Scottish Dialect's Last Speaker Dies

In the tiny fishing village of Cromarty, on the tip of Scotland's Black Isle, the last speaker of the local dialect has died. Host Rachel Martin speaks with language expert Kelly McGill, about Bobby Hogg and his 600-year-old dialect.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the tiny fishing village of Cromarty on the tip of Scotland's Black Isle, the last speaker of the local dialect has died. Bobby Hogg was 92 years old when he passed away last week, taking with him a language that had existed for some 600 years. Here's a snippet of Mr. Hogg speaking with his brother Gordon who died last year about acting out in school.

BOBBY HOGG: (Foreign dialect spoken)

GORDON HOGG: (Foreign dialect spoken)

MARTIN: OK. So, you got that? Kelly McGill is a linguist who traveled to Cromarty five years ago to interview the Hogg brothers. She joins us on the line now from Denton, Texas. Welcome to the program, Ms. McGill.

KELLY MCGILL: Hi. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So, describe this dialect a little bit for us. What's its derivation? Where does it come from?

MCGILL: Well, it is directly related to the Scots dialects that are spoken all over Scotland, but it is also heavily influenced by Gaelic.

MARTIN: There are a lot of words that sound like the thing they are describing, kind of onomatopoeia. I mean, one article I read made the words also seem so specific - bauchles are old, ill-fitting shoes, which kind of sounds like an old, ill-fitting shoe. And the word for doing heavy work in wet weather - they actually have a word for this - droog droogle, which sounds like, you know, a wet, rainy day.

MCGILL: Yeah, it does. And ironically the word for kind of wet is droog(ph) in Gaelic. So, it may have a little bit of that to influence it.

MARTIN: And how did this come to be that there were just these two elderly gentlemen, these brothers, who were the only people left who spoke this?

MCGILL: Tragically, I think, over the course of several hundred years, Cromarty moved from being an iconic fishing village and hemp distribution center and even a huge naval port in World War I and World War II. But as time progresses, you know, the younger people are leaving the island, they're moving to - or the peninsula. So, over the generations, more and more people just left. And the actual fishing industry dried up because the waters became overfished. So, as far as Bobby and Gordon go, their father was a fisherman and so he spoke this dialect at home and they knew it fluently but they never would have used it at school. People maybe one or two streets away from where they lived would never have used it. So, it's very divided and kind of a segregated language for different parts of the town. And Cromarty had three different dialects at one point - one for the town folk, one for the farmers and one for the fisher. And sadly, the other two died out and then now we have Bobby's passing, and finally this fisher dialect is gone as well.

MARTIN: Kelly McGill in Denton, Texas. Thanks so much for joining us, Kelly.

MCGILL: Thank you, Rachel. I appreciate it.

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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