Languages die too.
We teachers tell our students that languages are alive. The obvious implication of this assertion is that languages die too. When the last speaker of a language dies, that language dies too. It does not matter if there are graphic documents that evidence its existence and somehow preserves it.
When we hear about the death of a language, we normally think of a weird language spoken in a remote area in India or by an uncivilized tribe in the Amazon basin.
From time to time we find information about this sad news in the newspapers. I have recently heard about Amedeo García who is the last speaker of the tashuiro, a language spoken in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest.
More and more people move from remote rural areas to cities, where they must get integrated to survive. In this context, with a compulsory education in the dominant language and the mass media using it, the local languages disappear. And the disappearance of a language implies the disappearance of the culture which shaped that language .
Globalization has its pros and cons. This is one of its most obvious negative consequences together with the loss of the world cultural richness.
That’s why the news of the death of the Cromarty fisherfolk dialect’s last speaker attracted my attention.
His name was Bobby Hogg and he died in 2012. He was the last fluent living speaker in the dialect of English used in some parts of the Black Isle, mainly in Cromarty, near Inverness, in Scotland.
Although it only occupied some few pages in the news that day, it was not only a sad loss for his family but for all the world.
Cromarty Fisherfolk’s Dialect
Cromarty, which counts just over 700 people, is at the very end of a sparsely populated peninsula of forest and farmland. It’s separated from Inverness, the closest city, by the Beauly Firth, a wide body of cold water where salmon run and dolphins frolic. That unique landscape shaped its people, its culture and the language that expressed it.
The Cromarty dialect included a wealth of seafaring vocabulary since this people earned their living in the sea. Another distinctive feature was the use of the archaic “thees” and “thous”, pronouns now lost from the spoken English.
The aspirate “h” was often added or subtracted, so that “house” would be pronounced “oos” and “apple” would be pronounced “haypel.” The “wh” sound was often dropped entirely.
A lexicon of Cromarty words, relying in large part on Hogg’s speech, gave “Oo thee keepan?” as Cromarty’s version of “How are you?” and “Hiv thoo a roosky sazpence i thi pooch?” for “Can you lend me some money?”