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Dialect and Heritage

About the Dialect and Heritage project

Historical image of two men talking
Do you take snap, bait, tommy or a packed lunch with you to work?
Is it a spell, a spelk or a splinter that you get in your finger?
Do you ask for scraps, craps, bits or scratchings at a fish and chip shop?


Between 1946 and 1978, fieldworkers from the University of Leeds travelled to over 300 locations and recorded the language and lifestyles of hundreds of speakers from across England. This enormous endeavour was known as the Survey of English Dialects and remains the most famous and complete survey of the dialects of England ever undertaken.

Leeds University Library's Special Collections now looks after the rich resources generated by this huge national study and subsequent important work carried out by students and staff at the Leeds Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (1964-1983).

Resources include:

  • photographs
  • sound recordings
  • fieldworkers’ notebooks
  • materials used to conduct the survey
  • research and fieldwork materials created by Institute staff and students
  • word and pronunciation maps
  • the published results of the Survey.

This nationally important archive is called the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture. It is currently inaccessible to a wider public.


We aim to enable people to uncover their own dialect inheritance and cultural heritage, and to share their own memories, language and stories for the benefit of current and future generations, by:

  • Sharing the contents of the Leeds Archive of Vernacular culture online for all to explore.
  • Dialect and Heritage events, resources and engagement programmes.
  • Enriching museum displays with locally relevant material from the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture, much of this material will be on public display for the first time.
  • Carrying out new cutting-edge dialect research, training a new generation of community fieldworkers and recording dialects and memories from present-day communities.


A new national partnership came together in 2017 to launch the Dialect and Heritage: The State of the Nation project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The partners are:

Together we hope to celebrate language – past and present – and bring this archive collection, full of our dialect heritage, back into communities where it truly belongs.

Progress so far

October 2017: The Dialect and Heritage project was awarded £65,600 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund thanks to money raised by National Lottery players. This grant helped the partnership to develop plans for the project.

January 2018: The partnership began planning.

July and August 2018: We took dialect on tour around the country.

September 2018: We teamed up with Heritage Open Days to bring a special free event to the public: Food for Thought…Dialect Discovery Day.

May 2019: We submitted our funding application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund to enable us to start work on celebrating and bringing dialect heritage out of the archives and back into partner museums and communities!

November 2019: Huge news! We were awarded £530,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to extend our work, revisiting the most comprehensive survey of England’s dialects ever undertaken. The funding will allow us to update the survey and make it available online for the first time.

January 2020:  The Dialect and Heritage Project began, with the appointment of a Project Archivist, Collections Assistant, Digitisation Assistant and Project Intern within the Library's Special Collections.  Through the team's digitisation, indexing and cataloguing work, the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture will become much more accessible.

February - March 2020: The digitisation of the photographic slides featuring within the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture is completed, with almost half of the collection’s photo card and loose photographs also digitised. As part of the nationwide Unlocking Our Sound Heritage programme, the British Library completes its digital transfer of the open reel and audio cassette tapes held within the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture, of mainly Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies recordings. Almost half of the Survey of English Dialects gramophone recordings held within the archive are also digitised. The indexing and cataloguing work continues, and a Project Manager is appointed to maintain communications across the project partnership and co-ordinate the delivery of the different elements of project work.

2021: In spite of the pandemic, we have managed to keep moving forwards with the project in leaps and bounds! 

Indexing and digitisation of the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture continues apace. All photographs in the collection have now been digitised, and over 1000 are already available online. We have digitised 97 of the Survey of English Dialects fieldworkers’ response books so far; more newly digitised material will be published in the coming months, aided by the appointment of our new Collections Assistant.
The LAVC search page is now live, with the ability to search the collection by people, subject, and key terms, as well as an exciting new map-based search allowing you to explore the archive geographically. 
We have appointed five new Engagement Officers, each based at one of our five partner museums. As a result, engagement activities and pilot events at these locations are also beginning to start! We’ve been working on a range of remote and in-person ways to share the archive and collect new data safely, including our new website which will launch over the autumn and winter. We are intending for the website to host a variety of material relating to the archive and our new survey, and it will be a key way for the public to get involved with the project personally by submitting their own dialect words. We have also appointed a Project Assistant to assist communications both across the project and through our social media accounts - @DialectHeritage on Twitter and @DialectandHeritage on Instagram – which will provide further outreach and engagement with the public as well as opportunities to explore some of our archival content.