The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 22nd, 2021

Linguistics and Social Justice Seminar 11/23 - Viveka Velupillai (Justus Liebig University Giessen)

You are invited to participate in our discussion this week, Tuesday, November 23, 2-5pm EST, on “Linguistics and Social Justice: Language, Education & Human Rights”  (MIT Linguistics, Graduate Seminar, 24.S96).  Please contact Michel <degraff@mit.edu> for information about Zoom link and readings.  NB: We are committed to creating an inclusive and accessible environment in our seminar. If you need assistance for accommodations or accessibility in order to fully participate, please email degraff@MIT.EDU so that we can work out adequate arrangements.

This Tuesday, November 23, 2021, our destination is Shetland. Viveka Velupillai will take us there to help us deepen our discussion and understanding of language revitalization for social justice — in the context of Shaetlan speakers:

Beyond linguistic repression at 60°N:

Growing acceptance of diversity in Shetland
Prof. Dr. Viveka Velupillai

Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany / Shetland


November 23, 2021, 2–5pm EST

Seminar: “Linguistics & social justice” (24.S96 @ MIT Linguistics)

Shaetlan is the language spoken in Shetland alongside English. Its main input languages are the now extinct Scandinavian Norn, the language once spoken by the Norse settlers, and Scots; but the strategic position of the archipelago means that it has been a place of contact and multilingualism for centuries. It is still highly distinct from other varieties of Scots and is strongly tied to the local identity; as such, it forms part of the intangible heritage of Shetland.

Despite this, it has never been accepted as a variety in its own right, but has seen a long history of stigmatisation and domination by English. While Shaetlan has an established literary tradition, it has never been accepted and used as a medium of instruction in schools. It is, at the moment, an endangered language, with declining intergenerational transmission coupled with the vicious circle of lack of recognition precluding standardisation (in turn precluding its acceptance as a medium of instruction), and the lack of standardisation precluding recognition.

However, there are encouraging signs of growing acceptance. The widespread and growing use of Shaetlan in digitalk is having a normalisation effect, which in turn is leading to a greater acceptance of Shaetlan as a written language. The present project, A grammar of Shaetlan – Pre-oil and contemporary, which documents and describes Shaetlan from a typological perspective, has gained widespread interest: for the first time speakers are shown that their language is systematic and structured (rather than a haphazard and inferior version of English), and that they are in fact bilingual (rather than producers of a kind of inferior and slightly quaint speech). The online outlet for the project, I Hear Dee*, which posts about the project findings bilingually in Shaetlan and English, has also led to great interest and overwhelmingly positive response. This has brought about a sense of pride and empowerment among speakers, to the effect that local teachers have started using Shaetlan in their teaching, despite the lack of official recognition and materials. The growing sense of the value of linguistic diversity may help bring Shaetlan into schools and stem, if not turn, the endangered status of Shaetlan.

* Instagram: http://instagram.com/iheardee  / Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iheardee