Orkney - Language, Literature and Folklore

Language, Literature and Folklore

At the beginning of recorded history the islands were inhabited by the Picts, whose language was Brythonic. The Ogham script on the Buckquoy spindle-whorl is cited as evidence for the pre-Norse existence of Old Irish in Orkney.

After the Norse occupation the toponymy of Orkney became almost wholly West Norse. The Norse language evolved into the local Norn, which lingered until the end of the 18th century, when it finally died out. Norn was replaced by the Orcadian dialect of Insular Scots. This dialect is at a low ebb due to the pervasive influences of television, education and the large number of incomers. However, attempts are being made by some writers and radio presenters to revitalise its use and the distinctive sing-song accent and many dialect words of Norse origin remain in use. The Orcadian word most frequently encountered by visitors is "peedie", meaning "small", which may be derived from the French petit.

Orkney has a rich folklore and many of the former tales concern trows, an Orcadian form of troll that draws on the islands' Scandinavian connections. Local customs in the past included marriage ceremonies at the Odin Stone that formed part of the Stones of Stenness.

The best known literary figures from modern Orkney are the poet Edwin Muir, the poet and novelist George Mackay Brown and the novelist Eric Linklater.

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