History Of The Scillonian Dialect Studied

emma moore

Dr Emma Moore

A linguist who has made detailed studies on the way Scillonians speak English is looking for more women to help with her research.

Dr Emma Moore, from Sheffield University, has spent the last few years recording island residents and working out if there’s a distinct Scillonian dialect.

And she’s recently presented her findings at an academic conference.

Emma says the language here in Scilly is very complicated and tends to be a mix of influences from different areas.

There is a ‘standard Scillonian’ with certain vowel and consonant sounds that are very different from our neighbours across the water in Cornwall.

But one of her most surprising findings is there’s also a second dialect, which is much closer to how people in East Cornwall speak, rather than people nearer to us in the West of the county.

That’s because when immigration to Scilly started in the 1600s, the inhabitants of the west were speaking Cornish, while those in the East spoke English.

We’ve tended to carry on with that version of English.

There’s no record that Cornish was ever spoken in Scilly, even though many of our place names come from that language.

Emma says the 1891 census records show that 80% of people living in Scilly at the time were born here.

But there was still a large proportion of residents from as far afield as London, Ireland, Lancashire and Yorkshire, and that could also influence our dialect.

Emma says there’ are strong differences between the way women and men use English in Scilly. That’s quite common in other dialects, she says, but the pattern here is unusual, with women having a stronger dialect than men.

It’s most likely because men and women were sent away to different places to get educated on the mainland.

She has plenty of recordings of men from the islands, but she’s keen to find more women, particularly those born after 1930, who would agree to be interviewed.

Emma’s currently writing a series of academic papers on her research, which she hopes to publish soon.

But she’s also planning to put together a book, which she feels would be more accessible to non-experts and include some aspects of the history of the islands and how it affects the way we talk.

You can hear a full interview with Emma and listen to a podcast about her studies here.

You can also find out more on Emma’s website called Scilly Voices.