to have been in contact:

  1. (Nearly) unconstrained vowel length, as in Old Norse
  2. Scandinavian combinatory vowel length
  3. The Scottish Vowel Length Rule

All these systems were in the process of change in our time period, with System 1 giving way to System 2 across Scandinavia, and the SVLR also developing at about the same time. In both System 2 and the SVLR, we also observe the rise of an interaction between vowel quantity and ‘tense/lax’ quality. Thus, the system in Shetland Norn presents a set of interesting questions for the study of historical dialectology, language contact and historical phonology.

We give a detailed account of the distribution of vowel length in a 2m000-token sample of Jakob Jakobsen’s dictionary of Shetland Norn, and compare it to the contact systems. We show that clear traces of all three systems, as well as local innovations, are found in the data. We also place the Shetland Norn data in the context of both Scots and Scandinavian historical phonology.

Note that the handout has more detail than the slides.

About me

I’m Pavel Iosad, and I’m a Senior Lecturer in the department of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh. ¶ You can always go to the start page to learn more.



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