Reporter 410, 17 November 1997

So naa tha knaws – dialects for the next Millennium

Fifty years after the University was at the forefront of a world-famous study of local dialects, the School of English is once again pioneering research into how the language is actually spoken.

An up-to-date survey of regional spoken English is to be carried out in time for the Millennium by Carmen Llamas, a former MA linguistics student, who has been awarded a three-year White Rose studentship in dialectology studies. She will continue the tradition of the Survey of English Dialects (SED), which was begun at the University 50 years ago by Professor Harold Orton, whose centenary the School is celebrating next year.

After a period of training, Carmen will undertake fieldwork in the spring to collect information for a database of regional speech. She will work with Dr Clive Upton, who 20 years ago worked with Harold Orton on the Linguistic Atlas of England. Dr Upton joined the School full-time this year having previously lectured for many years at the University of Sheffield, and part-time in the School of English.

The original survey was conceived in the wake of the Second World War, and fieldwork was carried out until 1961. Professor Orton and his colleagues examined the dialects spoken in 313 English localities. This resulted in the publication of the Linguistic Atlas of England in the 1970s. One of the aims of the new survey of regional English is to see how many of these dialects have survived the ensuing upsurge in social mobility and global media.

“We expect there to have been change,” says Dr Upton. “There seems to have been a certain amount of levelling out in accents, for example there is some evidence that accents in east and north Yorkshire are becoming rather like those in west Yorkshire.”

The White Rose studentship strengthens the relationship between the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield. Centrally involved will be Professor John Widdowson, currently director of the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition at Sheffield University, and himself a former student of Harold Orton.

Work on the project will take account of recent developments in regional and social dialect research and of current developments in technology for data storage and retrieval. Carmen will liaise closely with academics beyond Leeds and Sheffield.

Dr Upton added that samples of the original SED recordings, including dialects that have now disappeared, may be issued on a CD ROM next year.

¤ A major conference on dialect is planned for March 24-26 at the University to celebrate the centenary of Harold Orton’s birth and the 50th anniversary of the initiation of the Survey of English Dialects.

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