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Dialect's demise as final speaker dies at 92

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

But that dialect of Scots which had survived for centuries has died with the passing of its last native speaker, retired engineer Bobby Hogg, at the age of 92.

He 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.

His younger brother Gordon had been the other surviving tradition bearer, but he died 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.

He said: "It is 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."

Bobby, who died on Sunday, had worked across Britain, from Leicester to Dounreay, but kept coming back to Cromarty.

His wife Helen was also from Cromarty and was a direct descendent of the community's most celebrated son, the 19th- century polymath Hugh Miller.

But the Hoggs were from the fishing community. "Our folk have been fishermen all the way back to Galilee," he was fond of saying.

Their forbears were mentioned in the public annals of Cromarty as early as the 16th century. In the 1861 census there were no fewer than 96 living in Cromarty and its environs, and there are still some today.

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

He said: "Our father was a fisherman and all his folk had 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 wasn't written down. 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 could 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 fisherfolk swear."

He thought the dialect's decline had matched that of fishing in Cromarty.

Mr Miller said of the other Scots dialects: "Most of them still have thousands of speakers with varying degrees of proficiency, although it has to be 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 will blend into colloquial English."

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