Archive of historic dialect recordings digitized for the public

If you’re feeling peckish, do you like a bit of screen or docky? Maybe if you have a sweet tooth, a bag of cooshies or jumbles might appeal to you.

Since the 1950s, the University has housed an extensive library of English dialects – and now the historical archives are accessible to the public.

During the 1950s and 1960s, University field workers traveled across the country to record the language and lifestyles of speakers across England, known as the English Dialect Survey . It remains the most famous and comprehensive survey of dialects in England and the results have been preserved in the University’s Leeds Vernacular Culture Archive, a unique and nationally significant multimedia archive.

It’s so exciting to finally be able to share these incredible resources and bring these dialects and stories back to local communities, where they belong.


Dr Fiona Douglas, School of English

Now the recordings can be heard by the public with the launch of the University’s Dialect and Heritage project ‘In Your Words’, led by the School of English and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

It is the culmination of several years of work which included the digitization of the entire collection of recordings and the construction of a dedicated website to share them with the public; digitization of printed material, manuscripts and over 2,000 photographs relating to survey locations and participants, and creation of a pop-up dialect kit, workshops and exhibit materials.

Looking forward

And in an important next step, the Dialect and Heritage Project announces The Great Big Dialect Hunt, which invites members of the public to submit their own phrases and expressions to bring the archive into the 21st century and preserve the language of today. for future generations.

Through the new interactive website and in person at the five participating museums across the country, people will be able to add their own unique voice samples and words to become part of the multimedia 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 results will provide unique insight into how the language is used in parts of England today.

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

The project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which awarded the Dialect and Heritage Project £530,500 in 2019 to digitize notebooks, photographs, word maps and audio recordings from the original fieldwork, and to share this exciting repository with the public. Financial support also comes from the University’s Footsteps Fund, donations from alumni and partner museums.

fantastic words

Dr Fiona Douglas from the university’s School of English, who leads the project, said: “It’s so exciting to finally be able to share these incredible resources and bring these dialects and stories back to the local communities there. where they belong.

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

“Whoever you are, wherever you come from and whether you think you use a dialect or not, we would love to hear from you! With your help, we can learn more about today’s dialects and open a window to the past.

David Renwick, Director, England, North of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Across England what we say and how we say it is a big part of who we are, and it’s always fascinating to hear the different words we use in different parts of the country.

“But in addition to these words changing from region to region, they have also changed over time, especially as our country has become more multicultural. We are delighted that thanks to the players of the National Lottery, we can continue to discover more of these often fantastic words and share them widely in different regions.

“I can’t wait to add some to my everyday vocabulary too!”

The project revolves around the Leeds Vernacular Culture Archive, a unique and nationally significant multimedia archive comprising the archives of the English Dialect Survey and the Institute for Dialect and Folklife Studies .

Working in partnership with five regional museums, support events will be held throughout this year to encourage the public to get involved, at: the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings in Worcestershire, the Dales Countryside Museum and the 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 focused on the language of older traditional dialect speakers, the 21st century update welcomes contributions from all. Whether people can trace their ancestry to a particular place for generations, or whether their family moved from place to place, the project aims to capture a snapshot of the current dialect in all its rich diversity.

More information

Contact the University of Leeds Press Office via [email protected] with media enquiries.

Main image: Stanley Ellis, with tape recorder and microphone, mock informant Tom Mason from Addingham Moorside, near Ilkley, West Yorkshire (LAVC)

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