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92-year-old Scottish man dies, taking dialect with him

LONDON — In a remote fishing town on the tip of Scotland’s Black Isle, the last native speaker of the Cromarty dialect has passed away, taking with him a little fragment of the English linguistic mosaic.

Academics said Wednesday that Bobby Hogg, who was 92 when he died last week, was the last person fluent in the dialect once common to the seaside town of Cromarty, 175 miles north of Edinburgh.

“I think that’s a terrible thing,” said Robert Millar, a linguist at the University of Aberdeen in northern Scotland. “The more diversity in terms of nature we have, the healthier we are. It’s the same with language.”

The demise of an obscure dialect spoken by a few hundred people may not register for most English speakers, but it’s part of a relentless trend toward standardization which has driven many regional dialects and local languages into oblivion.

Linguists often debate how to define and differentiate the world’s many dialects, but most agree that urbanization, compulsory education and mass media have conspired to iron out many of the kinks that make rural speech unique.

Cromarty, which counts just over 700 people, is at the very end of a sparsely populated peninsula of forest and farmland. It is separated from Inverness, the closest city, by the Beauly Firth, a wide body of cold water where salmon run and dolphins frolic.

The Cromarty dialect included a helping of archaic “thees” and “thous,” as well as a wealth of seafaring vocabulary, including three sets of words for “second fishing line.”

The aspirate “h” was often added or subtracted, so that “house” would be pronounced “oos” and “apple” would be pronounced “haypel.” The “wh” sound was often dropped entirely.

From wire dispatches and staff reports