A NEW project aimed at promoting one of the rarest varieties of Scots has taken the world by storm, with thousands of players across six continents.

Wirdle, a Shaetlan version of the international smash hit Wordle, was launched over the weekend, and has already been making waves.

The game comes from the I Hear Dee project, which aims to promote the language more widely.

Professor Viveka Velupillai, a Shetland-based language expert affiliated with the University of Giessen in Germany, and native Shaetlan speaker and graphic designer Roy Mullay talked to The National about their latest effort to “stem, if not turn” the endangerment of the Shaetlan tongue.

The National: A shot of the Wirdle game's 'aboot' section, and its keyboardA shot of the Wirdle game's 'aboot' section, and its keyboard

But is Shaetlan the language, or Scots? What’s a dialect? And where does English fit into all this, if at all?

“As linguists we speak about varieties,” Viveka explains. “The whole issue of whether a language is a variety or a dialect is really down to attitudes and politics.”

The professor says that there “is no linguistic cut off point”. Some “languages” – such as Norwegian and Swedish – are much more similar than two varieties of Scots are to one another. And English is different again, having roots in a different form of Old English.

READ MORE: This is why there's such a stigma around the Scots language

She says that Scots as a term is a “macro-umbrella” for a whole host of very diverse varieties of language, of which Shaetlan is one.

But if Shaetlan is just one of the wide spectrum of varieties which we term Scots, will speakers from outwith the archipelago be able to play the game, or will they find themselves tripped up by the differences?

“It’s a mix of both,” Viveka says: “There have been people from the US, Finland, Sri Lanka, who are playing and getting it right.”

“And I’ve seen people from Shetland who’ve tried and they can’t get it at all,” Roy says.

The National: A graphic showing the locations of the more than 2500 people who played Wirdle within 60 hours of its launch. The darker the blue, the more players.A graphic showing the locations of the more than 2500 people who played Wirdle within 60 hours of its launch. The darker the blue, the more players.

That the game has worldwide appeal is evidenced by its players. Just 60 hours after its launch Wirdle had already been played by more than 2500 people from nations on every continent except Antarctica.

“Obviously … most players are in Shetland, but there is a huge, worldwide interest in Shaetlan,” Viveka says, “it’s even on the MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] course on linguistic and social rights.”

One of those players was Dr Michael Dempster (below), the director of the Scots Language Centre, who told The National he was “delighted” to see the game up and running.

“This word game format is all the rage just now and we are aye chuffed to see anything that gets people engaging with literacy in their own language. We look forward to finding out how Scots speakers outwith Shetland get on with it. I was quite pleased that I got the first one in three!"

The National: Dr Michael Dempster

The game took relatively little time to “cobble together”, Roy says, with his old schoolfriend Andrew Blance having been able to quickly write the code thanks to a previous project building a keyboard which gives Shaetlan speakers access to autocorrect and predictive text in their language on their mobile or tablet.

And Wirdle is already being used as a language teaching tool internationally, with Viveka highlighting a message from a colleague at the University of Helsinki praising the game.

She also says the base is helping other less prominent languages find their place, with a Haitian Creole version based on Wirdle currently being developed.

Such games “teach you to look at your language in a language in its own right,” Viveka says.

“Suddenly there is a right or wrong, you can’t just put any hodge-podge in there, it has to follow a structure, and this is a structured language just like any other language.”

Roy says writing and spelling Shaetlan is something many of its speakers may never have done, with some children even today being barred from using the language in school, just as he was.

“For Shetlanders, we do live in a bilingual society, but the prestige of each language is completely different,” he says. “English is the prestigious language where Shaetlan is the one that has very little regard.

“Having something modern like this, a technological thing that Shetlanders can try out and have a bit of fun with, it gives Shetlanders a bit of pride in their own native mother tongue and lets them know that not everything has to be English.”

Viveka adds: “It brings Shaetlan into the modern world, so that reviving the language is not just about old poetry and archaic things, but it belongs in the modern world.”

You can learn more about the I Hear Dee Shaetlan project on its website, and play the Wirdle game for yourself here.