13: Caithness Nynorn
By Linden Alexander Pentecost, November 2022
This section includes: an acknowledgements and introduction, introduction to Norn and Nynorn dialects and to Caithness Nynorn, some place-names, photo of sun breaking through clouds south of Lybster along the Caithness coastline, pronunciation guide, prosody, example sentences, basic vocabulary. This section contains 1709 words.
Note that this article is about Nynorn, a reconstructed form of the Norn language from Shetland, Orkney and Caithness. Because Nynorn is a reconstructed language (Nynorn means 'New Norn'), many of the words in this article are not attested, particularly those in the example phrases part; these have been reconstructed from a comparison with other Norn dialects, and other Scandinavian languages more generally. My own knowledge of Caithness Norn comes from studying the place-names and Caithness dialect to some degree, but I have made use of other references, which are noted here in brackets.
Note that Caithness Norn is the least well attested of the Norn dialects, and that previous work on Nynorn has mainly concentrated on the far better attested Shetland dialects. The Nynorn project was started by Andrei Melnikov and Dagfinn S.
Note that much of my initial research on Caithness Norn came from reading The Third Norn Dialect - That of Caithness (The Viking Congress, Lerwick, 1950) - by Per Thorsen), material from which was included in the Nynorn website page for Caithness Norn, given in this article. I then wrote under a pseudonym the article Reconstructing The Norn of Caithness part one: vowels which is based on the aforementioned two sources; although in this article I am not trying to reconstruct Caithness Norn as Nynorn, but rather am trying to reconstruct something of the exact local language in Caithness; whereas Nynorn as a project I feel is a little like Nynorsk, it does not indicate all dialects or local variations, but instead can be seen as a kind of go-between. There were for example many Shetland Norn dialects, but there are only two dialects of Shetland Nynorn to cover those original dialects. There would also have been many dialects within Orkney and at least some in Caithness, but these dialects are represented in Nynorn as 'Orkney Nynorn' and 'Caithness Nynorn', which are likely to appear more similar to each other than either does to the two Shetland Nynorn dialects. In addition to the Shetland Nynorn dialects, Nynorn is generally written in a more general Shetland Nynorn form, which is neither eastern nor western Shetland Nynorn.
Caithness is the most northeastern part of the Scottish mainland, where towns such as Wick (Caithness Nynorn vik) and Thurso (Caithness Nynorn Þurså) are located, along with the port of Scrabster (Caithness Nynorn Skarabolstaðer or Skarabolstað), and many other settlements on the east of Caithness, like Lybster (Caithness Nynorn Libistaðer) (see comments on Lybster in Place-names of Scotland, by James B. Johnston, B.D.)
The Caithness landscape contains a large number of words of Norse origin, which were sometimes also part of the local Caithness Scots varieties, examples of these include the -ster element in place-names, likely from Old Norse staðr - 'place' Caithness Nynorn stað or staðer, the many 'geo' names, Old Norse gjá, Caithness Nynorn gjå.
In the photo below: the landscape north of Lybster and Helmsdale
I bildið: landskapið norþan furi Libiststaðer og Helmsdal
Basic pronunciation guide.
j - as in German 'ja'
hw - like the English 'wh' in 'what' or like the English 'w'
v - like the English v, although at the start of a word it may be pronounced [w]
ð - this letter is silent, but for Nynorn practice it is included for etymological reasons
þ - like the English 'th' in 'this', at the start of a word it occurs rarely in place-names; at the start of a word it sounds like the 'th' in 'thing', in Caithness Norn this initial 'th' sound normally becomes t, but not in place-names like Thurso/Þurså.
ai - like the 'igh' in 'might', this sound is also found in Caithness Scots, and appears to be a feature of Caithness Norn, and to some extent Orkney Norn
ou - pronounced similar to the 'o' in 'note', also writable as o, hence the island of Stroma could be spelled Stroumey or Stromey
á - pronounced like the 'wa' in 'swan' or more like [wa], e.g. skár - 'swath in mowing' (The Third Norn Dialect - That of Caithness (The Viking Congress, Lerwick, 1950) - by Per Thorsen), I do not believe that this sound was that common, it is a different vowel to the vowel in the word skåri - a 'yong gull' (The Third Norn Dialect - That of Caithness (The Viking Congress, Lerwick, 1950) - by Per Thorsen), which I think was likely pronounced [skoːri].
ø - is pronounced like the 'i' in 'girl', I do not write this letter much in Caithness Norn because it does not seem to have been a particular phoneme in Caithness Norn, whereas in Orkney Nynorn ø is common due to the common occurance of this sound.
å - is pronounced [o], long or short
y - is included for completeness, but this sound appears not to have been common in Caithness Norn. In Orkney Norn, Old Norse y and ý often become [i] and [ai], in Caithness Norn, ý often seems represented as [ai], but y is often represented as [u], often in words which would have had [u] in Proto-Norse, e.g. the word furi - for, compare Orkney and Caithness Nynorn fyri. (Note that furi is not actually attested in Caithness Norn, but there are known examples of where Proto-Norse *u is [u] in Caithness, see: Reconstructing The Norn of Caithness part one: vowels.
There are many dimensions to the Norn language in Shetland, Orkney, Caithness and to some extent in the Outer Hebrides, these dialects were likely also connected to 'Manx Norse', 'Cumbrian Norse' and 'Hiberno-Norse' and 'Anglo-Norse', these are my own terms for the Norse language in these areas, which I feel has regional distinctions. Norn itself has an interconnectedness. Despite the differences that likely existed on a local level, the Caithness and Orkney dialects of Norn seem to have been much 'the same language', whereas arguably Shetland Norn was always distinctive in its own ways.
I think that the main difference between Orkney and Caithness Nynorn would be one of prosody, Orkney Scots, and likely, Orkney Norn, have a range of prosodic patterns which make these languages sound musical, and in my opinion, the intonation is can be quite similar to the English spoken in Wales. Caithness Norn may have been much the same language, but the Scots dialect here is different, and the prosody of Caithness Scots is also very different to that of Orkney. I have heard some speakers of Caithness Scots, and I would liken it in many ways to the other 'Anglic' dialects in England, I can hear a similarity to Norfolk English in the prosody, and to the northern dialects of Scottish Gaelic such as the MacKay and Torridon dialects. Similar prosodic patterns may also be found to some degree in Jutlandic in Denmark.
Examples of Caithness Nynorn:
hwat haiter tu? - what are you called?
hwat - what, haiter - second and third person singular present tense form of at haita - to be called, tu - you singular, thou
eg haite... - I am called...
eg - I, haite - first person singular present tense form of haita - to be called
hwat er namnið titt? - what is your name?
hwat er - what is, namnið - the name, from namn - name, titt - your singular (for singular neuter nouns)
namnið mitt er... - my name is...
namnið - the name, mitt - my (for singular neuter nouns), er - is
hwarfrå er tu? - where are you from?
hwarfrå - where from, from where, er tu - are you, art thou
hwarfrå kemer tu? - where do you come from?
hwarfrå - where from, kemer - second person singular present tense form of koma - to come, tu - you singular, thou
hwarna bur tu? - where do you live?
hwarna - where, bur - second and third person singular present tense form of bua - to live or inhabit, tu - you singular, thou
eg er ur Skotlandi - I am from Scotland
eg er - I am, ur - from, out of, Skotlandi - dative form of Skotland - Scotland
eg keme frå Katenesi - I come from Caithness
eg keme - I come, frå - from, Katenesi - dative form of Katenes - Caithness
eg bu i Libistaðer - I live in Lybster
eg bu - I live, i - in, Libistaðer - Lybster
eg tale båþ Katenesnynorn og Katenesgelisk - I speak both Caithness Nynorn and Caithness Gaelic
eg tale - I speak, from at tala - to speak, båþ - both, Katenesnynorn - Caithness Nynorn, og - and, Katenesgelisk - Caithness Gaelic
i dag tala folk Engelsk og Skotsk i Þurså - today folks speak English and Scots in Thurso
i dag - today, from dag - day, tala - plural present tense form of at tala - to speak, Engelsk og Skotsk - English and Scots, i Þurså - in Thurso
hwarna kann eg lera at tale Katenesgelisk? - where can I learn to speak Caithness Gaelic?
hwarna - where, kann eg - can I, lera - learn, at tala - to speak, Katenesgelisk - Caithness Gaelic
stroum - a tidal stream, ey - an island, land - land, mainlandið - the mainland, hest - horse, hund - dog, fisk - fish, båt - boat, fiskebåt - fishing boat, vattn - water, vattnstroum - tide, sand - sand, fell - mountain, fors - waterfall, gjå - a coastal gully, vik - a settlement, å - a river or stream, dal - a valley, stain - a stone
Links and other information
https://nornlanguage.x10.mx/index.php?katanorn - the Nynorn project webpage for Caithness Norn
.Reconstructing The Norn of Caithness part one: vowels - by Linden Alexander Pentecost (written originally under a pseudonym), available on pages 258, 259, 260, 261 in my free ebook published on this site, Languages and dialects of Northwestern Europe, and their heritage