Identification. The Shetland Islands constitute a "Special Island Area" of modern Scotland. Prior to the fifteenth Century the islands had a Norse population and culture. After 1469, large numbers of Scottish settlers began to arrive. Although English is spoken today, the inhabitants tend to identify with their Norwegian ancestors.
Location. The Shetlands are the northernmost area of Scotland. They consist of about 100 islands of which only 19 to 20 are inhabited. The main cluster of islands is 83 kilometers northeast of the Orkney Islands, 160 kilometers northeast of Scotland and approximately 356.4 kilometers from Bergen, Norway. The core island group extends from 59°48′ N to 60°52′ N and from 0°45′ to 1°45′ W. The main islands are Mainland (the largest island), Unst, Yell, Fetlar, Whalsay, Bersay, Papa Stour, Foula, and Fair Island. The total land mass is 1,407 square kilometers. Most of the islands are low, treeless, and have extensive boggy peat areas. The highest point, Ronas Hill, is 453 meters high. The coastline has many small indented bays ( wicks ) and low indented fjords ( voes ).
A subarctic oceanic climate and vegetation pattern exists. Because of the Gulf Stream and Atlantic waters, the climate is relatively humid and mild though severe winter gales occur. The summers are cool with long hours of daylight. About 52 to 116 centimeters of rainfall occur annually. At Lerwick, the average annual temperature is 7.1° C and the January mean is 3.4° C.
Demography. In 1988, the estimated population of the Shetlands was 22,364. The one large town is Lerwick. All other communities are very small. A significant percentage of the population lives on scattered farms or crofts. Since 1860, the population has continually declined.
linguistic Affiliation. The local dialect of English is derived from earlier forms of Scottish English. It contains many words of Norn, the dialect of Norwegian once spoken there.