Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Current trends in british geolinguistics linking the past with the present

Heinrich Ramisch


The general aim of this presentation will be to discuss some major developments in British geolinguistics, especially as far as methodological aspects are concerned. Before discussing important cartographical and computational procedures for the production of linguistic maps within our own project The Computer Developed Linguistic Atlas of England (CLAE, cf. Viereck/Ramisch 1991 and 1997) I will give a short description of the database for the atlas, namely the Survey of English Dialects (SED). The SED is still the best known and most widely used British dialect survey that has served as a database for a variety of linguistic atlases on the regional dialects of England. The main objective of the SED was to collect linguistic data on the traditional regional dialects of England. Its questionnaire comprises over 1,300 items and is concerned with different spheres of rural life such as farming, animals, nature, housekeeping, weather and various social domains. Fieldwork was carried out in 313 localities all over England between 1950 and 1961, mainly in small villages with a population of less than 500 people. As for the production of linguistic maps it is clear that modern computer technology offers considerable advantages. Firstly, large amounts of data can be processed and analysed. Secondly, computer cartography is very flexible in itself, offering a great variety of mapping techniques. It is possible, for example, to produce complex symbol maps to display detailed dialectological information. In contrast to the Linguistic Atlas of England (Orton et al. 1978) symbol maps are used in the CLAE to depict regional variation. Symbol maps have the particular advantage that they are able to show transitional zones and they are therefore a more accurate representation of linguistic reality. Another characteristic feature of the CLAE is that the comments by the informants and fieldworkers are integrated into the symbols. The symbolization itself follows several basic principles. If a certain form occurs frequently, it is assigned a relatively simple, that is, strictly geometrical symbol. If a form is rather rare the symbol is more complex. Additionally, differences in frequency are indicated by the size of the symbols. With frequently occurring forms the symbols are printed in a smaller format, whereas larger symbols are used for rarer forms. As a result, they should attract the user’s eye more directly. With respect to computational procedures it seems advisable to use standardised programmes both for the production of the maps and the legends. As these programmes can be adapted to one’s individual needs, any time-consuming programming is generally avoided. Modern word-processing programmes easily allow the integration of graphical elements, while mapping programmes such as PCMAP include options to insert textual elements. For the basic data collection and the legends we use a standard text processor, MS Word. This means, above all, that we can take full advantage of the formatting facilities of MS Word for the production of the legends. Moreover, graphical elements can easily be included into a text file produced by MS Word. With the help of our mapping programme PCMAP it is possible to produce so-called ‘thematic maps’, which are automatically produced by changing a base map into a map whose features depend on the information found in a basic data file. Finally, I will report on some other recent projects in British geolinguistics. In cooperation with the University of Leeds the ‘BBC Voices Project’ was set up to study variation in British English by including aspects such as urban centres, age, gender and ethnic group as well as social and geographical factors. It provides a forum on the Internet, where people from the general public can find information on regional forms of speech. They are also encouraged to send in lexical items from their home region to build up a lexicon of regional speech. Other projects include the Atlas of English Surnames, edited by colleagues from Bamberg, and the digitisation of Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary which is currently undertaken at the University of Innsbruck (Austria).

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