An invitation tae Papay tae spaek aboot Orkney language at a community event celebratan the ‘Doondie Dialect’ is cheust too good tae be true. Me an Linda fire wur bags in the back o the peedie Loganair Islander an we’re off owre Shapinsay, Sanday, North Ronaldsay, an the desolation o the North Soond – the grim, grey expanse o watter atween the ooter North Isles – afore landan quarter o an oor later wae a comfortable bump in wan o the silage fields o Holland, the biggest ferm on Papay.
Papay’s wan o these places that folk love tae (mistakenly) caal the ‘ends o the Earth’, ‘the ooter periphery o Europe’, or ither such romantic things. Tim, who sent us the kind invitation tae come, is an English ornithologist who travels tae North Africa an the Middle East tae lead an lecture on conservation projects there. Ye couldna get much less peripheral or parochial.
Tim drives us doon the spine o the isle tae the classic Orkney fermhoose at Holland, whar we are met by Jocelyn, who is the author o two superb Orkney books, an an owld freend. Jocelyn gaed tae school in England, cam tae Papay, an merried Neil. Taegethir, they ferm Holland. We spaek aboot sheep, folk we ken, an Lorimer’s magesterial New Testament in Scots, afore Jocelyn says tae Linda, in beautiful Orcadian wae her lovely English accent, Wid thu like tae see whar thu’re sleepan? Owlder, gentle familiar pronouns live on in the North Isles; we feel welcome an at home.
The eveneen event is a muckle community supper o finest mince, tatties an maely pudeen, followed by a talk fae me aboot Scots/Orcadian language, some readeens, music, an some recordeens o Doondie. Lukkan roond the haal at the framed calligraphy o Doondie words on the waals, hid dawns on me that I’m totally oot o me depth. Doondie’s ootlandish, even by Orkney standards: Doondie, in ossigar, horsegowk, glaip, yurrie. Yurrie?
I get some good-natured an weel-deserved freendly criticism during the Doondie quiz, whar I canna really help me team. An owld man corrects me – correctly – on me pronunciation o the word pok; That’s a Kirkwaa wey o sayan it! I should ken that the vowel’s right at the back o the roof o the mooth. There’s good crack aboot the word scorrie, a young herring gull in Papay, an owlder bird in neeboran Westray. Jim claims he wid caal a mature gull a scorrie, tae which Neil caals across the room wae the accusation Westray bluid in thee! A Doondie, I finally discover, is an ill-thriven cod – wan o that big long wans, worms in hid’s belly. Hence the ironic, derogatory island nickname. A Doondie is a buddy that wis born in Papay.
Tim’s dowter, Cassia, is that rare thing nooadays – a young Doondie. And sheu is the wan who reveals the meaneen o in ossigar. This is wan o these untranslatable Scots phrases. It refers tae a stage o a hen’s moult when it luks dour and dull.
In ossigar – the favourite phrase o a bright young Doondie student whose ornithologist faither lectures in Egypt. The hens are in ossigar, mither. Doondie for the 21st century.
And this taks me tae the point aboot Papay. Papay is rare an precious in so many weys. An no least o them is the wey hid’s language belongs tae owld an young, Doondie an ferrylouper alike. And this is the only wey forward for Orcadian or wider Scots Language. It canna afford tae be exclusive, the property only o folk who were born here. That wey o thinkan wid strangle Orkney language waein a generation. The truth is, ye can spaek it wae an English accent, a Dutch accent, a Canadian accent, furtiver. We mustna imagine hid belongs only tae folk whose folk cam fae Orkney, an no-one should feel that they canna use it.
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In the morneen, the blashy waathir o the previous day haes geen wey tae bonny sunshine an a brisk northerly wind. As Neil an Jocelyn drive us tae the airstrip, the Holm o Papay rises in the East like sometheen in a painteen by Stanley Cursiter. We soar owre Ramna Geo in the Islander on the wey back tae Kirkwall, minds an vocabularies a peedie bit broader than they were twenty four short oors ago.