Survey of English Dialects: Wikis


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The Survey of English Dialects was undertaken between 1950 and 1961 under the direction of Professor Harold Orton of the English department of the University of Leeds. It aimed to collect the full range of speech in England and Wales before local differences were to disappear.[1] Standardisation of the English language was expected with the post-war increase in social mobility and the spread of the mass media. The project originated in discussions between Professor Orton and Professor Eugen Dieth of the University of Zurich about the desirability of producing a linguistic atlas of England in 1946, and a questionnaire containing 1,300 questions was devised between 1947 and 1952.[2]

A map displaying the localities included in the Survey of English Dialects.


313 localities were selected from England, the Isle of Man and some areas of Wales close to the English border. Priority was given to rural areas with a history of a stable population. When selecting speakers, priority was given to men, to the elderly and to those who worked in the main industry of the area, for these were all seen as traits that were connected to use of local dialect. One field worker gathering material claimed they had to dress in old clothes to gain the confidence of elderly villagers.[3] Most of the recordings are of inhabitants discussing their local industry, but one of the richest dialects found in the survey, that at Skelmanthorpe in West Yorkshire, discussed a sighting of a ghost.

The literature usually refers to the "four urban sites" of Hackney, Leeds, Sheffield and York. The survey does seem to have been generally more urban-focused in West Yorkshire. The sites Carlton, Thornhill and Wibsey were within the then boundaries of Pontefract, Dewsbury and Bradford respectively. Also, Ecclesfield and Golcar were urban districts in the West Riding. Outside of London and West Yorkshire, nowhere near to a large city was examined.

404,000 items of information were gathered, and these were published as thirteen volumes of "basic material" beginning in 1962. The process took many years, and was prone to funding difficulties on more than one occasion.[3][4]

The basic material had been written using specialised phonetic shorthand unintelligible to the general reader: in 1975 a more accessible book, A Word Geography of England was published.[5] Harold Orton died soon after this in March, 1975.[6]

The Linguistic Atlas of England was published in 1978, edited by Orton, John Widdowson and Clive Upton[7] Two further publications have been produced from the survey's material, Survey of English Dialect: the Dictionary and Grammar (1993) and An Atlas of English Dialects (1996), both co-authored by Upton and Widdowson.[8]

A large amount of "incidental material" from the survey was not published. This is preserved at the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture, part of the School of English of the University of Leeds.[9] An entire book was written based in part on the findings at Egton in the North Riding of Yorkshire.[10]

Bibliography (selection)

  • McDavid, Raven I., Jr. (1981). "Review of The Linguistic Atlas of England, by Harold Orton, Stewart Sanderson and John Widdowson." American Speech 56, 219–234.
  • Fischer, Andreas; Ammann, Daniel (1991). "An Index to Dialect Maps of Great Britain". Varieties of English Around the World. General Series 10. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Kolb, Eduard (1966). Phonological Atlas of the Northern Region: the Six Northern Counties, North Lincolnshire and the Isle of Man. Bern: Francke.
  • Meier, Hans Heinrich (1964). "Review of Introduction by Harold Orton and The Basic Material, Volume I by Harold Orton and Wilfrid J. Halliday." English Studies 45, 240–245.
  • Orton, Harold (1971). Editorial Problems of an English Dialect Atlas. In: Burghardt, Lorraine H. (ed.): Dialectology: Problems and Perspectives. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee, pp. 79-115.
  • Orton, Harold; Dieth, Eugen (1952). A Questionnaire for a Linguistic Atlas of England. Leeds: Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society.
  • Orton, Harold; Wright, Nathalia (1974). A Word Geography of England. New York: Seminar Press.
  • Orton, Harold et al. (1962-71). Survey of English Dialects: Basic Materials. Introduction and 4 vols. (each in 3 parts). Leeds: E. J. Arnold & Son.
  • Upton, Clive; Parry, David; Widdowson, J. D. A. (1994). Survey of English Dialects: the Dictionary and Grammar. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Upton, Clive; Widdowson, J. D. A. (2006). An Atlas of English Dialects. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Viereck, Wolfgang (1990). The Computer-Developed Linguistic Atlas of England. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  • Viereck, Wolfgang; Ramisch, Heinrich (1997). The Computer Developed Linguistic Atlas of England 2. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Sites for the survey

During the survey, each locality was given an identifying abbreviation, which is given in brackets.





Isle of Man


















Isle of Wight























City of York

East Riding

North Riding

West Riding

Voices survey 2007-2010

Following the last Survey of English Dialects, the University of Leeds has started work on a new project. In May 2007 the Arts and Humanities Research Council awarded a grant to a team led by Sally Johnson, Professor of Linguistics and Phonetics at Leeds University to study British regional dialects.[11][12]

Johnson's team are sifting through a large collection of examples of regional slang words and phrases turned up by the "Voices project" run by the BBC, in which the BBC invited the public to send in examples of English still spoken throughout the country. The BBC Voices project also collected hundreds of news articles about how the British speak English from swearing through to items on language schools. This information will also be collated and analysed by the Johnson's team both for content and where it was reported. "Perhaps the most remarkable finding in the Voices study is that the English language is as diverse as ever, despite our increased mobility and constant exposure to other accents and dialects through television and radio."[12] Work by the team on is project not expected to end before 2010.[12]

See also


  1. ^ "Eighty-eight ways of saying left-handed", The Times, September 8, 1970
  2. ^ "Where a snack is nummick - 16-year survey of dialect", The Times, November 1, 1962
  3. ^ a b "Dialect survey needs cash", The Times, September 17, 1969
  4. ^ "Is it nessy to make a donkey out of that lovely nirrup?", The Times, October 7, 1972
  5. ^ "Saving gibble-fisted mawkin from extinction", The Times, January 6, 1975
  6. ^ Obituary of Harold Orton, The Times, March 14, 1975
  7. ^ Review of The Linguistic Atlas of England, The Times, September 6, 1978
  8. ^ Recent publications by Clive Upton (School of English, University of Leeds)
  9. ^ Incidental Material Documents (Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture)
  10. ^ Tidholm, H. (1979) The dialect of Egton in North Yorkshire, Göteborg, Bokmaskinen
  11. ^ Professor Sally Johnson biography on the Leeds University website
  12. ^ a b c Mapping the English language – from cockney to Orkney, Leeds University website, 25 May 2007.

Further reading

and expressions from the BBC Voices project which is currently being studied by the Leeds University team(2007-2020).


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