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Historical Dialectology in the Digital Age

Edited by Rhona Alcorn, Joanna Kopaczyk, Bettelou Los, Benjamin Molineaux

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A survey of applications of digital methods and tools to explore the linguistic features of regional varieties in historical texts

Drawing on the resources created by the Institute of Historical Dialectology at the University of Edinburgh (now the Angus McIntosh Centre for Historical Linguistics), such as eLALME (the electronic version A Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English), LAEME (A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English) and LAOS (A Linguistic Atlas of Older Scots), this volume illustrates how traditional methods of historical dialectology can benefit from new methods of data-collection to test out theoretical and empirical claims. In showcasing the results that these resources can yield in the digital age, the book highlights novel methods for presenting, mapping and analysing the quantitative data of historical dialects, and sets the research agenda for future work in this field.

Bringing together a range of distinguished researchers, the book sets out the key corpus-building strategies for working with regional manuscript data at different levels of linguistic analysis including syntax, morphology, phonetics and phonology. The chapters also show the ways in which the geographical spread of phonological, morphological and lexical features of a language can be used to improve our assessment of the geographical provenance of historical texts.

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List of Figures and Tables

Notes on Editors

Notes on Contributors



1 Historical Dialectology and the Angus McIntosh Legacy

Rhona Alcorn, Joanna Kopaczyk, Bettelou Los and Benjamin Molineaux

Part 1 Creating and Mining Digital Resources

2 A Parsed Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English

Robert Truswell, Rhona Alcorn, James Donaldson and Joel Wallenberg

3 Approaching Transition Scots from a Micro-perspective; The Dunfermline Corpus, 1573–1723

Klaus Hofmann

4 Early Spelling Evidence for Scots L-vocalisation: A Corpus-based Approach

Benjamin Molineaux, Joanna Kopaczyk, Warren Maguire, Rhona Alcorn, Vasilis Karaiskos and Bettelou Los

Part 2 Segmental Histories

5 Old and Middle English Spellings for OE hw-, with Special Reference to the ‘qu-’ Type: In Celebration of LAEME, (e)LALME, LAOS and CoNE

Margaret Laing and Roger Lass

6 The Development of Old English ǣ: The Middle English Spelling Evidence

Gjertrud F. Stenbrenden

7 The Development of Old English eo/ēo and the Systematicity of Middle English Spelling

Merja Stenroos

8 Examining the Evidence for Phonemic Affricates: Middle English /t͡ʃ/, /d͡ʒ/ or [t-ʃ], [d-ʒ]?

Donka Minkova

Part 3 Placing Features in Context

9 The Predictability of {S} Abbreviation in Older Scots Manuscripts According to Stem-final Littera

Daisy Smith

10 An East Anglian Poem in a London Manuscript? The Date and Dialect of The Court of Love in Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.3.19

Ad Putter

11 ‘He was a good hammer, was he’: Gender as Marker for South-Western Dialects of English. A Corpus-based Study from a Diachronic Perspective

Trinidad Guzmán-González


About the Author

Rhona Alcorn is a Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and CEO of Scots Language Dictionaries Ltd. She is also Deputy Director of the Angus McIntosh Centre for Historical Linguistics. She was the first receipient of the Richard M. Hogg Prize, awarded annually by the International Society for the Linguistics of English since 2008.

Joanna Kopaczyk is Lecturer in English Language & Linguistics at the University of Glasgow. She is a historical linguist with an interest in formulaic language, the history of Scots and historical multilingualism, which she approaches from pragmaphilological and corpus-driven perspectives. She previously worked at the University of Edinburgh, where she was one of the compilers of the From Inglis to Scots (FITS) corpus, and at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. Her recent co-edited volumes include Applications of Pattern-driven Methos in Corpus Linguistics (John Benjamins 2018) and Binomials in the History of English (Cambridge University Press 2017).

Bettelou Los is Forbes Professor of English Language at the University of Edinburgh. She graduated from the University of Amsterdam in 1986 and has since held teaching and research positions at the University of Amsterdam, the Vrije Universiteit, the University of Nijmegen, Radboud University Nijmegen and other colleges of high education. She participates in the research program The Diachrony of Complex Predicates in West Germanic, and has published several papers on diachronic syntax. Previous publications include The Handbook of the History of English, Blackwell, as co-editor (2006), and The Rise of the To-Infinitive, Oxford University Press (2005).

Benjamin Molineaux is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Angus McIntosh Centre for Historical Linguistics, the University of Edinburgh. His interests are in synchronic and diachronic phonology and morphology, with special emphasis on stress systems. He has published on these topics as applied to the history of English, Scots and Mapudungun (a language of Chile and Argentina). As one of the compilers of the From Inglis To Scots (FITS) database he has applied corpus methods to mapping the earliest sound-to-spelling correspondences in the history of Scots (1380-500). He is currently using the same methods to explore the 400-year history of Mapudungun, as part of the Corpus of Historical Mapudungun. He holds a doctorate from the University of Oxford.


This volume brings historical dialectology fully into the digital world. Not only do we learn about aspects of Medieval and Early modern varieties of English and Scots, but also the latest methods in corpus construction, tagging/annotation and analysis — making it essential reading for a wide array of historical linguists. With breadth yet no loss of coherence or depth, this volume can assure us that Angus McIntosh’s legacy is in good hands. 

- Professor Jonathan Culpeper, Lancaster University

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