Accent and Identity on the Scottish/English Border (AISEB)

[For an outline of the project written for non-linguists, click here]

It has been claimed that the greatest concentration of distinctive linguistic features in the entire English-speaking world is to be found along the length of the Scottish/English border, making Scotland a 'dialect island' (Aitken 1992). In spite of the clear importance of the border as a major discontinuity in the dialect continuum of Great Britain and the Anglophone world more generally, the spoken vernaculars of the region remained, until recently, surprisingly under-researched. The AISEB project, which ran between 2008 and 2011, made a significant contribution to filling this gap, and was the first empirical sociolinguistic study to investigate linguistic variation along a national border viewed as a whole.

Earlier sociological research carried out in and around Berwick-upon-Tweed (Kiely et al. 2000) shows that regional and national identities in the area are unexpectedly complex and fluid, and that linguistic behaviour plays a central role in making and marking these identities. At the time the sociological studies were published it remained unclear which features were being used to index, for example, 'Scottishness' versus 'Englishness'.

Through detailed investigation of speech production patterns combined with perceptual testing and the elicitation of attitudinal data from participants, the AISEB project identified a set of key features that perform this indexical work, and then examined how their variants are distributed across age, sex and social class groups. Furthermore, we used these data to assess whether these features are currently undergoing change. Our investigation made use of a combination of auditory and instrumental acoustic analyses of speech elicited by interview and questionnaire from socially stratified samples of speakers in four border localities (Berwick, Eyemouth, Carlisle, and Gretna; see map). By so doing the project furthered our current state of knowledge in the field of variationist sociophonetics, and contributed significantly to the bodies of work which focus specifically on the language/identity nexus and the emerging field of linguistic border studies.

This research was generously supported by a grant from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (RES-062-23-0525).

AISEB aimed

  1. to investigate empirically the correspondence between the political border and discontinuities in the use of pronunciation features;
  2. to ascertain whether the varieties under examination are diverging, converging or remaining static with respect to these features;
  3. to examine, using a variety of perceptual tests, the extent to which the features are indexical of national and/or regional identities among participants;
  4. to establish the current social distributions of the linguistic features in terms of age, gender, socioeconomic class, and claimed and imposed national/regional identities;
  5. to correlate the linguistic findings with attitudinal data on identities, allegiances and orientations.

Project team

Outputs

References    

  • Aitken, A.J. (1992). Scots. In McArthur, T. (ed.). The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 893-899.
  • Kiely, R., McCrone, D., Stewart, R. & Bechhofer, F. (2000). Debatable land: national and local identity in a border town. Sociological Research Online 5(2). [link]

Links

  • Borders and Identities Conference (BIC2013), 29-30 March 2013, Rijeka, Croatia [link]
  • Borders and Identities Conference (BIC2010), 8-9 January 2010, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK [link]
  • Border Discourse: Changing Identities, Changing Nations, Changing Stories in European Border Communities [final report PDF]
  • Centre for International Borders Research, Queen's University Belfast [link]
  • Nijmegen Centre for Border Research [link]
  • Department of Border Region Studies, University of Southern Denmark [link]
  • Searching for Neighbours (SeFoNe), University of Southampton [link]
  • International Boundaries Research Unit, Durham University [link]


View AISEB map in a larger map