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The former royal burgh of Cromarty lies on the northern tip of the Black Isle peninsula, at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth in northeast Scotland. It is home to brothers Bobby and Gordon Hogg, descendants of a long line of local fisher folk. They can trace their ancestry back for centuries in the small coastal port. In the 1861 census there were no less than 96 Hoggs living in the Cromarty district and an entry for the family name in the Old Parish Register dates back as early as 1698.
Bobby and Gordon believe they are the last two fluent speakers of the 'Cromarty fisher dialect', a unique Scots dialect identified in Robert McColl Millar's study of 'Northern and Insular Scots' as 'North Northern A', mainly associated with the fishing communities of the Black Isle (Cromarty and Avoch) and other small towns and villages on the Cromarty Firth. It is said that at one time there were at least two, if not three, dialects in the Cromarty area - fisher, town, and farmer. While several Cromarty residents retain aspects of the fisher vocabulary, when Bobby and Gordon get together they converse fluently in the dialect.
In this audio extract from March 2007, Bobby and Gordon talk about the links between the fishing industry and the local fisher dialect.
Bobby: A lot o words that we use are died out now because the industry has died out. See what Ah mean?
Gordon: But what's, what's gonna follow us? There's nothing.
Interviewer: Nothing. That's, that's the sad thing.
Gordon: That's the sad part of it.
Bobby: That's the tragedy of it, right
Gordon: Tragedy of it.
Interviewer: An do your children speak it?
Bobby: I don't -
Bobby: My family don't speak it, an my wife's not, ye know, a different -
Gordon: His wife does understand some o the words.
Bobby: Yea, that's right, aye. But she was never -
Gordon: But she couldna talk a conversation.
Bobby: - never brought up to it, right?
Gordon: Never brought up to it. No.
Bobby: But there a lot o words that, ye know, that are Scottish, or a lot o them are Doric an one thing an another. They're bound to be because we're not entirely different altogether, but a lot o the words are different.
Bobby: The way we see it it's got the intonation an the speed comes into it. But the names o the fish are different too.
Bobby: Right? Ah mean we were brought, as Ah say, fisher background, an over a period o time the fishin industry died out an the names that went with it, right, all died out, right? When ye take the different names of fish, they're different in Cromarty to what they are everywhere else, like. Different names. So that's only the start, like. Same wi the line fishing an, ye know, all the things relative to it, right? These things have all disappeared now. Folk don't know what ye're talking about, even.
Interviewer: So what are some o the names?
Gordon: Well, a plashack - that's a big, a big flat fish. We call that a plashack.
Bobby: Mm-hmm. Plashack, aye.
Gordon: An we call others ones - there's one they call it - it's a biggar-man, an it's a, it's a flounder too. It's a flounder but it's -
Bobby: It's biggar-man - you'll find that in the Scottish Dictionary. It's a flounder, a black flounder, right? Say it's a biggar-man in Cromarty, an ye went to Avoch, it's a blin-geordack [Blind Geordie].
Gordon: Blin-geordack, aye.
Bobby: Blin-geordack. There different names like, like, for example, ye're on about plaice being called a plashack, right? There's different kinds o plaice, right?
Gordon: Aye, surely, aye.
Bobby: There's a dab - we called it a roestack -
Gordon: We call it a roestack.
Bobby: - roestack, right, right? All these kinda things. Padluks an all these -
Gordon: Padluks is a small saithe.
Bobby: That's the fish that changes its name from the north o Scotland up in Lerwick all the way down, changes different name.
Gordon: We call a small, very small one, we call them spoogers.
Bobby: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Gordon: It was the only place I call a spooger, right enough.
Bobby: But by an large, things, that, ye know, attached to the industry have disappeared.
Click here to download Am Baile's booklet on the Cromarty Fisherfolk Dialect
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