William Lamb

Professor in Gaelic Ethnology and Linguistics / EFI Research Affiliate

  • Celtic and Scottish Studies
  • School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures
  • Edinburgh Futures Institute

Contact details



Room 4.32
50 George Square

Post code


Prof Lamb holds a Personal Chair in Gaelic Ethnology and Linguistics in the section of Celtic and Scottish Studies. Prior to joining the University of Edinburgh in 2010, he was a lecturer in Gaelic Language and Music at Lews Castle College (University of the Highlands and Islands) and an Honorary Research Fellow of Glasgow University. He sits on numerous steering committees (e.g. Faclair na Gàidhlig - The Historical Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic) and is a member of the AHRC Peer Review College.




Responsibilities & affiliations

Administrative Duties

  • Departmental Director of Research (Aug 2022-Present) 
  • Departmental Director of Learning and Teaching (Sept 2019-July 2022)
  • Acting Head of Department, Celtic and Scottish Studies (July 2018-Dec 2018)
  • Senior Personal Tutor, School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (2014-2017)
  • Progression Board Convener, School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (2016, 2017)
  • Academic Misconduct Officer, School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (2014-2015)
  • Library Committee Representative, Celtic & Scottish Studies (2013-2019)

External Appointments

  • Steering Group, Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches (2021-)
  • External Examiner, University of Aberdeen (2020-2022)
  • AHRC Peer Review College (2020-)
  • General Editor, Scottish Tradition Series
  • Stakeholder Forum Member, Centre for Data, Culture and Society (U of Edinburgh)  
  • Executive Council Member, Scottish Gaelic Texts Society
  • Steering Committee Member, Faclair na Gàidhlig (2012-)
  • Board of Management, Soillse (2020-)
  • External Examiner, University of the Highlands and Islands (2013-2018)
  • Advisory Committee Member, Soillse (2015-2017)
  • Subject Specialist Reviewer, Scottish Qualifications Authority (2011, 2012)

Research summary

My research interests lie within Scottish oral tradition, Gaelic linguistics and Natural Language Processing.  Within Gaelic linguistics, I focus on dialectology and corpus linguistics.  I am currenty the PI for the AHRC/IRC project 'Decoding Hidden Heritages in Gaelic Traditional Narrative with Text-Mining and Phylogenetics'. From 2019 to 2021, I led two funded projects to develop the first speech recognition and handwriting recognition systems for Scottish Gaelic. From 2013-2015, I was the PI for a Carnegie Trust and Bòrd na Gàidhlig funded project to develop a part-of-speech tagger and reference corpus for the language.  With a colleage in Linguistics (Dr Pavel Iosad), I used a dialectometric approach to investigate nominal morphological variation in Scottish Gaelic, as found in the unpublished Linguistic Survey of Scotland (LSS) Gaelic materials. 

I have also published work on the conventualisation and functions of formulaic language in Gaelic oral narrative. Currently, I am editing a book on formulaic language with a colleague from the University of Helskinki.  

Within Scottish oral tradition, I am interested in the song traditions underlying much early Scottish and Irish instrumental dance music.  Like many of the world’s instrumental traditions, the instrumental dance music of Scotland and Ireland may have precursors in song.  Although it is a hybrid form, Scotland’s national tune type - the strathspey - shows influence from vocal traditions. The characteristic rhythm behind it, rather than being tied to any particular place, appears to be a vestige of Gaelic dance and work song aesthetics. 

Current research interests

Gaelic dialectology; formulaic language in traditional narrative; Natural Language Processing; Gaelic grammar; early modern Scottish dance-music and song

Knowledge exchange

In 2016, I was awarded a Knowledge Exchange grant from the School of LLC to test the theory that Gaelic puirt-à-beul was used by dancers to accompany their own dancing. Naomi Harvey, a PhD student at Herriot-Watt, and I went to North Uist to run two workshops in April 2017 with local Gaelic speakers and visiting Gaelic-medium teachers. This was organised in conjunction with Ceòlas Uibhist. In 2017, I was awarded another KE grant from LLC to produce a CD of archival recordings of Gaelic dance-song, as part of Greentrax Recordings' Scottish Traditions Series. 

More recently, I have worked with external partners such as MG Alba and Tobar an Dualchais to develop a reliable automatic transcription and subtitling system for Scottish Gaelic. 

Research activities

View all 54 activities on Research Explorer

Project activity

Funded Research

  • 2021-2024 'Decoding Hidden Heritages in Gaelic Traditional Narrative with Text-Mining and Phylogenetics' (AHRC/IRC)
  • 2020-21 Gaelic speech recognition (Soillse Research Grant/ DDI Building Back Better Open Call)
  • 2019-20 Gaelic handwriting recognition (Challenge Investment Fund)
  • 2017-18 Cataloguing the Linguistic Survey of Scotland (John L Campbell Legacy, via Faclair na Gàidhlig)
  • 2016-18 Gaelic Corpus Development / Leasachadh Corpais na Gàidhlig (Bòrd na Gàidhlig)
  • 2013-15 An on-line part-of-speech tagger and gold-standard corpus of Scottish Gaelic, for research and teaching (Carnegie Trust; Bòrd na Gàidhlig)

View all 31 publications on Research Explorer