Bidialectalism or dialect death? Explaining generational change in the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Jennifer Smith, Mercedes Durham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


This article investigates the use of traditional dialect forms in a community
in Shetland, northern Scotland. Specifically, we seek to establish whether the
younger generations’ patterns of language use signal rapid dialect obsolescence or bidialectalism. It compares recordings in which audience design is manipulated—the addressee is either an insider or an outsider—across a range of lexical, phonological, and morphosyntactic variables. Results show that only some of the younger speakers are bidialectal: the remaining speakers use virtually no dialect forms. These findings may signal dialect shift and a move from local to standard in the coming generations.
The article further explores the linguistic details of the bidialectal speakers’ language use through a qualitative and quantitative comparison of forms across the different recordings. It finds that the use of the two varieties operates on a continuum, where rates of use differ but constraints remain the same across the two speech styles. It discusses these findings against the backdrop of bidialectalism and the process of dialect obsolescence in the British Isles and elsewhere.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-88
Number of pages31
JournalAmerican Speech
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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