What we know"The present islanders of both sexes are comely, civil to strangers and remarkable for speaking good English" (William Borlase, a Cornish historian, naturalist and geologist, writing in 1756)
We can glean some things about language use from written histories of Scilly. Many have noted that the people of Scilly speak "better English" than people on the mainland. However, there is disagreement about the extent to which Scilly has (or, indeed, ever had) a dialect of its own. There is also disagreement about the extent to which language on Scilly has been influenced by the Cornish language and the Cornish dialect of English. On the other hand, some believe that, not only did Scilly have a language variety that was distinct from the mainland, each of the off-islands had their own distinct dialects at one time too.
Here are some examples of what has been said about the language spoken on Scilly by writers from different historical periods:"The language spoken on Scilly is a mixture of the West Country dialect, with the common English" (Robert Heath, an officer of the Isles of Scilly Garrison, writing in 1750)." ...the islanders in general speak much better English than a stranger would expect to find in their detached situation. And they have their peculiarities which distinguish the inhabitants of the different islands from one another, as well as from their neighbours of England" (Reverend John Troutbeck, Chaplain of the Isles of Scilly, writing in 1794)."...not only is English spoken here, but spoken with a purity of accent, and intelligent discrimination of diction, which I remember in no other part of the English dominion" (George Lewes, philosopher and natural historian, writing in 1860)."Celtic died out in Cornwall during the 18th century. In Scilly, where fresh garrisons and settlers were constantly coming from England, it was given up earlier, and visitors were often surprised at the good English spoken by Scillonians. Some features of Cornish English are found" (R. L. Bowley, schoolteacher, writing in his history of Scilly in 1964)."Certainly, there is little Cornish accent in the islands" (Crispin Gill, journalist & author, writing in 1975).
The most recent account of language on Scilly was written by archaelogist and all-round scholar, Charles Thomas
, in 1979
. He claims that, by accent alone, it's difficult to distinguish an Islander from a well-spoken Southerner, although he does concede that Islanders have some distinct words (lexical items) and some distinct forms of pronunciation (phonetic items):"The English spoken today (1979) by natives of the Isles of Scilly who form a minority within the islands' population - is scarcely removed from Standard (southern) English, using a slightly modified 'received' pronunication (R.P.) as of educated persons. It hardly warrants the description of a dialect. There is however a lexical element and, among some older people, a phonetic one, which together merit discussion; principally because the 'dialect' of Scilly, if one can for convenience call it that, differs notably from the group of English dialects encountered in Devon and Cornwall, including the sub-dialect of extreme West Cornwall some 25 miles from Scilly."