A “GROUNDBREAKING” language plan in Shetland should pave the way for Scots to “gain the foothold it deserves”, a linguistics expert has said.

Professor Viveka Velupillai told The National that the language plan for Shaetlan was “an important first step” in getting it and the macro Scots language stronger recognition.

In conjunction with Dr Beth Mouat, Velupillai has succeeded in getting the University of the Highlands and Islands Shetland board to sign up to the Shaetlan Language Plan.

It means that the variant of Scots will be used on signage and in learning environments in an effort to raise the profile of Shaetlan “locally, nationally, and internationally”.

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“It’s groundbreaking in many ways,” Velupillai told The National.

“For one, it means that UHI Shetland is recognising Shaetlan as a language variety in its own right. It wants to promote the language locally, nationally, and internationally, and normalise it in schools and to get recognition for it. That step is very important for any endangered language.

“As you can see from the international reaction, it is an important first step.”

As part of the plan to normalise and boost the language, educational resources in Shaetlan are to be developed for all stages of education.

Velupillai said this would “pave the way for a Scots Language Plan where diversity is recognised”.

She went on: “It would be a very fresh approach, the opposite to this monoculture approach we’ve had for the last couple of hundred years.

“A place that recognises diversity and what a resource that is, that is very modern and very progressive. It would be something that others should emulate and certainly that will be admired.”

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Since the language plan was adopted by UHI Shetland, praise has been pouring in from linguistic experts across the globe.

Professors working with endangered languages in places such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Benin, the US, and Hong Kong have sent their congratulations for the “extraordinary” plan.

Professor Ian Hancock, a Rafto Foundation International Human Rights Prize laureate from the University of Texas, said in correspondence seen by The National: “I was enormously heartened to learn that the proposal to recognize Shaetlan as one of Scotland’s minority languages was accepted by the UHI board this year.

"This is a great accomplishment, and indeed a timely one, when the survival of Britain’s smaller languages and regional dialects are increasingly endangered.

“The successes of both the Cornish and the Manx language revivals testify to the determination of their champions, and Shaetlan, a still living language, can be confident of its survival thanks to its own, who will ensure its inclusion in the next Scottish census, its recognition amongst the world’s languages and, especially, its place in the Shetland’s classrooms.”

Velupillai said that their goal of seeing Shaetlan included as an option on the next Scottish census would have benefits for the whole Scots language.

“Very many Shetlanders don’t identify as Scots speakers, so you get a skewed picture,” she said.

“It looks as if English is much more dominant than it is because with the three options – English, Scots, and Gaelic – people won’t tick Scots, and in fact that’s justified linguistically.

“That gives an unfortunate skew towards English, which doesn’t help the bigger Scots picture. It would be much more helpful to gain the foothold that Scots deserves, to show that we have a lot of varieties of Scots and they are very strong.”

The Shetland-based professor works with the I Hear Dee project on the archipelago to preserve and promote the use of Shaetlan.