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Sketch of the grammar of Orkney Norn

based on the material from H. Marwick's "Orkney Norn")

(See a separate overview about the Lord's Prayer from Orkney)


1. While the remnants of Norn in Shetland are fairly scarce and worn out (although we still have some 10 000 words and a number of texts), this is even more true in respect of Orkney Norn. The only surviving text in the language is the Lord's Prayer, which is around just 60 words long. There are reports about another Orkney Norn text, the Norse ballad Darraðaljóð, re-worked by the English poet Thomas Gray in the 18th century as "The Fatal Sisters: an Ode" (the Norse original of the song is featured in the famous Icelandic Saga of Njáll). The knowledge of this poem still existed in North Ronaldsay, Orkney as late as around 1800 (this remote island seems to have kept Norse archaisms longer than most of the archipelago). The famous English writer Walter Scott, who visited Orkney in 1814 collecting material for his novel "The Pirate", makes the following comment about the song:

'Mr. Baikie of Tankerness, a most respectable inhabitant of Kirkwall, and an Orkney proprietor, assured me of the following curious fact:- A clergyman, who was not long deceased, remembered well when some remnants of the Norse were still spoken in the island called North Ronaldshaw. When Gray's Ode, enditled the "Fatal Sisters", was first published, or at least first reached that remote island, the reverend gentleman had the well-judged curiosity to read it to some of the old persons of the isle, as a poem which regarded the history of their own country. They listened with a great attention to the preliminary stanzas... But when they heard a verse or two more, they interrupted the reader, telling they knew the song well in the Norse language, and had often sung it to him when he asked them for an old song. They called it the Magicians, or the Enchantresses. It would have been singular news to the elegant translator, when executing his version from the text of Bartholine, to have learned that the Norse original was still preserved by tradition in a remote corner of the British dominions.' (from a note to "The Pirate")

To our great regret this piece of Orkney Norn was lost before somebody cared to write it down - it escaped even the attention of George Low, who left some of the most valuable records of Shetland Norn, although he served in fact in Orkney. Had Darraðaljóð been recorded, it could probably have become equally important to the study of Norse relics in Orkney as the ballad of Hildina is for those of Shetland.

Apart from The Lord's Prayer, we have at our disposal "The Dictionary of Orkney Norn" (or just "Orkney Norn") by Hugh Marwick, which is the Orcadian counterpart to Jakob Jakobsen's "Etymological Dictionary of the Norn language in Shetland". Marwick's work features 3000 words, contrary to 10 000 entries in Jakobsen's dictionary. The Orcadian material seems to be much more worn out and scotticized than that from Shetland. The proportion of words that are not traced back to Old Norse in "Orkney Norn" is noticeably higher than in the "Etymological Dictionary of the Norn language in Shetland" (perhaps, if the latter had been written a few decades later than it actually was, it would have looked likewise). This being said, both dictionaries contain a good number of words which have parallels in Norwegian, Danish and Swedish dialects instead of Old Norse. Marwick's book features a lot of Scots words and even some of Gaelic origin, referring more to the Orcadian dialect of Scots than to Orkney Norn itself, although, like in Shetland, we can not clearly demarcate the two.

Speaking of Jakobsen's own contribution to the study of Orkney Norn (he went on an expedition to the islands in 1909, 1910 and 1912) we should first quote his sister Anna Horsbøl (Jakobsen), who in the preface to the English edition of the Shetlandic dictionary reveals her brother's intention to work out "a considerable collection of Orkney Norn". Unfortunately, the Faroese researcher passed away in 1919 before he could bring this plan about, having though succeeded in publishing several important articles about Orcadian relics of the Norse language. Once in a while Marwick inclines in his book that he uses Jakobsen's vaults, although to what extent he does it, whether all of Jakobsen's data has found its place in "Orkney Norn" or only a part of it, remains unclear. In any case, it seems very likely that Jakobsen's research in Orkney provided nowhere near as much material as his fieldwork in Shetland.

2. The grammar of Orkney Norn, or, more correctly, Old Norse grammatical archaisms in Orcadian Scots are very scarce and are summarized in the following lines.

2.1. Substantives

2.1.1. Singular

2.1.1.1. Nominative/Accusative
As mentioned in General, no distinction between Nominative and Accusative was to be found in Orkney Norn. The most obvious examples of such a mixing are certainly the loss of the strong masculine
-r (except in very few cases) and replacement of the weak feminine nominative ending -a with the respective accusative one -o (ON -u). A process similar to the latter must have occured to the weak masculine declension, where the nominative ending -i must have tended to be replaced by the accusative one -a. However, the mixing of -a and -o in the feminine, contributing to the overall confusion of endings, must have overshadowed it, producing weak masculine nouns ending in -o as a result. Another group of weak substantives lost their vocal endings to become undistinguished from strong nouns. The appearance of -o in the strong declension was certainly the reverse effect of this change. To sum up, almost all variants of the endings mixing became possible:

2.1.1.1.1. Masculine words retaining
-er < ON -r:
amiter < úmáttr, blooter (blout) < blautr, brander < brandr, merkister < merkjarstaðr, yaager < jálkr
 
2.1.1.1.2. o < a
kringlo,kringl < kringla, krummo,kromak < krumma, mullyo < Sw. mulla
 
By the anology from the substantives words in other classes of speech change -a to -o too:
adverbs: reevligo < rífliga
verbs: fordo < forða

2.1.1.1.3. 0(zero) < i
aithken < auðkenni, ang < angi, ayrskifft < arfskifti, bilge-kod < koddi, biter < *bítari, rag < raki, raim < rjómi, skift < skifti, tong < tangi, wind < yndi

2.1.1.1.4. i < i
ogude < ágói, ruithe < hróði, saithe < sæði, wazzi < vasi
 
2.1.1.1.5. o < i
arvo < arfi, klavo < klafi, lacky,lecko < laki
 
2.1.1.1.6. o < a
bikko < bikkja, bitch, brinno < brenna, herto < hjarta
 
2.1.1.1.7. 0(zero) < a
amis < ǫlmusa, almusa (Orkney Norse), bore [bo:r,bo:ǝr] < bóra, bram(mo) < Dan. bærme, Nor. berm, brecks < brekka
 
2.1.1.1.8. o < 0:
grono < grjón (pl.), kid,kiddo,kiddy < kið, kleppo < kleppr, kuppo < koppr, skjeldro < tjaldr
 
2.1.1.1.09. o < ingr
klino < klíningr, sillo, sillock < *sýlingr, sýr
 
2.1.1.1.10. o vs. ek
blatho < Gael. blaathach, Far. blak

2.1.1.2. Dative. A few set expressions and forms preserve the Old Norse masculine/neuter sg. ending -i:
agairy < af garði
asee < (yfir, undir) Ási
Brya-grunyie < Breiða-grunni
Hoosavelji < í Húsavelli; according to Marwick, this form is registered in "Ry." (Rousay? North/South Ronaldsay?), the rest of Orkney has Hoosavel

Also a feminine dative form:
leggin < í lǫgginni
(in) laaginy < Nor. lag(n)ing + -inni (??)
 
The following word descends from a dative expression, but the ending is lost:
forrowhand < fyrir hǫndum
 
2.1.1.3. Genitive
Genitive endings can be found in compound words. The old genitive ending -s is mostly preserved, sometimes presented as -is. The other endings are mostly reduced to -i or -e. In two cases the old masculine/feminine ending -(a)r still can be seen:
domismen < dómsmenn
banno-disty < barna-dust
bonie-words < bœnar-orð
geivaless < gæfulauss
geyar-, gyre- < gýgjar-
handigrip < handa(r)grip
hummleband < hǫmluband
katabelly < kattarbelgr
merkister < merkjarstaðr
messigate < messugata
ombisman, umboathman < umboðsmaðr
urislands < eyrislǫnd
voldro < vallar-mús?
vole-grun < vallar-gróinn
yarromang,manna,myungy < jarðarmegin (-munr?)
 
Genitive expression with eliminated ending:
emby < innan bœjar
fainfu < fagnaðarfullr
forcop < fararkaup
 
2.1.2. Plural

2.1.2.1. Nominative
blooro < blórar
katrisper < kattar-rispur
vandar (vanda) < vandi, pl. vandar (??)

2.1.2.2. Accusative
riggaforaaser < *hrygg(ir)-yfir-ása. Marwick believed that the final -r has appeared due to "a false association with English razor". We think instead that the ending could have simply acquired the final -r in Norn, like it did in Faroese: Far. hestar, vinir < ON hesta, vini.
 
2.1.5. Definite forms

2.1.5.1. Masculine
geyarkarlin < gýgjarkarlinn
tramins < á þrǫminn (??)
kroopan < kroppinn (??)

2.1.5.2. Feminine
keelin < keilan
hoolan <  ýla (Far. ýlan?)
grullyan < grýlan
wanboona < *vanbónin??
yern < jǫrðin
leggin < i lǫgginni

Examples from North Ronaldsay:
Burrian < Borgin
Lashan < Flesin
Leean < Hlíðin
Geo na gui < Gjáin góða (Acc. Gjána góðu)
Støǝn  < Stǫðin

2.1.5.3. Neuter
witheron < viðrin(i)??
 

2.2. Adjectives
2.2.1. Strong adjectives

long reed < lǫng hríð
Nue[nø]-biggin < ný bygging
taragott < þat er gott
 
2.2.2. Weak adjectives
groy < grái
Brya-grunyie < (á) Breiða-grunni
Tongabrey < Tangi breiði
Geo na gui < Gjáin góða (Acc. Gjána góðu)
Neeoquoy < Nýa kví
Langaber < Langa berg
 
2.2.3. Comparative degree
uiter-ald < ytri 'old'
innerli < innarliga
 
2.3. Adverbs
reevligo < rífliga
 
2.4. Pronouns
suistoo < Eng. seest thou!, Eng. dial. seesta, also cf. ON sérðu (sér þú) 'see you',  sástu (sást þú) 'saw you [did you see]'
taragott < þat er gott
me-nain [minε:n] < minn eigin
yin < hinn (+ Sc. yon?)
 
2.5. Numerals (or substantives derivated from numerals)
ferd < fjórði
setten, settin(g) < séttungr ' a 6th part'
schone, schound < sjaund 'the 7th day'
teind < tíund
bow-teind < bú-tíund

2.6. Verbs
2.6.1. Presens

the're, de'r < +er 'is'
taragott < þat er gott
suistoo < Eng. seest thou!, Eng. dial. seesta, also cf. ON sérðu (sér þú) 'see you',  sástu (sást þú) 'saw you [did you see]'
 
2.6.2. Past
dyoard < gerði, Nor. gjorde
handselde (Orkney Norse??) < handseldi
 
2.6.3. Imperative
fordo < forða
 
2.6.4. Present (active) participle
greyin < grýjandi
 
2.6.5. Past (passive) participle
forlegen < *fyrirlaginn
hoved < hafinn, hefja
domlad < dómlagðr?
 
2.7. Prepositions
in under < inn under ON?
forgen < *fyrir-gegen
forrowhand < fyrir hǫndum
riggaforaaser < *hrygg(ir)-yfir-ása

 
 

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