[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).