Towards a Syntactic Atlas of Northern England: Micro and Macro Aspects of the interplay between Grammar, Geography and Gender

Karen Patrice Corrigan, Isabelle Buchstaller, Anders Holmberg

Newcastle University, UK


This paper reports on two pilot studies for a large-scale research project ultimately aiming to:

(i) Systematically collect a corpus of British dialect grammars for the creation of a web-based Atlas for modelling geosyntactic variation across the linguistic North. The resulting 'Syntactic Atlas of Northern England' (SANE) will be constructed from interviews and a battery of native speaker judgement tasks along similar lines to those of current European digital atlas projects ('Syntactic Atlas of Netherlands’ Dialects' (SAND) and the 'Atlas of Northern Italian Dialects' (ASIS));

(ii) Establish sophisticated methodologies for the collection, digital storage/manipulation and multivariate analyses of such data.

The research reported here aimed at testing the strengths/weaknesses of methods commonly used to measure syntactic variability (see Cornips & Corrigan 2005, Cornips & Poletto 2005, Hollmann & Siewierska 2006). We have focused, in particular, on the following:
- 1. Pictorial tasks
- 2. Indirect judgments
- 3. Direct judgments
- 4. Reformulations
- 5. Magnitude estimation tasks.

Three communities in an urban conurbation in the North East of England were targeted, namely Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland. Data was collected from 20 older WC speakers, stratified by location and gender in two consecutive years (2006 and 2007), using a friend-of-a-friend approach.

The constructions that were targeted to investigate the interplay between grammar, geography and gender were features that have been demonstrated to be subject to both internal and external variation elsewhere, as well as doubling phenomena and prototypical northern English features.

Using statistical tests, we assessed the extent of test internal consistency as well as the comparability of results across different tasks, finding that:

(i) Reformulation tests are highly problematic since the informants refrained from using vernacular variants;

(ii) Even with more successful testing instruments, there were some important differences as well as consistencies across the tests (interspeaker as well as intraspeaker);

(iii) Results seem most consistent for Magnitude Estimation tasks allowing us to investigate how speaker groups differed in interesting ways regarding the acceptability of constructions. Thus, Newcastle and male informants were more inclined to be permissive than their Gateshead/female peers:

(iv) Interview data and elicited judgement data corresponded and diverged in a number of respects.

This research promises to refine methods for investigating morphosyntactic variation across social/temporal/geographical space and therefore makes an important contribution to the establishment of good practice for the creation of digital dialect atlases as advocated in Kretzschmar et al. 2006.


Cornips, L. & Corrigan, K.P. (2005) “Convergence and divergence in grammar”, in Auer, P., Hinskens, F. & Kerswill, P. (eds.) 'Dialect Change: Convergence and Divergence in European Languages', pp.96-134. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cornips, L. & Poletto, C. (2005) “On standardising syntactic elicitation techniques. PART I” 'Lingua' 115: 939-957.

Hollmann, W. & Siewierska, A. (2006) “Corpora and (the need for) other methods in a study of Lancashire dialect” 'Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik'.

Kretzschmar, W.A., Jr., Anderson, J., Beal, J.C., Corrigan, K.P., Opas-Hänninen, L. & Plichta, B. (2006) “Collaboration on corpora for regional and social analysis” Journal of 'English Linguistics' 34(3): 172-205.

Session: Paper session
Variation 6 (Syntactic)
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 15