It’s no exaggeration tae say that the publication o Gregor Lamb and Margaret Flaws’ The Orkney Dictionary twenty year ago in 1996 wis a landmark in Orcadian cultural history.
Of coorse, there haed been dictionaries o Orkney language afore. Hugh Marwick’s The Orkney Norn (1929) is a magisterial work o scholarship, and a beautiful book. It documented the remnants o the Norn language as they existed in Orkney during the 1920’s. The words in The Orkney Norn are fascinatan, and those that survive in modern Orkney speech are like ancient, magical jewels, glitteran in the last lingeran light o the Viking Age. Dr Hugh Marwick did Orkney a great service in recording these words, and we owe him a great debt.
Orkney’s next lexicographer wis Gregor Lamb, who took on the muckle task o roondan oot Marwick’s work (which haed been confined tae Norn words) tae include aal o the Scots and Norse words he could find in Orkney duran the nineteen seventies and eighties, plus the handful o English words that are used in a unique and different wey in Orkney. Gregor Lamb published his work wae the earthy, germanic title The Orkney Wordbook – a title that is ideally appropriate for this illustrious northern-european dictionary.
The Orkney Wordbook remains the most comprehensive dictionary o Orkney’s language. It is a wonderfully rich book tae browse, and a number o the definitions and examples reflect the author’s sense o humour, and his rootedness in the Orkney community. The Orkney Wordbook reminds us o the Norse/Scots duality o wur language and culture, and the rich range o Scots language that we share wae the rest o Lowland Scotland.
It wis recognised duran the nineteen nineties that Orkney language wis in decline, and so the Orkney Language and Culture Group wis established. The group consisted (an still consists) o teachers, cooncillors, educationalists, and ither experts who were interested in Orkney culture in wan form or anither. Wan great lastan legacy o this group haes been the publication o The Orkney Dictionary.
Gregor Lamb and Margaret Flaws were commissioned tae compile The Orkney Dictionary. Unlike the two previous dictionaries, which were written for an adult or academic audience, The Orkney Dictionary wis, fae its very conception, a book fur everybody – adults and bairns alike. This dictionary wis edited doon fae the material o the previous two tae a manageable size, and extra material wis written on the history, pronunciation and grammar o Orkney language. The Orkney Dictionary wis an instant success, and selt oot queekly. Colourful blue (first edition) and yellow (second edition) copies brighten Orkney classrooms, and sit on the bookshelves o Orcadian hooses in every isle and parish.
Sadly, Orkney language continues tae disappear like rainforest. Pairt o the blame for this rests wae a standardised media that is largely deaf tae linguistic difference across Scotland. Scots language in general is shamefully neglected across most o Scottish broadcasting. So bairns an teenagers spaek less Orcadian than they ivver did. Nevertheless, a core o folk in wur schools an communities keep alive a passion for Orkney language. The preservation and promotion o a minority language taks persistent, ongoan commitment. But local folk – writers, teachers, broadcasters, cooncillors, Young Fairmers, owld fishermen, middle-aged business folk – continue, wae great integrity in the face o demographic and media pressures, tae use their Orkney language, day in day oot.
And noo, in a great leap forward, Orkney lexicography and The Orkney Dictionary hiv entered the digital age, wae this superb new digital edition. The Digital Orkney Dictionary is fully searchable fae Orcadian tae English and fae English tae Orcadian. Aal o the introductory and backgrunnd material fae the original dictionary is republished here. We have decided tae include some new additional content, tae help users tae get a feel for the language as a whole, gaan beyond the individual words themsels. So, there is a rich and varied selection o historic and contemporary texts in Orcadian, chosen and, in some cases, transcribed by Dr Ragnhild Ljosland o the UHI Centre for Nordic Studies.
We are very grateful indeed tae Gregor Lamb and Margaret Flaws, who hiv both geen the digitisation project their blessing, and their permission for us tae proceed. The Digital Orkney Dictionary came aboot through a grant fae the Orkney Islands Cooncil Culture Fund, and through grants fae the Birsay, Evie and Rendall, Firth and Stenness, Harray and Sandwick, Orphir, Papay, and Shapinsay Community Cooncils. We are very grateful tae the members o these cooncils for their goodwill and financial assistance. We would like tae acknowledge the help and freendly expert advice o Dr Ruth O’Donovan, Principal Executive Officer o Scots Language Dictionaries, in gettan the project underway, and the haird work, enthusiasm and professionalism o Thomas Widmann and Phyllis Buchanan o Complexli Limited, who have undertaken the specialised work tae digitise the dictionary. Finally, we are also very grateful tae the copyright holders o the Orkney texts reproduced here for permissions tae publish these online as a supplement tae this new version o the dictionary.
Dr Simon W. Hall
Birsay, 5th April 2016