Dealing With Variation: Data Collection and Organisation

Clive Upton, University of Leeds

Collection of empirical linguistic data has been undertaken across the years by means of a multiplicity of procedures, ranging from deployment of the most formally structured questionnaires, designed for face-to-face or postal delivery, to the most informally conversational interviewing. Each technique, properly selected for purpose, has its merits. But each has its drawbacks, the more structured militating against the collection of anything other than ‘canonical [formal] style’ (Johnston 1985:84-85), the more free-form tending to prevent the gathering of comparable data, especially within the field of lexis.

This presentation begins with a very brief overview of some well-known data-gathering techniques. It then details the rationale and structure of a core method for collecting data, that has been developed for the Survey of Regional English, or SuRE (Upton and Llamas 1999), a method that was used in pared-down form for the 2005 BBC ‘Voices’ project and that might be seen as circumventing some of the difficulties associated with other elicitation strategies. Using SuRE, ‘Voices’, and the example of the much earlier Survey of English Dialects (Orton 1962), it goes on to suggest simple principles by which field-data might be structured so as be of the greatest possible benefit to the linguistic community.

Johnston, Paul A. Jr. 1985. ‘Linguistic Atlases and Sociolinguistics. In John M. Kirk, Stewart Sanderson, and J.D.A. Widdowson, Studies in Linguistic Geography: The Dialects of English in Britain and Ireland. London: Croom Helm, 81-93

Orton, Harold. 1962. Survey of English Dialects A: Introduction. Leeds: E.J. Arnold

Upton, Clive, and Carmen Llamas. 1999. 'Two Large-Scale and Long-Term Language Variation Surveys: a Retrospective and a Plan', Cuadernos de Filología Inglesa 8. Variation and Linguistic Change in English: Diachronic and Synchronic Studies, 291-304