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Terms for fish in the dialects of Scotland's east coast fishing communities: evidence for lexical attrition.

1. Introduction

In communities dedicated to the fishing trade it is almost inevitable that a wider range of words for different species and kinds offish should be found in the local dialect than would be the case in a community which only purchases and consumes the product. This diversity is undoubtedly due largely to practical concerns: some fish are good to eat, while others are not; similarly (although by no means identically), some fish may be more readily attractive to buyers, while others may not. Although it would be possible to make and perpetuate these distinctions without having separate terms, it is easier for separate terms to exist for different fish species or types. By the same token, it is also necessary (at least with some fish) to have different words for different stages in their maturity process. If, for instance, you land a fish which is not sexually mature and do not throw it back, you are in a sense cutting your own throat. Again, knowledge of what to look for in this respect is largely visual rather than linguistic; having contrastive terms is likely to help maintain the distinction, however. (1)

In the case of the fishing communities on the east coast of Scotland, previous surveys (of which more will be said below) have recorded some sense of this diversity. It must be recognised, however, that the surveys involved are now rather old (the now in entries for the Scottish National Dictionary and its offshoots refers, for instance, to the 1950s at the latest) or are geographically limited (such as Downie 1983 or Lawrie 1991); others demonstrate somewhat questionable methodologies (such as Schlotterer 1996). This patchy coverage has to be viewed in relation to the unprecedented change and contraction which has affected the Scottish fishing industry over the last fifty to sixty years. Much that was once central to the inhabitants of fishing communities is now relatively detached from everyday experience. It was felt necessary, therefore, for a new survey of the dialect lexis of the present and former fishing communities of the east coast of Scotland, informed by recent dialectological and sociolinguistic methodologies, to be conducted to give a sense of knowledge and use of individual words and phrases and of semantic fields in these communities.

Although information on the loss and use of lexical material in a range of different semantic fields was assembled, for the purposes of this essay the concern is with knowledge of terms for fish of different species and at different stages in their maturity cycle.

These aims need to be viewed within the framework of linguistic attrition. A number of different viewpoints in relation to this concept are possible, from the language attrition of L1 in an L2 environment (as discussed by Schmid 2011) through to the semi-speaker continuum described and analysed by a number of scholars in relation to the process of 'language death' (Dorian 1981; Sasse 1992). Less developed, although a growing field, is the discussion of what happens to highly distinctive traditional dialects, in particular as largely phonologically distinguished regional koines appear to be replacing them (see, for instance, Hinskens 1996, Watt 2002, Ferrari-Bridgers 2010). Even on those occasions, however, lexical attrition has rarely been touched upon (exceptions to this include Agutter and Cowan 1981, Macafee 1994, Wolfram and Schilling-Estes 1995: 702, Hendry 1997, McGarrity 1998 and Britain 2009:124-5; it is striking that a number of these resources deal with Scottish situations).

The fishing communities of the Scottish East Coast: an overview

Only an idea of the complexity and diversity of the fishing communities of the Scottish east coast can be provided in this brief space. They differ in size, in vitality and in religious connections. What was (and occasionally is) fished from particular ports also differed considerably. Communities were genuinely affected by what fish species were fished and landed, with inshore and deep sea fisheries making different demands upon individual fishermen, their families and the greater community. Yet in other senses each community shared more features with other fishing communities--no matter how distant along the coast than they did with their landward neighbours. It is with these similarities that the following paragraphs are concerned. (2)

Although the rich cold waters of the North Sea have encouraged fishing since the first human settlements along the coast, modem fishing is primarily a product of the late middle ages and later. As part of an ideology of differentiation from their neighbours, members of fishing communities often have a 'founding myth' based upon the idea of the founding fathers and mothers coming from elsewhere. While most people of fishing background probably derive from the community's hinterland, on occasion, accomplished and hard-working fishers were 'poached', along with their families and connections, by a new port. Specialised fishing communities, designed to carry out an above-subsistence level fishery, were therefore the product of large-scale capital investment, at first from local landowners and later entrepreneurs connected with the trade, in particular curers and factors. In the early stages of this process, many fishers were bound to their master. Fishing communities were therefore socially, culturally and occupationally distinguished from their hinterland (for a discussion of these matters see Nadel-Klein 2003; in particular Chapters 1 and 2).

Moreover, prejudice existed against the fishing community. Given that fishing can be a dirty business, it is unsurprising that this unpleasantness was transferred to those who worked in the trade. Despite the fact that fishing communities were famously house-proud, these prejudices were maintained, with, for instance, fishers being forced to take specific pews in a church, separate from the townspeople (despite the latter living off their labour). Experiences of this sort provoked a gradual move away from established religion of many communities, with adherence to a range of evangelical traditions otherwise not common in Scotland developing (for a sense of the spread of these traditions in Scotland, see Dickson 2002). This evangelicalism distinguished these communities even further from their neighbours. Tight-knit, often communal, family living was also a strong feature in many communities. All of these features defined these communities, internally and externally, as a 'race apart'. Language use was a central feature in the formation of this discrete identity.

The sampled communities

Over the last 100 years, the originally often highly prosperous fishing communities of the east coast have gone through unprecedented change; for most, but not all, of these communities this has meant decline in, indeed often cessation of, fishing. One of the major props of the separateness of these communities has therefore been removed along with the industry. The problem which the Fisherspeak project (Arts and Humanities Research Council, Award No.: AH/E009050/1) set itself is whether this set of changes has affected the language of the local communities. If, as seems likely, this is the case, is it possible to distinguish levels of knowledge and use between communities? Fisherspeak dealt with a wide range of topics, associated with both fishing and non-fishing concerns; this essay will concentrate on names for what was, at least until recently, the primary purpose of the communities: fish.

The best sample of the language use of the east coast communities would, of course, be all of them. Time and financial constraints made this impossible. A sample, representative in position on the coast, size, present and past fishing status, among other features, was therefore chosen, the communities involved being (from north to south), Wick (Caithness), Peterhead (Aberdeenshire), Anstruther (Fife) and Eyemouth (Berwickshire). Wick (population: 7,333 in 2001) was, in the nineteenth century, a major centre in the North Atlantic fishing and whaling industries, acting as both a port for its own fleet and a 'forward station' for ships from many countries (Foden 1996). With the development of rapid freezing technologies and the growth in the size of fishing boats, the town's distance from major centres of population began to act in its disfavour, however (Sutherland 2005). For a considerable period no fishing has been allowed. Unemployment is high in the town, since little or no new work has replaced the primary provider. Peterhead (population: 17,947 in 2001), on the other hand, is still an active port, particularly in relation to deep-sea fishing (Buchan 1986; Buchan 1999). The trade is often connected technologically with the North Sea Oil industry (the early years of which are discussed in Moore 1983; Bealey and Sewel 1981 give a sense of the community as a sociocultural unit), which also uses Peterhead for ancillary provision. Peterhead is only around 40km from Aberdeen and from there good connections exist to elsewhere on Britain. Despite this relative prosperity, however, a considerably smaller part of the inhabitants of Peterhead now take part in the trade than in the past. Anstruther (population: 3,527 in 2001) forms a part of the East Neuk of Fife, a series of villages on a promontory which sticks out from the main part of Fife into the cold water of the Firth of Forth (Coull 2000). Although there is only limited professional fishing now, the village is the host for the Scottish Fisheries Museum, a topic of much interest--although not always approval--for the local community (Nadel-Klein 2003). Eyemouth (population: 3,395 in 2001), just to the north of the present border with England and the site of the worst fishing disaster in Scottish history--Black Friday, 14 October 1881--was perhaps the first of these communities to go into decline, due to a combination of geographical, economic and cultural issues (Aitchison 2001). Some fishing does remain, however, as does a healthy processing and curing industry (Wood 1998). In recent years it has become almost an outer suburb of Edinburgh, however, with the proportion of inhabitants with local backgrounds dropping considerably.

All of the communities have traditions connected to evangelical forms of Protestantism; it must be recognised, however, that for the more southerly communities in particular these traditions are rather less vibrant than in the more northerly communities. In Peterhead, and particularly in the small communities around it, such as Buchanhaven and Boddam, adherence to evangelicalism remains significant.

2. Research preliminaries

The Fisherspeak Corpus: sources and construction

In order to create tools and methodologies to judge present knowledge and use of lexis in these communities, a corpus containing at the very least a highly representative sample of past and present use is necessary. There is no one source from which a full understanding of lexical use in these communities in the recent past can be derived, however. National resources, such as the Scottish National Dictionary (now combined on-line with the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue as the Dictionary of the Scots Language) are, of course, central to the building of any corpus; their nationwide remit does mean that local detail is not always complete or, indeed, local enough. Nevertheless, the Scots Thesaurus (ST; derived largely from the material in the Concise Scots Dictionary (Robinson 1999), itself a redaction of the Scottish National Dictionary) was employed as the primary means of accessing this resource tradition, primarily because it emphasises meanings rather than headwords; regular reference back to the Dictionary of the Scots Language was made, however. Beyond these, local resources--dictionaries, wordlists and other material prepared for and by local people--regularly represent the colour and idiom of local speech. This material is not always approached in a scholarly way, however; the quality of these resources is highly variable. Nonetheless, many resources are insightful and bring a native speaker's sensibility (and sensitivity) to bear on the language use of a community.

A number of local dictionaries exist for parts of the area studied--The Caithness Dictionary (CD) and The Doric Dictionary (DD) being the most striking (The Doric is the name given by some locals to the Scots dialects of north-east Scotland). A Caithness WordBook (CW), although not called a dictionary, falls into the same category. Although none of these is faultless in terms of methodology (sometimes ideological issues are present, such as the foregrounding of Norse-derived lexis in the Caithness works; insufficient distinction is made between historical and modem sources in the body of The Doric Dictionary), they represent local knowledge combined with analytical ability. Beyond these, some word-lists and near-dictionaries (word lists whose methodology has obviously been influenced, possibly intuitively, by dictionaries) are also available, ranging from the excellent Buchan Claik (BC), written with considerable wit and thought by two writers from the north-east, one from a farming, the other a fishing, background, through the occasionally eccentric 'In my ain words ': an East Neuk Vocabulary (ENV), compiled by someone local to the East Neuk of Fife, with considerable connections to the fishing trade, for a heavily illustrated booklet, to the sketchy As spoken in Berwick: the unique dialect. A dialect dictionary (BW), where, despite Berwick-upon-Tweed's longstanding connection to the herring fishery, only salmon-fishing terms are given (the compiler also seems to have issues with recognising the historically Scottish nature of the Berwick dialect as well). (3)

Other materials also contributed to the Corpus. These run from the Glossary, a collection of words for fish and other sea species at various maturity levels, compiled by governmental agencies (the present 1989 edition--Glossary--is, for instance, highly dependent on Anonymous 1928; see Macleod 2012 for a discussion) revised in the 1970s, to autobiographical writings, such as Rush (2007), which include a considerable number of fishing-related words, largely to give local colour.

Although no national survey of the language of coastal communities exists, some scholarly resources do touch on lexical use in a range of places along the coast. Downie (1983), for instance, discusses local vocabulary on the southern coast of the Moray Firth; Lawrie (1991) is not as coastal focussed, but does give a sense of lexical use of the inhabitants of eastern Fife; Schlotterer's masters dissertation (1996), while methodologically flawed (primarily because a central feature of the questionnaire used was the use of Standard English words and phrases to elicit local lexis; this methodology, while present in most fieldwork of this type, was so central that it is likely to have warped the findings somewhat), presents some sense of the knowledge of fishing-specific vocabulary in selected communities from the English border up to the East Neuk of Fife. Mather, in a series of publications from 1965 to 1972, covered the same ground with more sound dialectological techniques. Methodologies and other aspects of these studies have informed the Fisherspeak project; their findings have also been fed into the underlying corpus.

While these resources (and other small-scale wordlists where perhaps one or two words were added to the Corpus) do provide a new and richer sense of the local vocabulary use of the fishing communities, some areas --such as the north-east and, especially, Caithness--are better served with resources (possibly because both regions are linguistically distinctive and are also geographically discrete in relation to other parts of the east coast), others, such as coastal Berwickshire in general and Eyemouth in particular, are poorly served for local information. Even Schlotterer (1996) did not deal with the vocabulary of Eyemouth, instead using information from the villages situated around it, such as Burnmouth and St Abbs (which were therefore employed to give some sense of lexical use in their larger neighbour).

The study of lexical variation and change

Although central to traditional dialectology, the sociolinguistic study of lexical use and knowledge has rarely been given the attention which other variation, in particular in phonology, has received. This is due to a simple fact: the phonological system of any variety is circumscribed. Use of most, if not all, phonemes is regular and common; a considerable corpus of examples can be built up quickly. With morphology and syntax more structures exist; the field is still highly finite, meaning that analysis of (relatively) free speech is possible. Lexical variation is much more difficult to analyse from the viewpoint of their archetypal sociolinguistic interview. Naturally, all native speakers know a finite number of words; their number is considerable, however, which means that even common words may not turn up in discourse for lengthy periods (with the exceptions of the most common words in the closed word classes or a small number of verbs which can act as grammatical features in complex verbs. The analysis of a range of words recorded through free speech is unlikely to give a fair representation of lexical choice, therefore. Moreover, lexical choice is likely to be at a higher level of consciousness than phonological choice.

In dialectological surveys of lexis the questionnaire is central. Simplifying somewhat, a long list of questions (the task sometimes taking several hours) were given to a local person (often chosen because he--rarely she --was considered the 'best' or most traditional speaker, rather than a representative one). Generally what was involved was either a translation task ('what do you call a foxglove around here?') or one where a being or thing is alluded to without any term being used (often with a visual clue). The second kind of task appeared not to have the disadvantages of the first (not least that the use of any term inevitably encourages that term being given centre stage in the informant's mind, often to the detriment of any other terms for the same concept, being or thing he or she might know, a serious issue in Schlotterer's 1996 research); this is particularly true for the use of standard words to elicit dialect ones, given the ideological force and cultural capital invested in the standard, especially where, as in Scotland, high levels of literacy in the standard variety exist. It became the most common as the field evolved and matured. The whole task, however, was unwieldy, sometimes artificial and could not be used on more than a few people in any community. Thus an attempt at representativeness was actually rather impressionistic; it was based on the language of individuals rather than the community (for a discussion of these issues, see Chambers and Trudgill 1998). While many of these criticisms can be levelled at any form of linguistic fieldwork, classical dialectological methodologies are inappropriate on their own for a study dedicated to documenting lexical variation and change. A compromise therefore needs to be sought.

In work beginning in the last years of the twentieth century, a number of sociolinguists--in particular Llamas (1999 and 2006)--developed means of encouraging informants to speak about particular themes through presenting them with mind maps. These presented a range of basic topics --emotions, types of weather, and so on--which participants (normally in pairs) used to trigger words on the subject, whether local or not (although preferably the former). This technique was primarily designed to group natural speech patterns related to topics of interest to the speaker--lessening the influence on language use of the outsider researcher. The method's uses for triggering lexis in a fairly relaxed context are self-explanatory, however. On the other hand, the need to find words for highly specific states, ideas, beings or things meant that the Fisherspeak project was designed to combine both the questionnaire tradition and the mind map breakthrough into one seamless and relatively brief experience for every informant.

In preliminary fieldwork carried out in 2009 with older speakers in a range of fishing communities by Michael Hornsby it became apparent that the mind map technique was not as productive in eliciting local vocabulary items as had previously been thought. Generally participants enjoyed the tasks, but the actual quantity of material collected was very limited. It became obvious that, at least in the communities and with the people covered, mind mapping as originally intended was unlikely to be helpful in achieving the goals of the project. Elements of it remained, however, in the final questionnaire, made up of essentially 29 questions (with some sub-questions). Thirteen of these were to a considerable extent 'open-ended', such as

3. What local words could you use to describe the weather last winter? Use as many local words as you can!, (4)

thus maintaining the idea that eliciting a specific word or phrase was not always a central purpose of the survey.

Of the other questions and tasks, a number of different question techniques were used, going from a picture of a porpoise, beside which was the question

25. What is this creature called?

through to 'translation tasks', mainly from Scots into Standard English, along the lines of

13. What do you think scull (scoo) means?,

the idea being that participants would have a varied (and enjoyable) experience. The participants were given the questionnaire a few days before meeting the fieldworkers--William Barras and Lisa Bonnici, either as a pair or individually during the last five months of 2010 and the first three months of 2011--who then discussed the completed questionnaire with the informant, normally recording these sessions. This multilayered completion of data was intended to give a broader sense of individual and group knowledge of words and phrases.

The survey

Although it was never the intention of the project to produce data which could be treated quantitatively, it was nonetheless the plan to have an equal number (eighteen in total) of male and female informants for three age groups--older (65 and above), middle-aged (35-65) and younger (under 35). In the smaller communities--particularly Eyemouth--this proved impossible, in the main because younger people were difficult to recruit, due to work and family commitments. But the sample's representativeness and ability to give an indicative sense of community use as part of a qualitative treatment was not compromised.

Research assumptions

Because the connection between fishing and the community's everyday life has altered over the past century, even in communities where fishing continues, the assumption was made that a sharp age gradient would prevail in relation to the knowledge of fishing terms, with those who were either involved in the fishing trade or grew up in a situation where fishing was central to the community, more likely at least to remember these terms and quite possibly to use them. In order to test this hypothesis, a number of different means of elicitation and levels of appropriate variation and diversity need to be employed.

Moreover, since the fishing communities were most successful when considerable distinction was made between the roles of the two sexes, it is inevitable that this divide should be played out in the work carried out (for a discussion see Coull 2008b). Unlike some industrial communities, however, female members of the fishing communities were involved in the trade in ways which regularly made them central. Young women, for instance, often took part in the annual herring fishery, following the fleets and working as highly skilled fish gutters (see Bochel 2008 for a discussion). Intermarriage between fishing ports was a further side-effect of this migratory life. Although married women did not normally work as gutters beyond their home port, their contributions to the family enterprise were considerable, in the mending, treating and cleaning of nets and lines and in the baiting of the latter, tasks also performed by retired fishermen (as well as under-employed fishermen). Until the advent of powered transport in the early twentieth century, fishwives, carrying their goods to other communities, were a commonplace of Scottish life. Through all these experiences the women were much more informed and involved in the local trade than many other working-class women. Having said that, the different experience of working in fish processing rather than fish catching is likely to have given women a rather different trade vocabulary from men, a point which the Fisherspeak project attempted to investigate.

3. Knowledge of fish lexis

In this essay, three basic topics are covered. The first involves the discussion of which type offish a fluke (otherwise fleuk) is and whether informants could give more detail about types of fluke, thus testing knowledge of the pre-existent terms relating to the native fish typological systems. The second continues this sense of judging the level to which small-scale (but initially vital) lexical distinctions are maintained, dealing with different words for commonly caught fish, according to level of maturity (or size: the two typologies are not always the same). After this, terms for monkfish (otherwise known as anglerfish) were elicited, because the Corpus suggests that quite local terms for this fish existed, but its economic importance only grew significantly in the relatively recent past. The order as described can therefore be seen as one moving from the potential elicitation of a wide range of terms to one where concentration on one term (or a small range of terms) is required, but where the words involved may be iconic for the community. (5)


Flat fish have long been a staple part of the Scottish fishing trade. Although halibut, sole and flounder have perhaps dominated economically, other fish of this type have regularly been landed and sold on with considerable success. Given that flat fish are similar to each other in looks but attract different prices according to species, it is inevitable that different names should have been found for each fish; because of their similarities, however, it is also inevitable that some of these names should be variants of each other rather than entirely discrete.

With this in mind, informants were asked to define what a fluke (also spelled fleuk) is (question 15 in the questionnaire). According to the Corpus, fluke's primary association is with the flounder, in many ways the archetypal North Sea flat fish. The Glossary comments, however, that '[f]luke, or fleuk, is also used as a general term for most other flatfish eg "a bag fu' o' flukes". More properly, the type of fluke is specified, eg "Tobacco fluke, silver fluke etc."' The Corpus demonstrates that this is indeed the case. As a sample, evidence from the Glossary and elsewhere (in particular ST) tells us that prain fluke is an Aberdeenshire word for the common dab (although rough backfluke is used for the same fish in essentially the same region), a lemon sole is known as a sole fleuk in the Moray Firth region, while in Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire it is known as a tobacco fluke. It should be noted that even the flounder is sometimes recorded with premodification, as with beggar fluke, a phrase used in northern and eastern Scotland to refer to both that fish and the similar plaice (another flat fish much used in cooking, often in similar ways to the flounder).6 To what extent is this diversity recognised or maintained in the fieldwork? With this in mind, a supplementary part of the questionnaire asked, 'Are there different types of fleuks/flukes? What are their local names?'

In Peterhead, just over half the informants recognised that fleuk referred to a flat fish. All of these informants were older or in middle age (predominantly the former). A number of other informants, largely middle aged, although with one younger female, recognised that the word referred to a fish, but could not go any further. A small number of young women associated the word solely with the colloquial English meaning of an unexpected or undeserved stroke of luck.

Informants were asked to give examples of types of fleuk. Almost half of the informants did not provide an answer to this question or did not know, which is likely to imply lack of knowledge for many of them. There was, however, a sizeable group who demonstrated not only knowledge of the use of fleuk with a range of different fishes--in particular lemon sole, plaice and dab--but also of where these fish were to be found. Almost inevitably, most of these respondents were older males (just as there were no older males among those who gave no answer to the questions). A somewhat smaller number mentioned the use of fleuk for the megrim, flounder and the witch (the last being a type of flounder). Two informants (both middle-aged men) also mentioned fresh water flukes, one observing that, 'as a bairn' he would have caught fresh water flukes, the other that they were found in estuaries, were not good to eat and that animals fed off them.

In conversation with the informants it was apparent that even the oldest participants, who offered several type of fleuk, did not recognise the premodifying naming method mentioned above, instead using the Standard English names (or very occasionally other local names) for the fish. To some extent this may be due to the nature of the questionnaire, which focussed on translation in the previous question, thus making it likely that Standard English was maintained as the default means of describing fish of this type. We can go further than this, however, primarily because a number of 'good' older participants were quite vehement in their denial of these compound terms. It could just about be argued that Peterhead people never used the x + fleuk constructions, since none of the Corpus sources states specifically that they were used in that town. The fact that they are apparently not known at all demands reflection, particularly since many informants knew the names of types of bird used at a considerable distance from Peterhead (see Millar, Barras and Bonnici in preparation). Is it possible that the premodified fluke terms recorded in the national resources (they are less common in the regional and local equivalents) represented the idioms of a small number of speakers rather than that of dialects as a whole? Or is it that the fieldwork for the Glossary in particular had encouraged the recording of terms of this type by the initial use of fluke?

Similar findings are present for Wick, with a slightly larger proportion making the connection with flat fish than in Peterhead (and a rather smaller part of the population associating it only with 'fish'). Several informants used the diminutive flukie, suggesting that the word at least was part of the central community vocabulary if we believe that the use of a diminutive implies regular, perhaps even affectionate, use. Interestingly, however, one younger woman only recognised the word in its flat fish associations after she was prompted, while another younger woman, who associated the word solely with good luck, informed the researcher that she had 'never heard of it to talk about fish'. One young woman claimed that she knew the word primarily from the public art installation on the Black Stairs, where local words were written.7 Knowledge could be said to be somewhat 'frayed' among younger people.

The same is true with the 'types of fleuk' question. No-one produced any of the x + fleuk type names, although many older men and women and a few middle-aged people recognised a range of different flatfish, including dab (and sma dab), lemon sole, megrim, plaice, skate and witch. One older male was particularly informative, pointing out there were 'no different types of flukes', as the question suggested, but that he distinguished between flukes and plaice, turbot and halibut, which are bigger flat fish, so 'a fluke is particularly a flounder, found inshore'.

Similar findings were reported from Anstruther and Eyemouth, with lower levels of knowledge than the preceding, particularly perhaps in Eyemouth. Most older and middle aged informants knew the word fleuk, with many knowing that it referred to flat fish (although with some informants -- including older people--only knowing that it referred to apparently undifferentiated fish). A fair number of older informants could give the names of different kinds of flat fish, although these were primarily referred to by their Standard English names (one older woman in Anstruther did volunteer that flukies referred to small flounders).

We can therefore say that fleuk continues to be known as a word for flat fish among quite a large number of people in these communities; in particular, perhaps, in the more northerly settlements. What is striking is that, even in these settlements, there are a considerable number of younger people who either do not know the word at all or know it only as a word for fish. This is likely to demonstrate that the word's existence as part of the active lexicon of local people is already threatened. It is possible that similar patterns can be found in the lack of realisation of derivative fleuk forms. On this occasion, however, such forms may never have been as common as the independent names for particular fish. A number of the sources for the terms in the Corpus were probably designed to be comprehensive rather than representative. But the fact that none of the informants either produced the forms or appeared to know them takes the argument much further. If this were the case for only one community it might be argued that forms of this type had never been found there; the fact that the absence appears universal invites further thought, however. There is a strong possibility that these forms were highly periphera in all communities even when fishing was the primary employer.

Active knowledge: fish maturity and size

With the fleuk questions, it was assumed that someone who lived within a fishing community, but was not actively involved in the catching and processing of fish, would have a good chance of knowing some discrete terms for a common class offish. In order to counteract this likelihood, a series of questions were posed on names for fish at various stages of their life cycle (triggered by cartoon-like drawings of different sizes offish), a terminology which, while important to the trade, was not vital to those employed elsewhere, no matter how closely connected to the trade. Members of the community with a 'secondary' connection to the fishing might have been, at most, concerned with the size of particular fish and therefore have far fewer specific words and phrases for this purpose.

According to the Corpus, not all communities present the same level of lexical diversity; nor do they always have the same number of terms for all fish. But the tendency to differentiate according to size and/or sexual maturity is present at the very least with fish which were (and sometimes are) regulatly landed, such as herring, haddock, cod and salmon. It was therefore assumed that terms dealing with these economically central fish would be likely to survive in communities. With fish such as mackerel or ling, a small number of terms are reported solely in the Glossary, a resource whose main purpose is to provide as wide a range of possible terms rather than primarily to report regular use.

In Peterhead, a majority of informants were unaware of any terms for levels of maturity for any fish. A large minority, made up mainly of older people but also including some middle-aged informants, produced quite a few words and phrases related to the topic, including for fish which were not specifically named in the questionnaire (although these, such as the word geet for smaller and blackjacks for larger podlies,8 were generally produced only by a small number of older people). With the fish which were specifically mentioned--haddock, herring and salmon (9)--more variants were elicited. The extent to which these words and phrases bore similarities to the material in the Corpus was patchy, however.

For a small haddock, the Corpus records a small number of words. The Glossary defines calfies as the 'smallest marketable fish', recorded in Aberdeenshire. ST gives pontie as a 'small haddock', found throughout Scotland. With the Fisherspeak evidence from Peterhead, the words sma, podlie, chipper and metro were given by one informant each. The last term, a middle-aged male stated, had only started being used recently, particularly in the market. As far as can be told, no further information--local or national --can be found on this term. For medium haddock, two middle-aged men gave seed and big sma. For the largest haddock, jumbo was given by four participants, while one older man suggested that big was the term used for haddocks one stage smaller than jumbo. This evidence is in contrast to the Corpus, where harrowster is a general Scottish term for 'a spawned haddock', according to ST. The Glossary also has cameral for 'recently spent fish', which it places in the Aberdeenshire and Moray Firth regions.

A number of the terms recorded--jumbo, seed and chipper (along with rounder and selected, otherwise not recorded) were associated by two informants with stages in the gutting process, so that rounder was a fish which had not as yet been recorded, while chipper, unsurprisingly, was intended for the chip shop. It is striking, in fact, how the sizing of fish in the gutting process, rather than their maturity (in other words, on shore rather than off shore) was foregrounded, a point to which we will return.

A somewhat different pattern applies for Wick. Few differentiating terms are found in discussion with haddock, for instance, with one middle-aged woman asserting that different terms for different sizes (or ages) of this fish did not exist. In general this appears to be the case. A number of informants from all age groups produced only haddie as a generic term for the fish. One older man discussed modification along the lines of young haddie, old haddie and big haddie, however. One the other hand, another older male and two younger women state that haddie refers peculiarly to a 'small haddock'. This last point may be encouraged by the use of the archetypal Scottish diminutive--ie with the word (although it has to be recognised that in Caithness an alternative pattern using -ag or -ock, derived in the main from Gaelic, prevails). Snap, defined by ST as meaning 'a small cod or haddock', defined as being used from Orkney to Ross-shire, was not elicited.

In relation to herring a wider range of terms are recorded in the Corpus. For small fish, sile or sill is given by ST for 'the newly hatched young of fish', in a geographical range which includes all of the centres covered in the Fisherspeak project with the exception of Eyemouth. Mattie (otherwise maatie) is defined as 'a young maiden herring with the roe not fully developed' by ST, and placed in Shetland, the north-east and Angus. The word is also given in two Caithness sources, however, with both CWB and NCB defining it as a 'small firm herring'. The Glossary defines the word as 'maiden herring', but gives no sense of where it might be found, suggesting that it was known much more generally than ST suggests. The Glossary also records nun for 'maiden herring' in Angus and Fife. According to the same resource shaldoo means 'young herring' in the Moray Firth region. Wine drinkers refer to the same stage in the same region, while yaulin, the Glossary reports, was used throughout Scotland.

Words exist also for 'maturing herring', such as filling (Glossary), found throughout Scotland, and halflin(g), given by ST for 'a half-mature herring', placed in Fife and Lothian (the same word is defined by the Glossary as 'young herring', and said to be confined to the Moray Firth region; it is worth noting that the word primarily refers to young humans, so its extension may well be adhoc). 'Mature herring', on the other hand, can be described as full (Glossary; a common Scottish term). Maizy, again given by the Glossary as being found throughout Scotland, is defined as 'spawning herring', while a similar geographical spread is given by ST for matfull, 'sexually mature herring'.

With herring, the most productive area for discussion of fish terms in Peterhead was undoubtedly related not to the age or size of the fish, but rather in relation to alternative names for the fish itself. Some of these were common terms, such as silver darlings (put forward by a young woman) or alternative pronunciations, such as heerin (recorded by an older man). One, madje, was particularly interesting, however, primarily because, although the middle-aged woman who produced it considered it to be a generic term, she also noted that her mother classified it as a herring 'after it has been spent'. As we saw above, the Corpus records a similar form--mattie (probably of Dutch origin)--although strikingly this word is connected to 'virgin herring', in other words herring which have not spawned. Interestingly, one older Peterhead male defined mattie as a 'small' herring.

Otherwise, the words and phrases elicited for various sizes offish are not particularly rich. Two older informants--male and female--used sprat for small herring; an older woman used whitebait, both employing a similar but separate species to describe herring. The descriptive sma was the only other term found (from a middle-aged man), although one older male pointed out that a mattie was larger than a sprat, possibly representing a further level of identification. Only one middle-aged male informant produced a word or phrase for a 'large herring': bonnie herring. The medium category was also represented only by one phrase (again from a middle-aged male), the laconic nae bad. It has to be recognised that the Peterhead results for this fish represent fairly slim pickings, only partly because Peterhead was slightly less of a herring port than were other ports along the coast. Indeed, with one exception, any words or phrases which were elicited related to the fish on the slab rather than the fish in the net. Interestingly, one older woman could not provide size or age distinctive terms for herring, but could distinguish between saut herrin, fresh herrin and kippers. It might be that, given women's importance in the processing of herring, such an association is altogether predictable.

Unlike for 'haddock', 'herring' presented a more complex and apparently healthy set of terms in Wick. On these occasions information regularly came from female informants to the extent that male information is not dominant. This may tell us something about the gender-based nature of the herring fishery in distinction to other fisheries. One younger female informant produced silver darlings for 'herring'. This phrase is not unknown along the coast, but may have been encouraged in the far north of Scotland because of the local writer Neil M. Gunn's 1941 novel of that name. Specifically in Wick, moreover, a nightclub of that name is one of the few 'trendy' meeting places for young people in the district.

For younger herring, madgie herring was produced by two older men (one of whom uses the adjective early rather than small, suggesting a strong association with maturity, informing the terminology). Another older man uses sild. Probably a variant of sill or sile, mentioned in the Corpus for the very youngest fish, it is also the North Germanic word for 'herring', particularly perhaps smaller herring used in specific types of curing. The cultural background of north-east Caithness could make this word a survival from the Norn-speaking middle ages (or, given Wick's once cosmopolitan nature, a borrowing of the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries from Scandinavia). An older woman informant gives small mattie for this meaning (a discussion on the meaning of mattie within the community will be given below). It may be significant that, in a similar way to that found for Peterhead, one middle-aged woman and one younger man give terms for 'smaller/younger herring' which derive from the names of other smaller fish--sprat and dabbies respectively. Moreover, the fact that sprat is used by a middle-aged man for 'smaller/younger salmon' suggests that for some informants a considerable loss of originally species-specific terms has taken place, these being replaced (or supplemented) by metaphorical extension of names for other species (which was likely always to have been present, but may be becoming the norm). At the other end of the 'accuracy continuum' in this context is the mention by an older female informant of matful, referring to a herring full of roe (in other words, sexually mature, as defined in the Corpus).

There is a less fruitful haul for 'medium herring', perhaps because the features which make a herring large or small, in particular sexual maturity, are bifocal and do not fit the idea of a continuum of features associated with the median. Having said that, an older woman gives medium mattie, while an older man gives half-spent herring (originally a herring which had laid part, but not all of its eggs) for the same meaning. A similar lack of discrete terms is present for larger fish, with one older woman giving large mattie, while an older male informant gave spent herring (he was the informant who produced half-spent herring; another older man used the latter for 'large/fully mature herring').

As discussed for Peterhead, mattie regularly appears in Wick with a modifier to describe a particular stage in a herring's life-cycle. But used on its own the word can have strikingly different meanings for different members of the community. An older woman and one middle-aged informant state that the word means a mature or large herring, while another older female informant says that it is a 'small herring with no roe' (it is worth noting, however, that this discrepancy may not be as great as it sounds: the lack of roe may at least originally have meant more than the size of the fish). In the Corpus, in fact, this last interpretation appears the most accurate. One middle-aged man could only say that a mattie is a herring, without commenting on size, suggesting, in fact, that the reason for the diversity of the word's meanings is not one of actual change so much as a broadening and simplification of the original distribution.

The salmon presents a different set of issues. Salmon was not a fish regularly landed by fishermen in any of the communities discussed in this research (at least not in the recent past), but it was a fish many fishing communities knew well, particularly those--including most communities studied here--which lie on a sizeable river. It was also a fish which was associated with a number of superstitions and rituals (see, for instance, Anson 1950:41 and 43; Taylor 1988: 73). As the Glossary points out, there was a generally wide-spread and detailed vocabulary for different stages in the life-cycle of a salmon--an understanding of which was important in economic and long-term ecological terms but was also relatively easy even for non-specialist to recognise, given the great differences in form which a salmon passes through in its lifetime:
parr     young fish before leaving fresh water (Glossary)
smolt    fish leaving fresh water for first time (Glossary)
grilse   fish returning to fresh water after one winter in the sea
kelt     fish which has spawned (Glossary)

In Peterhead, elements of this nomenclature, although with some blending and blurring of boundaries, had been retained by part of the community. The only word given for 'large salmon' by any participant (on this occasion one older and one middle aged male) was salmon. Grilse was given as the term for 'medium salmon' by one older man and a middle-aged male. Strikingly, grilse was given by two informants (one older man and one older woman) for smaller salmon. If the meanings suggested by the Glossary above are consulted, however, grilse could, perhaps, be taken as being between small and medium sized (although this interpretation ignore a number of distinctive associations). Two men (one older, one middle aged) gave smolt, which is in line with the definitions given above. One older man gave finnock for a small salmon. In the Glossary this is defined as 'a white trout, in colour and shape like a salmon, usually applied to young sea trout in estuaries', which might demonstrate mistaken identification, but is more likely to represent the transfer of terms between similar species already alluded to.

Words elicited for stages in the life cycle of salmon in Wick are rather more like the results found in Peterhead than is the case for other fish. One older male defined kelt as a salmon which has not as yet reached sexual maturity. Two older males also gave very accurate definitions for grilse, referring both to its weight (under 81b) and that it was 'on its way out to the sea for the first time or on its way back from the sea'. One middle-aged female informant defined a grilse as a 'medium salmon'; the response was dictated by her husband, however. According to three older male informants, salmon itself was taken to mean 'large salmon' in size (over 81b in weight) or sexual maturity.

Alongside these terms, however, a number of other size-based terms were also available. One middle-aged woman gave spawn for a small salmon, while a middle-aged male gave pilchard for medium-sized salmon. This last connection is surprising, since pilchards are members of the sardine-herring family and are therefore much more oily than salmon.

Some Wick informants were also able to present generic terms for stages in the life cycle of any (or a range of) fish. Two middle-aged males gave tiddler for small fish while a younger woman gave peerie fish for small fish. Rose was given by a middle-aged male informant for large fishes; whopper by another male of middle years for a 'huge fish'. Two older men give blackjack for the very largest fish. The last was, according to the Corpus, originally related to the saithe or coalfish (and recorded along the east coast). The other terms appear to exhibit the same semantic origin, although not necessarily the same forms, as the terms for haddock reported in Peterhead.

Informants along the coast were asked if they knew the names for different stages of the life cycles of any fish species not mentioned. Many Wick informants commented on the life-cycle and size of a fish about which they had not been specifically asked: the coley or coalfish. Yet despite the apparent accuracy of many of the terms, a similar broadening and loss of definition is also present. (10)

For this fish's early stages the Glossary gives sellag or sillack in Caithness, Orkney and Shetland for its fry; the word-list in the New Caithness Book (NCB) defines the word as 'a young coalfish'. ST gives baddock for the same stage, saying that it is 'now' (in the 1960s at the latest) found in the North-East and Berwickshire. The Glossary records comb as a young coalfish in the Moray Firth area. Cuddie and cuddin are given for 'a young coal-fish' by ST, with use now being confined to the North, Fife and Argyll. The Glossary records cuddie for 'young fish' in Caithness, while the New Caithness Book gives cuddeen, although interestingly only with the meaning 'coalfish'. The Glossary gives geeks for the 'young stages' of the coalfish in the Moray Firth area, while gerrock is recorded by ST in the North-East for 'the coal-fish in its first year'.

Words for the second stage in the fish's development include get 'now' found, according to ST, in Aberdeenshire and Fife. The same resource records podle for that developmental stage in the North-East, Angus and Fife, adding that the word is also use for other fish, in particular the pollack and the lythe. Less technical terms for a less than fully mature fish include peltag or piltack, given by the Glossary for the fish in its second year in Caithness and Orkney. A similar meaning is given by the Glossary for queeth in Banffshire and the Moray Firth area in general. ST defines this word as 'the young coal-fish', found in the North-East. Prinkle is given by ST for the same meaning in the same area (the Glossary defines the word as 'small fish', placing it in eastern Scotland). In the same area, the Glossary tells us, poddlie means 'immature fish'.

Words for the mature coalfish include saithe or seeth, defined by ST as 'the full grown coal-fish in its third or (local) fourth year' and found throughout Scotland. The Glossary gives coalmie for the fully grown fish in the Moray Firth area, ST gives coam (found in the Banffshire area and probably the same word as that given above) and colmouth with the same meaning. It is probably unsurprising that it is words for the immature fish which predominate.

That this terminology was used systematically can be seen in the following comment:

In Caithness the first year's fish were 'sellags', then came 'piltags', and 'cuddies' at two to four years, ending with 'saithe'. ... 'cuddie' is the most widespread along the east and west coasts of Scotland. (Coull, Fenton and Veitch 2008 86-7)

According to the Fisherspeak survey's informants in Wick, the smallest variety of this fish is sellig, otherwise spelled sellag and sellick (in traditional Caithness dialect all final voiceless plosives are voiced). This information was derived from the knowledge of three older men and two middle-aged informants, male and female. The largest coalfish were called cuddeen (otherwise cudden and cudding), according to two older men and the same number of middle-aged female informants. Strikingly, however, one younger man associates the terms with any larger fish, while one older woman associates it with any small fish, an older male connecting it with any medium one. A number of older men gave seethe or saithe as the name of the older coalfish; one of these also gave grey-lord as a word referring to the same stage in the fish's life-cycle, a word which does not occur in the Corpus.

In between these two states ispellig orpeltig. Perhaps because this word was defined by a number of informants not so much a medium coalfish as a small cuddeen, confusion over the term's position in the fish's life-cycle was possible. The majority who know and use the word associate it unequivocally with the middle stage in the fish's development, other informants saw apellig as a small fish, one middle-aged male defining it as 'small fish you threw away'. It is likely, however, that these distinctions are primarily concerned with viewpoint rather than actual discrepancy. Interestingly, while one middle-aged male informant definedpellig as referring to a small fish similar to a haddock, he added that he did not 'know what they call them anywhere else', an older man was able to say that podlie was the word used for the same species at the same stage in Buckie. These differences are probably due to different life experiences.

We may not be able to reconstruct all the reasons why Wick informants should have a far larger range of words for 'coalfish' than that found in Peterhead, especially since it is likely that the fish is (or was) common in accessible waters. A tradition of 'hobby fishing' for inshore species may be present in Wick, but is likely also to be present in other parts of Scotland; the fact that commercial fishing is still strong in Peterhead may obscure what has become visible through lack of such opportunities. This interpretation may be supported by the presence of words for 'coal fish' in the southern ports.

In Anstruther many features related to vocabulary use for different stages in life cycle elicited in the more northerly communities are also found, albeit with rather fewer examples on occasions. In relation to 'haddock', pouts are given for 'small haddock' by an older man and a middle-aged male; this word is not found in the Corpus. Interestingly, haddie, normally taken for any haddock (although see the discussion for Wick above), is given for this stage in the fish's life cycle by a middle-aged man and an older woman. One older male gives halflin for a small to medium haddock, while a middle aged woman and an older man give seed for the same stage. One older male informant gives danny for a large haddock (a word not found with that meaning in the Corpus). A younger male gives haddock for 'large haddock'. On no occasion is sexual maturity named by the informants as a feature in producing these distinctions.

Like Wick, Anstruther throws up a range of terms for coley or coalfish. A middle-aged man gave dergie for the smallest coalfish (ST records that while darg refers to a young whiting in the north-east, dargie did indeed refer to the fry of the coalfish); an older female informant informed us that small children would catch these small fish'. Slightly larger coalfish were known as potlie, while saithe were medium-sized and collie large. While recording these terms is impressive, it must be recognised that all of them were produced by one middle-aged man.

The same man gavepar for a small salmon, while a middle aged woman produced smelts and an older man smolt. The Pars is the nickname given to the nearby (but not necessarily loved) Dunfermline Athletic FC. Grilse as a term for a medium salmon was recorded from two men, one middle-aged, the other older and one middle-aged woman. Each of these had produced all the 'salmon' terms already discussed. The middle-aged male informant also gave salmon as the term for the fully developed fish. Another older man gave redfish for mature salmon, which may represent a taboo-avoidance term (for more on which see Millar, Barras and Bonnici in preparation). One younger male informant filled in redfish for all the stages in a salmon's life-cycle, it should be noted. For these speakers at least the taboo avoidance of the term has been completely lost.

Strikingly unlike Wick, however, only one herring term was found: sma herring for the smallest form of the fish. The same number of terms was recorded for 'cod' (which was not specifically called for); indeed two older men and an older woman offered codlin for a small cod. This is particularly interesting, since the East Neuk was a major herring fishing centre.

Features like this leave as many questions as they answer. Does this pattern of usage exist because a relatively small number of people have remembered a number of terms which were (and possibly are) not representative of the community as a whole?

The use pattern in Eyemouth is very similar to those already recounted, although with rather fewer informants providing terms on occasion. For herring an older man and woman both produced sprat for 'small herring', while the same man gave herring for 'medium herring' and bloater for the largest of the species. The final word is also used for a specific type of smoked herring. Referring to 'haddock', a middle-aged woman gave roonders for 'small haddock', chippers for medium and dannies for large. A middle-aged man gave small for 'small haddock', best small for medium and agrees that dannies are large haddock. No other informants provided information on this. The term norrie, recorded for Berwickshire by the Glossary, was not elicited in 2011.

The same middle-aged man gave fry for 'small salmon' (a particularly interesting association since this is a regular word along the coast either for small fish or small pieces offish of any species), smolt for a medium-sized fish and salmon for a large one. An older man also gave parr for a 'small salmon'.

No words were recorded for coalfish or coley in Eyemouth. But words were elicited for cod, whiting and plaice. It should be noted, however, that all of the words were elicited from one source, the middle-aged man already mentioned. For 'small cod' he gives green and rowpie/robie dobie, while heids is suggested for a large cod. Whiting, otherwise rarely reported (although a fish of some economic importance: while east coast fish and chips shops generally have haddock as their default fish, their west coast equivalents use whiting), with stingoe and piranhas being given for the smaller fish. Informants offered postage stamp for a small member of the plaice species, a common feature in the Corpus. None of these terms feature in the Corpus. Some terms, such as piranhas, are very likely to be recent.

It seems therefore that what at first appeared to be a rich fund of knowledge in Eyemouth is likely only to be evidence for retentive memory on the part of a relatively small number of informants. Some of the more unexpected and even eccentric results may be due to this small group therefore.

In relation to knowledge of these terms, it can be said that, predictably, older speakers who often had direct experience of the fishing industry were able to give a wider range of these terms than were younger informants --although some younger informants, some of whom were connected to the heritage industry in one way or another, also demonstrated a degree of awareness. What was less expected, however, was that many of the distinctive terms elicited referred not to the maturational cycle so much as the size of the fish after it had been processed, suggesting a landward (and possibly female) basis for interpretation on many occasions.


In order to assess awareness of specific species beyond the historical 'canon', a question was asked in combination with a particularly striking photograph of an angler-fish (also called monkfish). This fish was chosen for a variety of reasons. In the first instance, a number of quite local words are recorded for this animal; moreover, the fish, while considered a delicacy, is extremely ugly and therefore memorable; finally, it is only in the last generation or so that its status has risen. Relatively recently it was considered something that should be thrown back into the sea because of its lack of value.

In the Corpus, a range of words are found for both fish (if they can be seen as discrete from each other). For the monkfish, the Glossary tells us that frog fish can be found throughout Scotland. From a range of sources, it is apparent that oof is the common name for the fish along the Moray Firth, while BC (and, based upon it, DD) have eaithiek as the Peterhead (and eastem Buchan) equivalent. According to the Glossary, mulrein is associated with the fish in Fife. Only ST records words specifically for angler-fish; even the Glossary collates that fish with the monkfish, while maintaining a separate presence for the former in a single entry. The sole non-localised word recorded for angler-fish is wide-gab (literally, 'wide mouth'). A couple of more localised forms are also found. ST records keth(r)ie, reporting that 'now' (that is, within the last fifty to sixty years), the word is found only in Aberdeenshire and Berwick, suggesting that the word was previously found in between, but has now retreated to more conservative enclaves (see Millar 1999). Oof or wolf is given for the same fish, its provenance being purely the north-east. What is striking is that, with the exception of Wick, all of the communities covered in this research have a name for this fish (or these fish) either completely or largely discrete from other places. Are these to be taken as identity markers, therefore?

In Peterhead most informants recognised the fish. Many of all ages called it a monk, while slightly smaller numbers gave it its 'Sunday names', either monkfish or angler-fish (with apparent variants like sea angler and angel fish also being recorded; many people who said both monkfish and monk indicated that the latter was far more natural to them). Three informants --all older men--offered of, although all three did not consider the term local--one associating it with Buckie, a considerable distance along the Moray Firth, one with the markets, while the last knew the word but would not use it himself. Big moo 'big mouth' is not recorded in the Corpus, but it resembles wide-gab semantically, which is. The most unexpected banjo was given by two older men, both of whom claimed that the name derived from the shape of the fish. It appears that this might be a case of mistaken identity, however: banjo is indeed associated with a strikingly ugly fish, found particularly in north American waters. The name is associated with sub-species of dogfish, however. It is possible, of course, that there has been a transfer from one species to another, although the confusion in interpretation is aided by the fact that two other informants (a middle-aged woman and a younger man) called the fish a dogfish. A similar gloss can be given to the name jenny cuntie or jenny given to the fish by an older male and an older female informant. This phrase is not found in the Corpus, but the Dictionary of the Scots Language, following the Scottish National Dictionary, gives cuntack or cuntie as a word found at least in Aberdeenshire for the father-lasher, adding that its origin is doubtful, although comparing it to Shetland konta-plucker, which refers, significantly, to the angler-fish. It is commonplace in Scotland for the name Jenny to be added to animal names. In the Corpus, for instance, Jenny (or Jinnie) grey is given as a Caithness word for a young guillemot. The loss of the second element in the name might be to do with the potential taboo nature of words with similar pronunciations to cuntie. The apparent confusion between anglerfish and father lasher is explained by the similarity in looks--although not in size--between the two species. Proportions are not always obvious in photographs.

One final name given was mock scampi. Before monkfish became fashionable, many people used its tail meat only, dressing the meat as if it were scampi (since at the time the latter was considered of greater value). What is striking, however, is that caithick, reported by a single, but highly reliable, source in the Corpus as specific to the Peterhead area was not recorded from any informant, young or old; nor was it recognised by even the oldest informants when it was introduced into the discussion. Was it ever used in Peterhead, or is it a 'ghost word' or misunderstanding?

The responses in Wick were not as rich (as we have seen, no local name for the fish was recorded for Caithness in the Corpus). A number of older women (at least one of whom did not recognise the fish at all) said that they would have recognised the tail better than its face, with the association with 'mock scampi' being implied, supported by the word scamp given to the fish by an older woman. Most informants did recognise the fish in the picture as a monkfish (although none gave the more familiar monk). One or two informants, largely older men, also pointed out that while that was its everyday name, it was actually an angler-fish. Four participants gave angler-fish, one older male informant suggesting that there must be a local Caithness word for the fish but that he did not know one off-hand. A number of informants associated the fish in the photograph with a range of other fish species, such as the predictable dogfish (or dowgfish), from an older and a middle-aged woman. A younger man gave hake, a fish which shares the size, but not the looks, of the monkfish, while a younger woman was very vague in her use of flattie and flat fish. These last two informants' views may represent the falling away of former knowledge towards default (and largely non-descriptive) local forms.

A number of comments by informants might explain the comparative lack of local vocabulary for the fish. Many older people who had been involved in the fish trade in some way or another considered the fish to be largely worthless. It had, it was reported, never been landed at Wick and was regularly thrown away before a return to port. By the time its prestige grew, it might be argued, Wick people were not normally closely associated with fishing and therefore learned a name for the fish largely from external, Standard English, sources.

In Anstruther, most informants who responded gave only monkfish, with a few giving monk, and one anglerfish. One informant gave sheet, otherwise unrecorded. The local word reported in the Corpus, mulrein, was not mentioned. Similar lack of elicitation was found for Eyemouth, with monkfish, anglerfish and monk being most recorded, although banjo, also recorded for Peterhead, was elicited, as was keckie, given by one older and one middle-aged male. This may well be a variant of local kethrie, reported by the Corpus, which may, in fact be a reflex of the otherwise elusive caithick.

It seems therefore that Peterhead is somewhat anomalous in relation to this fish. This may perhaps be due to the fact that as a still highly functional fishing port the rise of the monkfish as a delicacy has made the need for knowledge of, and words for, the fish considerable; in those ports where fishing is now minimal, however, knowledge of the fish (and the coinage of terms for it) would have remained rather lower. It is noteworthy, however, that a small number of older informants from elsewhere do seem to know words for the fish (the case of Eyemouth is particularly striking), so the lack of much fishing in recent times may have erased knowledge of terms for what were never much sought-after fish. It is possible that both explanations could be correct.

4. Discussion and conclusion

Perhaps the most straightforward conclusion to be drawn from this discussion is that connection to the fishing tradition acts as a strong encouragement to the continuation of this lexical tradition. Where fishing continues, as it does at Peterhead, almost inevitably knowledge of these terms will be stronger than where the trade has either been marginalised or has ceased altogether. Even so, as was seen for Eyemouth, some individuals or groups may continue to possess considerable knowledge when their peers appear either to have lost it or may never have had it. Going into this research we assumed that older informants would know--and perhaps sometimes use --the maturity terms for fish. Some of this was known; not always by the oldest members of the community, strikingly. But knowledge of words for size and cuts offish appeared to survive best in many communities, a tradition with more connection to the female than the male preserves of the trade.

Knowledge survives, therefore; at times, considerable knowledge. But not only are some terms confined almost entirely to the older generations, even in those circumstances much has been lost; perhaps more striking, however, are those terms only partly known, as a word among many words for a general concept like 'fish'. Many words and phrases are known vaguely, at the edge of knowing. What was once communal knowledge has often become individual, particularly for our middle-aged informants. While much still survives, it is reasonable to suggest that lexical attrition is at work in these communities.


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(1) This is in marked contrast to technology, which has a tendency to greater homogeneity, perhaps because it tended in the modem age to be disseminated from one source (or a limited number of high profile sources) who possessed control over the naming process.

(2) Much of the material provided in the following is derived from Anson (1932 and 1950), Coull (1996), Miller (1999) and Nadel-Klein (2003), among others, etc. Some of the emphases and interpretations are mine, however.

(3) Many of these resources are discussed critically by Macleod (2012).

(4) Numbers refer to positions in the questionnaire.

(5) In the discussion which follow, a hierarchy of description generally exists where the usage of Peterhead is presented before that of Wick, which precedes those of Anstruther and Eyemouth. This analytical system is at heart primarily geographical, moving from north to south. Peterhead is given prominence in the north, however, essentially because it is the only place on the coast where fishing is maintained as a central part of the economic basis for the site. On those occasions where thematic or other reasons mean that a somewhat different analytical path helps the analysis, this has been done without comment, however,

(6) It should be noted that, according to the Corpus, practically all of these fish have other names not connected to fluke; these are often highly localised.

(7) These stairs and the use of Scots terms on them were somewhat controversial among our informants, at least one younger informant going so far as to suggest that some of them had been made up. A middle-aged female informant pointed out, however, that the words were actually collected from local schoolchildren.

(8) Interestingly, the Corpus gives this as a word for younger coalfish, suggesting, perhaps that podlie has replaced coalfish as the generic term for the fish or that regional variation of attribution of species was always present.

(9) Cod, for which a range of terms relating to maturity and size were collected in the Corpus, was not given the same foregrounding, largely because only some of the communities covered had had much experience of a large-scale cod fishery. It is also not much consumed in Scotland, even when it is landed here.

(10) Coalfish, because it is abundant in-shore, has been eaten since very early time (Coull 2008a)


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Author:Millar, Robert McColl; Barras, William; Bonnici, Lisa
Publication:Scottish Language
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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