Dales Countryside Museum takes part in national dialect study

Dales Countryside Museum.

Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes is working in partnership with the University of Leeds as part of a nationwide search to uncover the most up to date dialects.

Since the 1950s, the University of Leeds has been home to an extensive library of English dialects.

From today, the historic archive – held by the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture – will become accessible to the public for the first time through the launch of the The Great Big Dialect Hunt.

During the 1950s and 60s, fieldworkers from the University of Leeds travelled across the country to record the language and lifestyles of speakers across England, known as the Survey of English Dialects.

Today it remains the most famous and complete survey of dialects in England and the findings have been preserved in the University’s Special Collections ever since.

In this next stage of the Dialect and Heritage ‘In Your Words’ project, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, researchers at the School of English are on the hunt for new phrases and expressions to bring the archive into the 21st century and preserve today’s language for future generations.

Through the new interactive website, in person at the Dales Countryside Museum and at local libraries across North Yorkshire, people will be able to add their own unique voice sample and words to become part of the multi-media archive.

The survey encourages people to reflect on their own dialect by answering questions about the words and phrases they use for different objects and concepts.

“From the pronunciation of scone to the name you use for a six-legged insect, the findings will provide a unique snapshot of how language is used across England’s regions today.

Online audiences will also be able to access a fascinating audio sound map as well as written and photographic material, that document life and language in English rural communities.

The project is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which awarded the Dialect and Heritage Project £530,500 in 2019 to digitise the notebooks, photographs, word maps and audio recordings from the original fieldwork, and to share this exciting repository with the public.

Dr Fiona Douglas from the University’s School of English, who is leading the Project, said: “It’s so exciting to finally be able to share these amazing resources, and to bring these dialects and stories back home to local communities, where they belong.

“We’ll be out and about across the country on ‘The Great Big Dialect Hunt’, so check out the website to see if there’s a local community event running near you, drop into one of our fantastic museums, or visit us on the website and ‘donate your dialect’.

“Whoever you are, wherever you come from, and whether you think you use dialect or not, we’d love to hear from you!

“With your help, we can learn more about dialects today, and crack open a window on the past.”

Supporting events will be held throughout this year encouraging the public to get involved at Dales Countryside Museum and partner museums: the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings in Worcestershire, Ryedale Folk Museum in North Yorkshire, Suffolk’s Food Museum, and Weald and Downland Living Museum in West Sussex.

Although the original Survey of English Dialects was interested in the language of older, traditional dialect speakers, the 21st century update welcomes contributions from anyone.

Whether people can trace their ancestry to a particular place back for generations, or if their family has moved from place to place, the project aims to capture a snapshot of present-day dialect in all its rich diversity.