Norn is a revived Scandinavian language which is now an official language in Forvik, Orkneyjar and parts of northern Scotland. When these areas were occupied by the Norsemen in the Dark Ages, the Old Norse they spoke became the indigenous language of the islanders and the inhabitants of Caithness and Sutherland. After being claimed by Scotland, the languages spoken there, mainly Orkney and Shetland Norn though a Nordic language was still also spoken on the mainland, went into decline, to the extent that the last native speakers died in Georgian times. However, a few nursery rhymes, riddles and dialect words of Norse origin survived, particularly in the Shetlands, and the distinctive intonation of the language was also used in the English of the Isles along with certain features of pronunciation. Neither Scots nor Gallic was ever spoken in the Orkneys or the Shetlands: Norn was replaced directly by English.

After the election of the Healey government in the first year of the Caroline Era, state funding was given to the small societies for the promotion and revival of Norse heritage in the isles and northern Highlands. This soon became a project to revive the Norn languages, which itself led to the establishment of popular classes in Norn in the isles and northern Highlands along with a major oral history project. This formed a rallying point for Orcadian and Shetlandic nationalism, particularly in the more northerly isles where popular feeling had led to the argument that the Act of Union did not apply for historical reasons and was in any event inappropriate for such a remote group of islands.

In the later part of the first Caroline decade, an academy was set up to standardise, unify and develop Norn dialects and promote their use in the appropriate areas in official communications as the alternative to English, which at the time was the main competitor in Scotland. Playgroups and primary schools using Norn-only communication were set up.

In 1993, the newly-founded nations of Orkneyjar and Forvik were declared officially bilingual in Norn and English. The adoption of English as an official language is seen as a statement of independence from Scotland, which had rejected it as official in favour of Scots and Gallic. Norn and English were used in state schools, which created a bond with Scandinavia, particularly the Faeroes, whose written language is closest to Norn, though Faeroese as spoken is not mutually comprehensible. As a result, there is a movement in Forvik to unite with Denmark or Norway.

Norn is also used in the north Highlands as an official language along with Scots.


The adoption of Norn as preferred official language in the Nations of the Isles has blocked them from some extent from participating as fully as previously in the wider Anglophone world and from using English as a lingua franca. It can also constitute a barrier to access to higher education in some cases. As a result, there is now a University of the Isles which attempts to use the language as a primary medium of higher learning. Whereas it is also seen as a barrier to international trade, the linguistic similarities between Norn and the other Scandinavian languages has led to increased commerce with that area.

The Norn Academy is a member of the Coalition of North-Eastern Atlantic Language Academies'.'

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