Leeds University Library

What is the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture?

The University of Leeds is fortunate in being one of only two higher education establishments in England to have comprehensive research collections related to dialect and folk life (the other being the Archives of Cultural Tradition at the University of Sheffield). The material in the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture (LAVC) consists of the archives of the former Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies, part of the University of Leeds from October 1964 to September 1983, and dialect-related materials, which predate the establishment of the Institute.

The earliest materials in the Archive came through Harold Orton, a dialectologist who came to Leeds after having worked in the field of English dialects at Newcastle and Sheffield Universities. Orton is most well known for his work on the Survey of English Dialects (SED), which he established in collaboration with Swiss colleague Eugen Dieth.

SED Group
The SED was based on research by a team of fieldworkers working in 313 localities in England and the Welsh borders from, circa. 1950-1961. The research was based on a questionnaire compiled by Orton and Dieth with the backing of the Philological Society. It included approximately 1,300 items, although informants were also encouraged to speak freely, and the information gathered was recorded phonetically and audio-taped. The informants themselves were predominantly natives from rural communities, with preference being given to those who had spent little or no time away from their home village, to males (who were less inclined to correct their speech) and to those who were intelligent and had a good set of teeth (!).

Orton was also a key figure in the establishment of the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies. The Institute came into being in October 1964 and provided a home for the SED and its continuation and publication, as well as fostering academic teaching and research in the field of dialect and folk life. The Institute offered undergraduate and postgraduate courses in all aspects of folklore studies throughout its existence, and created its own collections of relevant subject materials including printed and audio-visual items.

The LAVC is, thus, a substantial multiple media collection relating to Orton's work on English dialects and the teaching and research activities of the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies. As such, it includes collections that are of significant linguistic and cultural research value.