Institute for Historical Dialectology


A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English
Version 1.0 [30 September 2007 - 31 December 2007]
Version 1.1 [1 January 2008 - ]

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A Linguistic Atlas of Older Scots
Version 1.0 [ 30 September 2007 - 31 December 2007]
Version 1.1 [ 1 January 2008 - ]

A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English (LAEME) and A Linguistic Atlas of Older Scots (LAOS) continue an extensive research programme into variation in medieval written vernaculars that was started in the early 1950s by Professor Angus McIntosh of Edinburgh University and Professor Michael Samuels of Glasgow University (later joined by Professor Michael Benskin, now of Oslo University). This resulted in the publication in 1986 of A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English (4 vols. Aberdeen University Press). Laing and Williamson are investigating (1) written English (ca. 1150-1300) over the two or three generations preceding the material in LALME; (2) Older Scots (ca. 1350-1700), which was given only token coverage in LALME.


The LALME project was largely carried out before the computer age.  It was made using filing slips and paper, pen or pencil. It collected data using the tool traditionally employed by dialectologists, the questionnaire. By 1987 computer technology had progressed to the point where we were able to use computers from the inception of the daughter projects and in a way that is integral to the methodology.  Instead of completing questionnaires comprising a set of predetermined 'items', we are developing a method whereby entire texts are transcribed and keyed onto computer disk and are analysed linguistically using programs written in-house. Each word or morpheme in a text is tagged according to its lexical meaning and grammatical function and each newly tagged text is added to the corpus of such texts. Programs then allow information on particular 'items' (defined by one or more tags) to be abstracted from the corpus to identify spatial or temporal distributions of the forms associated with the item.  Output may be produced in different formats including concordances, text profile comparisons, time charts and maps. Professor Lass is engaged in compiling an etymological corpus, which will contain a narrative etymology of every form-type that appears in the LAEME database. This will be extended in due course also to the LAOS corpus.

This corpus method of analysis has considerable advantages over the traditional questionnaire. Selection of items for a questionnaire must be made before analysis begins, or very early in the investigation, on a trial and error basis. Results are restricted and provide only a fraction of the information achievable by the corpus method. Tagged texts in the corpus are immediately and constantly available to be processed and compared. Not all the material will be of use for dialectal work but this method allows items to be selected from a complete inventory of linguistic forms rather than from some predetermined sample. The method shortcircuits Gilliéron's paradox that for results to be optimal a questionnaire ought to be devised after the investigation. The tagged corpora provide a detailed lexical-grammatical taxonomy that is useful not just for dialect mapping but for the historical study of phonology, morphology, syntax or semantics. The implementation of the corpus approach to linguistic analysis makes feasible a dynamic, interactive concept of dialect atlas. The corpus can be on CD or on a web-site for scholars to search the data themselves and make their own linguistic maps and time-charts.

From September 2007 to August 2010, the IHD, in collaboration with Michael Benskin, is engaged on an AHRC-funded project to produce an extensively revised and corrected on-line edition of A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English (e-LALME).


The Institute for Historical Dialectology has received financial support for the LAEME and LAOS projects from the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy and the Carnegie Trust as well as from individuals. We here also acknowledge with gratitude two consecutive three-year grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Board.

In 2007, the AHRC awarded the IHD a three-year Resource Enhancement Scheme Grant to bring out e-LALME.