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Lapse into Oblivion?

Published 12 December 2012

Seeking a Lost Tradition, Union News Issue 221, 2nd November 1962

Fears reported in the Union News (1962) did not come to pass for the Survey of English Dialects

The digitisation suite is bustling with the scanning of the Union News from the 1960s.  As the first tranche is nearing completion (to be added to the new digital library), it is providing insight into local Leeds life, living as a student at the University, academic research and breakthroughs.

One interesting news story from 1962 reports on some research that is now stored at Special Collections - The Survey of English Dialects (SED), which is part of the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture (LAVC). Completed from 1950-1961, the Survey took place in 313 places over the country, to record different dialects from rural communities. An extensive questionnaire was used, and then informants were recorded either phonetically by hand, or using a tape recorder. Four volumes showing the basic material and the Survey of English Dialects: An Introduction (1962) are available in the Brotherton and Edward Boyle libraries, as well as the later publication The Linguistic Atlas of England (1978). Special Collections holds the more extensive 'incidental material', which contains fieldworkers' notebooks and the original sound recordings on reel tapes.

What is most interesting about the article is the view on the English language in general, which is quite different from today. In the 1962 article, Union News state how 'dialect is now "wrong"', due to the standardised language and the 'levelling' influence of the media and education. Fears are also aired that gaining information about dialects 'must be done quickly before the knowledge dies within its unwitting holders'. The article was perhaps written as Professor Orton, one of the authors of the Survey, was due to retire that year, and the article poses the final question - 'can the university allow such a project to lapse into oblivion?'

Thankfully the University did not allow it to lapse into oblivion as 50 years on the Survey is used within teaching in the School of English for modules and research into dialects. Further afield, there have been national projects which use data from the SED and highlight the public interest in dialects, such as the BBC Voices project, and the British Library's Sounds Familiar resource.

The student newspaper shows an interesting insight into the history of work going on at Leeds. More details of the newspaper digitisation can be found on the blog. The LAVC catalogue contains the SED data. Other British library resources include their main 'Sound' page, and an interesting sound blog.