A small army of volunteers is to be recruited to help update the most comprehensive survey of England’s dialects ever undertaken, thanks to an injection of funding.
The University’s Dialect and Heritage project
has been awarded £530,500 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to open up the extensive Leeds Archive
of Vernacular Culture (LAVC) to the public.
The archive includes
the ground-breaking work of the Survey of English Dialects, carried out by nine
intrepid fieldworkers in the 1950s and is held in Leeds University Librarys
The survey will
now be updated and made available online for the first time, with the help of volunteers
recruited and trained as oral history and dialect fieldworkers and transcribers.
They will follow
in the footsteps of the dialect pioneers who set out from Leeds 70 years ago to
record and map dialects from all corners of the country. But unlike the
original survey, they wont only be looking for old men with good teeth.
will preserve this invaluable cultural legacy for future generations.
Through a series
of local community outreach events and working with five partner museums from
across the country, the Dialect and Heritage project will invite people to get
involved as a volunteer or by sharing their dialect regardless of location,
background, age or gender.
also looking for descendants of the people who took part in the original Survey
of English Dialects, which ran from 1946-1978, or with connections to the
Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies, which was in operation between 1963
If you, your
parents, grandparents or other relatives have a connection to these historical
dialect studies, the project would like to hear from you, said Dr Fiona
Douglas, from Leeds School of English, who is leading the project.
From January, a
year will be spent digitising the notebooks, photographs, word maps and audio
recordings from the original fieldwork. Further extensive fieldwork will then be
undertaken from 2021-23, making new oral history recordings some of them
including descendants of the original survey interviewees.
Dr Douglas has
already tracked down three of the original fieldworkers who travelled the
country to painstakingly record dialect variations initially in handwritten
notebooks, later with cumbersome reel-to-reel audio recorders that were
sometimes hooked up to car batteries because of a lack of mains electricity.
Others to have
come forward include the children and grandchildren of original survey
respondents, and those who remember Werner Kissling, the famous ethnographic photographer
who worked for the project during the 1960s, capturing everything from sheep
washing and wallops (a variant of skittles, pictured above), to luck stones and Bartle burning.
memories allow us to touch history and reach into the past, added Dr Douglas.
We have loved
hearing from people with family or personal connections to the Survey of
English Dialects or the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies, and cant
wait to speak to more of them.
They give us
fascinating first-hand accounts of what life was like and how these surveys
were done. Ive heard tell of fieldwork done in fishing boats in the middle of
the night and dialect caravans touring the country.
told by survey interviewees who had seen Brunels SS Great Eastern sail out of
the Thames, and the hulks of old sailing ships used to house convicts before
transportation to Australia.
One of the original dialect maps showing geographical variants for ‘freckles’
Whats in a name?
- Depending on where you live, do you have ferntickles, murfles, brannyspreckles, brunny-spots, vrackles or frantittles on your face, or freckles?
- Are you cack-handed, cat-handed, coochy-pawed, gibble-fisted, left-kaggy, squippy or is it simply that you write with your left hand?
- Do you call it a spelk, spell, shive, spill or splinter?
- And would you take a bait, a jock, a snap or a packed lunch when going out for the day?
complete with pop-up dialect kit, will go on tour as part of the projects
ongoing work with five partner museums Avoncroft
of Historic Buildings
in Worcestershire, Dales Countryside Museum and Ryedale
Folk Museum in North
Yorkshire, Suffolks Museum of East Anglian Life, and Weald
and Downland Living Museum
in West Sussex.
the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture will enrich these museums important
collections and bring together a rich national inheritance of dialect and vernacular
heritage, the pieces of which are currently scattered.
The project was
awarded initial development funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund in
2017 to lay the ground work for the projects next, three-year phase.
“The first phase
of Dialect and Heritage proved there is a huge appetite in the country to
preserve an understanding of dialect, said Dr Douglas The enthusiasm of
visitors and volunteers at our museum partners is testament to that.
will preserve this invaluable cultural legacy for future generations.
What the project will achieve:
- Index, digitise and make publicly available the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture
- Develop interpretation for permanent and temporary exhibition in partner museums
- Create a pop-up dialect kit, complementary workshop materials and activities
- Create a website specifically designed to engage a wide range of non-specialist users
- Recruit and train up to 150 volunteers as oral history and dialect fieldworkers
- Develop downloadable online learning resources for schools
- Collect and transcribe new oral history/dialect recordings
century update of the survey will include input from everyone. The project team
does not mind whether people can trace their ancestry to a particular place
back for generations, if they have moved around from place to place, or settled
in the UK more recently. The aim is to capture a snapshot of present-day
dialect, in all its exciting diversity.
And where the
focus of the original survey was on older participants, because they were
thought most likely to provide a linguistic bridge to the past, the new project
aims to reach younger participants too, through activities with families and
These amazing memories allow us to touch history and reach into the past.
well as the National Lottery Heritage Fund £530,500 grant, the University of
Leeds Footsteps Fund and other alumni donations have contributed almost
£110,000 to the project, plus up to £23,000 from the partner museums.
Universitys Special Collections will be home to the new archive materials
just as it hosts the original Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture.
- For interview requests and enquiries about the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture, contact Gareth Dant, University of Leeds Communications Office, on 0113 343 3996 or [email protected].
Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture contains records and artefacts relating
to more than 300 English dialects and the traditions and lifestyles of their
speakers. They were collected through some of the most extensive and detailed dialect
work ever conducted.
The Survey of
English Dialects was conducted between 1946 and 1978, with fieldworkers
travelling the country and recording the language and lifestyles of hundreds of
different people. Some of this took place before portable recording equipment
was available, so evidence was meticulously recorded in notebooks, which still
sit in the Universitys Special Collections.
Other gems held
in the LAVC include audio recordings, photographs, newspaper cuttings,
hand-drawn diagrams of tools and farming devices, pronunciations for thousands
of dialectal terms, and word maps tracking boundaries for the use of different
The new project
is continuing the work begun by Harold Orton and Eugen Dieth in the 1940s, recording
present-day dialects, memories and cultural information from descendants of
participants in the original survey.
Leeds University Library Special Collections holds more than 250,000 rare books and hundreds of
thousands of manuscripts and archives. Five of the collections hold Arts
Council England Designation status for outstanding national and international
importance. Special Collections is also home to the Institutional Archive of
About The National Lottery Heritage Fund
raised by the National Lottery, we inspire, lead and resource the UKs heritage to create positive and lasting change
for people and communities, now and in the future. www.heritagefund.org.uk.