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


Will Lamb was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. He completed a degree in Psychology from the University of Maryland Baltimore County in 1993 and spent two years as an RA on a Johns Hopkins led research project on sleep disorders and biometrics. In 1995, after taking an interest in Gaelic and traditional music, he went to Nova Scotia and spent an academic year at St Francis Xavier University.

Will began his postgraduate study at the University of Edinburgh in 1996, taking an MSc in Celtic Studies. His dissertation was on the development of the Gaelic news register and was supervised by Rob Ó Maolalaigh. He started a PhD in Linguistics the following year, under William Gillies (Celtic) and Jim Miller (Linguistics). In Jan 2000, nearing the end of his PhD, he moved to North Uist to take up a lecturing position at Lews Castle College Benbecula (University of the Highlands and Islands). He is credited with initiating the successful music programme at Lews Castle College. Will finished his PhD in 2002, a study of Scottish Gaelic register variation. This was published in 2008 as 'Scottish Gaelic Speech and Writing: Register Variation in an Endangered Language'. 

While in Uist, Will completed several other publications, but largely concentrated on music and sound engineering. In 2010, he returned to the University of Edinburgh as a Lecturer in Scottish Ethnology.

Will was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2017 and Professor (Personal Chair in Gaelic Ethnology and Linguistics) in 2022. His research interests span music, linguistics, traditional narrative and language technology. He is known, in particular, for his work on formulaic language, traditional music, Gaelic grammatical description and Natural Language Processing (NLP). Most of his recent work has been in Gaelic NLP, and he is currently a part-time student on the University of Edinburgh's MSc in Speech and Language Processing. 




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 (2020-2022)
  • 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, corpus linguistics and descriptive linguistics. I am in the midst of writing a large grammar of Scottish Gaelic for Routledge, and am currently the PI for two large grants: a Scottish Government funded project on Gaelic speech recognition, and the AHRC/IRC project 'Decoding Hidden Heritages in Gaelic Traditional Narrative with Text-Mining and Phylogenetics'. From 2019 to 2022, I led various funded projects to develop the first speech recognition, orthographic normalisation 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. In 2022, I co-edited a book on formulaic language -- Weathered Words: Formulaic Language and Verbal Art -- which was published by Harvard University Press.    

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. 

At the moment, I am working with partners such as the BBC, 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

Current project grants

2023–2025 ‘Gaelic Speech Recognition for Media, Education and Research’, Scottish Government (Principal Investigator: £225k)

2022-2023 Research Capability Fund, Edinburgh Futures Institute (£1000)

2022-2023 Training Bursary, Edinburgh Centre for Data, Culture and Society (£1000)

2022–2024 Staff Scholarship, University of Edinburgh (£4858)

2021–2024 ‘Decoding Hidden Heritages in Gaelic Traditional Narrative with Text-Mining and Phylogenetics’ (AHRC), UK Ireland Collaboration in the Digital Humanities Research Grants (Principal Investigator: £405k; €265k)

Past project grants

2022–2023    ‘Crowdsourcing the Acquisition of Gaelic Speech Technology Training Data’, Scottish Government (Principal Investigator: £20k)

2022    ‘An Gocair: An orthographic normalisation system for Scottish Gaelic’, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, General Grant (Principal Investigator: £18,726)

2021–2022    ‘Developing Natural Language Generation for Scottish Gaelic’, Creative Informatics Small Research Grants, DDI (Co-Investigator: £7000). 

2020–2021    ‘Unlocking Gaelic sound: Increasing digital footfall in Edinburgh’s archives through novel language technologies’, DDI SFC Beacon Open Call (Principal Investigator: £49,992)

2019-2020    ‘Developing Automatic Speech Recognition for Scottish Gaelic’, Soillse Research Fund (Principal Investigator: £19,153)

2019-2020    ‘Machine-assisted transcriptions for handwritten Gaelic narratives’: Challenge Investment Fund, University of Edinburgh (Principal Investigator: £12,000)

2018-2019    ‘Scottish Gaelic dance song: Expanding artist repertoires and improving access to archival recordings’, LCC/CAHSS Knowledge Exchange and Impact Grant, University of Edinburgh (£9808)

2017-2018    ‘Cataloguing the Linguistic Survey of Scotland (Gaelic)’: John Lorne Campbell Legacy/Faclair na Gàidhlig (Principal Investigator: £23,000)

2013-2014    ‘An on-line part-of-speech tagger and gold-standard corpus of Scottish Gaelic, for research and teaching’: Carnegie Trust Larger Grant (Principal Investigator: £40,000)

2013-2014    ‘Tagair gramataigeach air loidhne agus corpas inbhe òr na Gàidhlig, airson rannsachadh agus teagasg’, Gaelic Language Act Implementation Fund (GLAIF), Bòrd na Gàidhlig (Principal Investigator: £19,550)

1998-2000    Faculty Group PhD Studentship, University of Edinburgh

1998-2000    Overseas Research Studentship, Secretary of State for Education and Science (UK) 

View all 31 publications on Research Explorer