The passing of the Cromarty Fisherfolk dialect

In mid-October of last year, it was reported that the last noted speaker of the English dialect called “Cromarty Fisherfolk” had passed away. This rare dialect was spoken in a tiny fishing town on Scotland’s Black Isle called Cromarty (with around 700 inhabitants).

Bobby Hogg, identified as the last known speaker of this language, was 92 when he died in the town located 175 miles north of Edinburgh. The Cromarty Fisherfolk Dialect is a lexicon of phrases that were used in the past by the fishing community.

Linguists feel that this dialect may have been influenced by Norse and Dutch, and survived because of “the close-knit community and relative geographical isolation of Cromarty in the Scottish Highlands”. This rare dialect is believed to have arrived in the area with fishing families that moved north from the Firth of Forth in 15th and 16th centuries.

Before he died, Bobby Hogg reflected on this language and remembered that it was a patois and mostly communicated about fishing, as if it was a “secret fisherman’s dialect”. He remembered that it was a different language than the one he spoke in town as a child.

Here is some of the vocabulary:

  • ablach: odd-looking, awkward
  • belwar: layers of tangles
  • bronyach: poor creature
  • cosfeet, cosfit, cossetor cossits: starfish
  • carcle: to count, calculate
  • crockums or crockuns: refuse of fish livers after oil is extracted
  • droog-droogle: be engaged in wet, heavy work
  • foodge or fooge: to play truant
  • greenga or greengaw: slimy grass left after the tide has receded
  • lyeerin: green slime
  • tumblers: dolphins & harbour porpoise
The death of the Cromarty Fisherfolk dialect is just another example of endangered languages which die every two weeks. Unfortunately, it has been predicted, that half of the globe’s 6,000-plus languages to die off by the end of the century.

The Endangered Languages Project

Language experts estimate that only 50% of the languages spoken today will still be spoken in 2100. Languages are disappearing at an alarming rate. The Endangered Languages Project is an online resource to research, record, access and share information about endangered languages. It also encourages and supports working to document and fortify these threatened languages.

When a language is threatened, the loss of valuable scientific, social and cultural information is also threatened, very comparable to the loss of a species. Every time a language dies, we lose quite a bit: the understanding of how humans relate to the world; scientific and medical knowledge; the expression of a community’s life and a vast cultural heritage.

With the Endangered Languages Project, contributors can upload relevant information about dying languages to the website and reach many different people on many different levels.

While Google oversaw the development and launch of this project (and with its technology, recruited the services of organizations and individuals working to prevent language endangerment in various ways), but the goal, long term, is for it to be led by true linguists and leaders in the field of language conservation and preservation. The project will soon transition to others groups at Eastern Michigan University.

Some of the endangered languages include Aragonese (a type of Catalan spoken in Eastern Aragon), Koro (spoken in the northeast mountains of India), Navajo and Southwestern Ojibwa (spoken in parts of the US and Canada).