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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1965 (SND Vol. VI).
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

NORN, n., adj. Also norne, nourn, nowr(ee)n (Jam.), nor(r)en. [nɔrn] The variety of Norwegian spoken in Shetland and Orkney by the native inhabitants, consistently or along with Lowland Scots throughout most of the 17th c., surviving fragmentarily into the 19th c., and now represented mainly in vocabulary. A similar dialect probably lasted into the 17th c. in Caithness (see P. Thorsen The Third Norn Dialect in Viking Congress (Simpson 1954) 230–238). Also used attrib. Phr.: †the Norns, id.Ork. 1700 J. Wallace Orkney 40:
All speak English, after the Scots way, with as good an Accent as any County in the Kingdom, only some of the common People, amongst themselves, speak a Language they call Norns.
Sh. 1733 T. Gifford Hist. Descr. Zetland (1879) 28:
The ancient language spoken by the inhabitants of Zetland was that of the Norwegians called Norn, and continued to be that only spoken by the natives till of late, and many of them speak it to this day amongst themselves.
Ork. 1757 Session Papers, Galloway v. Morton (12 Nov.) 176:
He remembers the Norn or Norse Language to have been vulgarly spoke by a good many People in the Main-land of Orkney; and that he knows some People, particularly three or four in the Parishes of Harray and Firth, who speak that Language pretty fluently, as far as he can judge, at this Day.
Sh. 1806 P. Neill Tour 79:
We were repeatedly assured, that, no farther back than thirty years ago, there were “several old people that spoke the Norns”, i.e. the Norse, or Norwegian tongue.
Sc. a.1818 in J. Wallace Orkney (1883) 197:
I find a Norren Pater-Noster in the London ed. of this book in the 1700, but it seems to be wrong in the orthography.
Sh. 1888 B. R. Anderson Broken Lights 85:
He'd read in some auld Norne sang.
Ork. 1951 H. Marwick Orkney 190:
The Scots language as used in Orkney must have contained a large infusion of Norn terms of a technical or specialised nature.

Hence Norny, lit., able to speak Norn, possessing the lore associated with this, hence full of old sayings and notions, old-fashioned. Deriv. Nornaway, old-fashioned, hence crusty, cantankerous, unamiable. For this form cf. Feesowy, ginnowy s.v. Ginn, Lathowy.Ork. 1929 Marw. Intro. xxvi.:
As the ties binding them to Norway were gradually snapped, so did the memory of a common language fade dimmer and dimmer until, in the eighteenth century, ability to speak the ancient tongue was rare enough to stamp one as something of a curiosity — an “auld Norny body,” — interesting, but also perhaps rather uncanny.
Ork. 1929 Marw.:
Shu's just a puir, dry, nornaway body.

[O.Sc. nornn, Norwegian, 1485, O.N. norrœna, the Norwegian tongue, norrœnn, northern, Norwegian (see H. Marwick Orkney Norn xi.). The form Norns is on the analogy of Scots, etc.]

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"Norn n., adj.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 May 2024 <>



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