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Interactions in Grammatical Systems: North-South Dialect Variation in England

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC, AH/V011073/1)

September 2021 - August 2023 


Even the most widespread grammatical features found in varieties of English around the world exhibit regional variation. Within England, certain grammatical phenomena are reported to have North-South patterning in terms of their frequency and/or the linguistic factors that affect their use. However, sociolinguistic research to date has tended to focus on grammatical features in isolation from each other. We therefore do not know the degree to which these North-South patterns in the grammar of English dialects are the result of, or independent of, structural interactions between grammatical features themselves. 

In this AHRC Research, Development and Engagement (RDE) Fellowship, I examine both the regional distribution of grammatical forms and how phenomena interact structurally within dialect systems. Focusing on aspects of negation, subject-verb agreement and the auxiliary system that are reported to have North-South patterning in England, the project combines methods from the fields of syntax and sociolinguistics to collect data from speakers’ perception and production: (1) an online acceptability judgement questionnaire, open to participants across England; (2) sociolinguistic interviews with pairs of speakers in four English cities (Newcastle upon Tyne, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton). Through statistical and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis, the results will enhance our understanding of the linguistic systems underlying dialect variation and provide insights into potential linguistic changes in progress.

The RDE scheme also provides support for development activities alongside the research, which will include training in GIS, dissemination of the research to academic audiences, and impact activities with A-Level English Language teachers (via the York English Language Toolkit) and members of the public (via the departmental MOOC, Accents, Attitudes and Identity: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics).