The Oxford History of the English Language

By Lynda Mugglestone | Go to book overview

11
MODERN REGIONAL
ENGLISH IN THE BRITISH
ISLES

THE BEGINNINGS OF DIALECTOLOGY

Clive Upton

There can be no doubt that pure dialect speech is rapidly disappearing
even in country districts, owing to the spread of education, and to
modern facilities for intercommunication. The writing of this gram-
mar was begun none too soon, for had it been delayed another twenty
years I believe it would by then be quite impossible to get together
sufficient pure dialect material to enable any one to give even a mere
outline of the phonology of our dialects as they existed at the close of
the nineteenth century.

WITH these words, written in 1905, Joseph Wright, the most famous English dialectologist of the nineteenth century, sought to draw a line under the formal study of vernacular speech that had occupied many academic linguists such as himself, and many other expert amateur enthusiasts such as ‘the Dorset poet’ William Barnes, for more than half a century. The movement of which Wright was a part, and of which his English Dialect Dictionary and English Dialect Grammar of 1898–1905 were a high point, had been driven by a realization that the regional speech of the then largely immobile (and little­educated) majority preserved forms of language with real pedigree, the study of which put linguists in touch with those older forms of language that were the real object of their attention as philologists.

-305-

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