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Linguistic Survey of Scotland

The Linguistic Survey of Scotland contains material on dialects of Scots and Gaelic collected through questionnaires and audio recordings.

The Linguistic Survey of Scotland was set up in 1949 as a joint collaboration between Professors Kenneth Jackson (Celtic), Angus McIntosh (English Language and General Linguistics) and David Abercrombie (Phonetics).  It was promoted by the University of Edinburgh which, in these post-war years, was keen to encourage the study of Scottish history and cultural life.  Two surveys ran in parallel – one on Scots and one on Gaelic.  The main aim was to systematically investigate and collect detailed information for each of the languages.  Over the course of the years the two surveys diverged; however material from both is now lodged in the Archives.


Gaelic Linguistic Survey

Material for the Gaelic Linguistic Survey was mostly collected between 1950 and 1963, with some further fieldwork undertaken in the 1970s.  Over 200 informants were interviewed from all over the Gàidhealtachd.  In the early years there was an emphasis on ‘rescue dialectology’, collecting information from island and mainland areas where Gaelic was fast dying out – areas such as Caithness, Moray and Nairn, Upper Banff and Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, the Trossachs, Arran and Kintyre.  The questionnaire was designed to elicit information on phonology and morphophonology which would form the basis for distinguishing the features of different dialects.  To this end informants were asked for their pronunciation of a list of words – 893 in total – that were transcribed phonetically on the spot by the fieldworker.  There were also questions relating to grammar and the questionnaire took at least eight hours to complete.  Less formal interviews and conversations with each of the informants were recorded on tape as supplementary material.  The phonological aspect of the study has been analysed and published in Survey of the Gaelic Dialects of Scotland Vols I-V (C. Ó Dochartaigh (ed), School of Celtic Studies/ Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1997-99).  The Archives hold all available records of the survey including original questionnaires, field notes, fair copies, tape recordings and transcriptions.


Scots Linguistic Survey

The Scots Linguistic Survey contains studies of word geography and phonology.  Much of the lexical material was gathered by means of a postal questionnaire, developed with the help of David Murison, editor of the Scottish National Dictionary, and Jack Aitken, editor of the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue.  The questionnaires were sent out, in 1952, to headteachers of local primary schools who selected an appropriate informant.  Of the 3000 questionnaires thus distributed, 1774 usable returns were made, each containing the equivalent, in the local Scots dialect, of over 200 lexical items along with descriptions of their use.  The area covered by the questionnaire included all of Scotland along with Cumberland, Northumberland, the six counties of Northern Ireland and some of Eire.  A supplementary questionnaire sought information on different dialect words.  A separate study of Scots dialect phonology was undertaken through face-to-face interviews.  This study involved 188 informants who were asked to pronounce a list of 175 words.  Some of these interviews were tape recorded.  Results were mapped and, for the lexical material, dialect isoglosses inferred.  The data has been published in the Scots Linguistic Survey Vols I-III (J.Y. Mather and H.H. Speitel (eds), Croom Helm, 1975-86).  The original questionnaires, fieldwork books and tapes are held in the School.