Dialect’s demise as final speaker dies at 92

Written by David Ross – Highland Correspondent, The Herald – 02.10.2012.






“He could still close his eyes, see the boats heading out to sea and hear the unique speech pattern that set his people apart.

That dialect of Scots which has survived for centuries now dies with the passing of its last native speaker, retired engineer Bobby Hogg, at the age of 92.

Bobby Hogg was the last person who was still fluent in the old dialect of the Fisherfolk of Cromarty, at the north east tip of the Black Isle, north of Inverness.

Experts believe this is the first ever linguistic demise to be, so exactly recorded in Scotland.

Bobby Hogg’s younger brother Gordon had been the surviving tradition bearer, but passed away in April last year, aged 86.

He was the last person to immediately understand that when his brother was saying “At wid be scekan tiln ken?” he was asking “What do you want to know?”

Dr Robert McColl Millar, of Aberdeen University’s linguistic department and author of the book, ‘Northern and Insular Scots’ said “Bobby Hogg’s death was highly significant.”

Dr Millar can be quoted as saying, “It’s the first time that an actual Scots dialect has so dramatically died with the passing of the last native speaker.

This was always going to be the danger of the Black Isle as there were so few speakers even when it was healthy, when the fishing was still good.

So Bobby Hogg’s passing is a very sad day. It was a very interesting dialect and was unlike any of the others.”

“There are one or two who still have some facility in the Cromarty fisher dialect, but most of the time they speak Highland English.

Bobby was the last fluent native speaker who spoke no other tongue from a child. He was what we term a ‘Dense’ speaker. So all we have now are the recordings.”


In 2007 the Herald interviewed Bobby Hogg when he and Gordon were about to be recorded by Am Baile, the Highland Council-funded project involved with the creation of a digital archive documenting history and culture of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

Mr Hogg said: “Our father was a fisherman and all his folk have been fishermen stretching way back. It was the same on our mother’s side too.”

“When we were young we talked differently in the fishertown to the rest of Cromarty. It was an oral culture. We had this sort of patois, which I think had both Doric and Gaelic in it.

“There were words, a lot to do with the fishing, which nobody else would understand.”

“But there were a lot of other differences in the way we spoke. We would always say thee and thine. The older ones were very biblical in their speech and would always be saying things like ‘O Blessed Jesus’ or ‘O Holy one of Israel’. It wasn’t blasphemy, it was just the way they spoke.”

“When we went out in the morning we were always told to ‘Put the Lord Afore you’ and you would never hear the fishermen swear.”

Mr Hogg thought the dialect’s decline had matched that of fishing in Cromarty.

Dr Miller also spoke of the other Scot’s dialect: “Most of them still have thousands of speakers with varying degrees of proficiency, although it has been noted that most of these are healthiest in rural heartlands such as Shetland, the North-East and the upper valleys of the Borders.

It is difficult to say what will happen with the other dialects of Scots in the future. It is possible some of these, at least will blend into colloquial English.”