by John J. Graham, from the Introduction to The Shetland Dictionary
Shetland dialect speakers generally have a rather slow delivery, pitched low and with a somewhat level intonation.
In the actual pronunciation of words there are two distinctive features which will almost certainly attract the attention of a stranger. Firstly, the predominance of 'd' and 't' sounds instead of 'th'. A Shetlander will say 'I'm tinkin dis is waar wadder dan der haen Sooth' - 'I think this is worse weather than they are having South'.
The consonant 'th' represents two sounds in English - the voiced sound as in 'this', 'mother' and 'weather', and the unvoiced as in 'thin', 'thing' and 'mouth'. The pattern of usage in the Shetland dialect is that 'th' (voiced) becomes 'd', as in 'dat', 'dis', 'bridder', 'faider' and `midder', and 'th' (unvoiced) becomes 't' as in 'tick', `tin' 'ting' 'trapple', 'aert' and 'wirt'. This change does not take place at the end of a word if the 'th' is preceded by a vowel, as in 'mooth', 'sooth' and 'truth'.
The other main distinctive feature is the frequency of the modified 'o' sound - represented as 'ö'. This sound has persisted from the days of the Norn so strongly that it has influenced words borrowed from Scots and English. For example, 'curious', 'been', 'bore', 'fool', 'she' and 'usual' become 'cörious', 'bör', 'föl', 'shö' and 'öswal'.
The dialect has a rich variety of vowel sound, more than most branches of Scots. This is part of its heritage from the Norn, which had a wide variety of vowel sounds.
The following are the vowels found in the central Mainland:
short a as in English 'man' - Sh. 'flan' (gust of wind).
long a as in English 'father' - Sh. 'waar' (seaweed).
modified a - no real equivalent in English: is rather like the German ä and is a drawn-out version of the English short a. - Sh. 'claag' (cackle).
short e as in English 'men' - Sh. 'bent' (gather).
long e as in English 'main' - Sh. 'faird' (afraid); this vowel is often diphthongised into ai-eh, as in 'bait', 'plane', 'rain' pronounced 'bay-et', 'play-en', 'ray-en'.
ee as in English `feet' - Sh. 'creepie' (stool).
short i is sounded further back in mouth than English 'i' - Sh. `wilt'(lost).
short o as in English 'hot' - Sh. 'mott' (mote).
long o as in English 'moan' - Sh. `coarn' (small quantity); this vowel is, like long e, often dipthongised into oh-eh, as in 'boat', 'goat' pronounced 'boet', 'go-et'.
short oo as in English 'boot' - Sh. 'cloot' (rag).
long oo as in English 'choose' - Sh. 'stoor' (dust).
short ö as in French 'creux' - Sh. 'böl' (animal's bed).
long ö as in French 'creuse' - Sh. 'bröl' (bellow).
short u as in English 'ton' - Sh. 'dub' (bog).
Dipthongs: The ah-ee sound as in English 'bite' is extended in Shetlandic in a number of cases, e.g. 'mylk', 'fysh' and 'wysh'. The letter `y' is used in these cases to denote that the sound is not the short English 'i'.
The ah-oo sound as in English 'how' - Sh. 'lowe' (flame).
The oh-ee sound as in English 'boy' - Sh. 'gloy' (straw).
There is also a number of pronounced variations of these vowels and dipthongs in other districts.
In the North Isles and Fair Isle the long a sound - spelt as - is rounded into a short o sound, as in 'haund' instead of 'haand', 'caum' instead of 'calm', and the short e sound as in English 'men' becomes 'ee', as in 'been' and 'steen' for 'bane' and 'stane'.
In Whalsay a number of very interesting variants occur. The short e sound as in English `men' becomes a diphthongised sound 'eh-e', as in 'meh-en', 'steh-en' and 'teh-en' for 'men', 'stane' and 'ten'. The long e sound as in English 'main' becomes a diphthongised sound as in 'doy', 'boirn' and 'spoire' for 'day', 'bairn' and 'spare'. This also occurs in Fair Isle.
In Burra Isle, Cunningsburgh and Fair Isle the long a sound as in English `lash' becomes a sound close to short e as in 'lesh', 'besh' and 'wesh' for 'lash', 'bash' and 'wash'.
In the Westside the sound ö becomes a diphthongised sound 'ö-ee', and the modified a sound becomes long a as in 'waal' for 'wal' (English `well').
Consonants are generally very similar to English. There is a tendency in a number of words to insert the `y' sound between an initial consonant and a vowel, whereby 'book', 'going', 'look', 'kist' (chest) and 'country' becomes 'byook', 'gyaan', 'lyook', 'kyist' and 'kyuntry'.
In the Westside, the sound 'hw' as in 'white' and 'where' becomes 'kw' to produce 'kwite' and 'kwere'. The 'hw' sound prevails in most other areas.