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.

Hogmanay

Scotland is the birthplace of “Auld Lang Syne” and also the home of Hogmanay (hog-mah-NAY). Hogmanay is the Scot’s word for the last day of the year and is the wild and crazy Scottish New Year’s celebration. It is celebrated on December 31. According to my research, before 1600, the New Year officially started in Scotland on March 25! In 1599, James VI, the King of Scots, changed this to January 1.

There are many rituals and customs associated with Hogmanay. The most popular custom is the practice of “first-footing” which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend’s or neighbor’s house and often involves the giving of gifts such as shortbread, whiskey or black bun (a fruit cake). These gifts are supposed to bring luck to the giftee. The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year. Traditionally, tall dark men are preferred as the first-foot.

One of the local customs in northeastern Scotland is “fireball swinging”. This involves making a Scottish fireball consisting of wire filled with old newspaper, sticks, rags, and other dry flammable material to a chain or rope. After the clock strikes midnight, revelers swing these fire-lit balls overhead.

The Hogmanay custom of singing “Auld Lang Syne” has now become common in many countries. “Auld Lang Syne” is a poem reinterpreted by Robert Burns and it later became a song. All the revelers stand together, cross arms and hold hands while singing after the clock strikes midnight.

Sounds like the Scots have more fun on New Year’s Eve than we do!