INTERNATIONAL praise has poured in for the world’s first bilingual primer of the grammar of the Shaetlan language.

The 119 page document is not a full grammatical analysis, but is instead meant to help a layperson understand the structure of the language spoken in Shetland.

“If we made it too jargony then it’s not accessible for anyone that wants to learn the language and that defies the whole purpose of it,” Professor Viveka Velupillai, a Shetland-based language expert affiliated with the University of Giessen in Germany, told The National. “We wanted to start with this accessible version, and we’ll go into the nitty-gritty details for the linguists in a separate version.”

Velupillai has written the first primer alongside Roy Mullay, a native Shaetlan speaker and colleague on the I Hear Dee language project.

A copy of the primer – which is available to view digitally on – is to be gifted to every primary school in Shetland to show native speakers that their language “is not wrong”.

“They have been told for so many generations that their language is wrong,” Velupillai says. “We want to show them that it’s just as elegant, and systematic, and predictable as any other language variety in the world.”

Written in Shaetlan and English, the primer has “put Shetland straight onto the linguistic map”. Velupillai says they have been “touched” by the response which has already led to invitations to lecture at international universities and recognition from bodies such as the UN, the Endangered Languages Project and SIL International.

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The primer outlines some key features of Shaetlan grammar, highlighting interesting differences with English. Velupillai points to the fact that, in Shaetlan, objects have gender, as they do in other European languages. Uncountable nouns such as sand (saand in Shaetlan) or wool (oo) are “it”, while countable ones are either “he” or “she”. Newer words that have slotted into the language have also followed this rule. A phone is “she”, a pen drive, “he”.

English also uses “have” to form the present perfect (eg: I have seen the film), while Shaetlan uses “be” (A’m seen da film).

Velupillai says this difference often sees Shaetlan speakers told they are making a “mistake”, when they are simply following their own language’s rules. In fact, English’s use of “have” is “extremely rare globally”, the professor explains.

“It is English that is quirky, but we’re so used to it that everyone assumes it’s the default.”