Shetland dialect

The Shetland dialect is essentially a branch of Scots, because the islands have now been part of Scotland for over five hundred years. But, because of the previous five hundred years or so, when Shetland was Scandinavian, the old ‘Norn’ tongue, which had died out by about 1800, is obvious still in place names, vocabulary, expressions and pronunciation. And of course, English is part of the mix too.

Features of the dialect:

Some Shetland vowel sounds are common in Scandinavia, the most obvious being ö. There are differences in pronunciation throughout the isles, mainly with vowels. The short ae sound as in ‘paet’ and ‘spaek’ etc is found in all areas. Another noticeable Shetland-wide feature is the tendency to use ‘d’ or ‘t’ in place of English ‘th’, e.g.: this - dis; thin - tin; that - dat; thick - tick; there - dere; thrive - trive.
When talking about the past, it is common practice to use the verb ‘to be’: ‘Is du heard?’ ‘Yes, I’m heard’.
Friends, equals and family members are likely to be addressed as ‘du’ instead of ‘you’. (The plural form is ‘you’.) Inanimate objects are often called ‘he’ or ‘she/shö’: ‘I’m lost me mobile. Is du seen him onywye?’
In 2010, although it has been somewhat diluted by modern lifestyles and population change, Shetland dialect is still a lively widely-spoken tongue. Happily, it has no associations with social class.


The dialect is supported by a dictionary, a grammar book, educational materials, adult evening classes, a Place Name Project, much writing, especially poetry; dialect is used on BBC Radio Shetland and in song and storytelling; Shetland ForWirds, a voluntary group set up in 2004, is dedicated to the promotion of the dialect.

Image required

Key Facts



Time of Year:


Connect With Us