Obituary: Robert (Bobby) Hogg, engineer and last speaker of the Cromarty dialect
Born: 1920 in Cromarty. Died: 20 September, 2012, in Rosemarkie, aged 92
THE exact origins of the Cromarty dialect are uncertain, but it was spoken by the fisher- folk of the Black Isle as early as the 16th century. Bobby Hogg was the only person still fluent in the age-old tongue and his death means it will now exist only in audio recordings. In 2007, the Hogg and his brother were recorded by the interviewer Janine Donald and a booklet was compiled of Cromarty dialect words and phrases for the Highland Council’s Am Baile project. Hogg also wrote an article about the history of the town and its connections with the fishing industry.
Hogg’s father was a fisherman, as were generations of his forefathers, so he and his brother learnt the dialect in their youth. “When we were young,” he once recalled, “we talked differently in the fishertown to the rest of Cromarty. It wasn’t written down. It was an oral culture. We had this sort of patois, which I think had both Doric and Gaelic in it.”
Linguists believe that as fishermen emigrated north from the Firth of Forth in the late Middle Ages they spoke a language carrying traces of Norse and Dutch. Similar to Doric, it was one of the many Highland tongues with connections to the Lallans tongue of the Borders.
Robert Hogg – always fondly known as Bobby – trained as an engineer at Conan Bridge and then served with the Royal Air Force in India during the Second World War. After being demobbed, he worked on several engineering projects throughout the UK – often with the expanding hydroelectricity industry in Scotland. He remained a proud son of Cromarty and returned whenever possible.
The dialect has a lyrical, rather musical quality – especially when spoken by Hogg. The words are incomprehensible to non-speakers, but have an in-built, historic charm. Linguistic gems such as “A’m fair sconfished wi hayreen; gie’s fur brakwast lashins o am and heggs”(“I’m so fed up with herring, give me plenty of ham and eggs for breakfast). The dialect drops the “h”, but it is in evidence in the wonderfully colourful remark holl tol (very drunk). But many of the words are connected with fishing: tumblers, for example, are dolphins.
Dr Robert Mcoll, a linguist at Aberdeen University, has commented, “There were so few speakers even when the fishing was still good. So Bobby Hogg’s passing is a very sad day. It was a very interesting dialect and was unlike any of the others. Generally, in the literate world, local dialects are suffering. The highly- mobile and technologically- advanced areas of the world are worst affected,” he said.
Hogg was a much respected character in the picturesque village of Cromarty. The town, which is dominated by the North and South Sutors, was very much his home when he retired in 1969. He spent much time sailing and fishing in the Cromarty Firth and, as his daughter recalls: “If anyone had problems with the engine of their boat, Dad would mend it and then bring them back to the house for a cup of tea. Dad was a popular figure throughout the Black Isle and was involved with the Kirk and the restoration of the Court House. He would talk to anyone and everyone: he was a real gentleman.”
Hogg delighted in telling people that “our folk have been fishermen all the way back to Galilee”. He was married to Helen Coupar, a descendent of the community’s most celebrated son, the 19th century writer and geologist Hugh Miller. The two were renowned for their genial hospitality at their home and there is a charming video on YouTube of Bobby and Helen at a family Christmas in 2005 singing a song written by his brother Gordon.
Summer parties in their garden were very much a feature of Cromarty life. One neighbour recalls: “Their upbeat sense of humour, genuine kindness to their fellow townsfolk and love for each other were truly an inspiration to us all.”
Hogg was a popular member of the Cromarty Fourways Club and at a birthday party for another member in 2009 Hogg sang a solo and joined in, in fine voice, for the popular song, My Cromarty.
With Hogg’s passing, a slice of Scottish history and pride in its language has gone. Proud of his origins and his community, Hogg, with his broad and welcoming smile, preserved a part of the Scottish heritage which, fortunately, he committed to tape and is now available for enthusiasts and historians to study.
Hogg died in the Marine House, Rosemarkie. His wife predeceased him and he is survived by their son and daughter.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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