The Digital Lexical Atlas of Scotland: Innovations in the Methodology for Researching the Vocabulary of Scots
2022-04-14, 10:00–10:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 5

By the time of this paper, the digitisation of the lexical material of the Linguistic Atlas of Scotland (LAS), vols. 1 and 2 (Mather & Speitel 1975, 1977) will be well advanced. New interactive maps, with analyses of the data on a strictly lexical basis will be provided, enabling fresh interpretations about the lexical structure and distribution of Scots.

Since the atlas was first published, preparation as well as the use of atlases have been revolutionised through geographical information systems, the interactivity of databases, the display features of automatic cartography, and the enablement of self-organizing maps.

The paper takes a critical look at the onomasiological approach adopted in LAS1 and LAS2 with their preference for ortho-lexical, quasi-phono-lexical, variants. The present approach recategorises the data in terms of purely lexical (i.e. etymologically-lexical) types – what we are calling – ‘lexemes’ (regardless of spellings). Besides patterns of origin, the lexemes will be divided between major and minor types, and between denotans and non-denotans types, with the last comprising descriptions, metaphorisations or unexpected or seemingly inappropriate responses. The lexemes will also subsume the many orthographic variants which are listed in the atlas appendices but which, because they occurred only once, were omitted from the original maps.

Moreover, the new atlas uses physical base maps and makes uses of interactive mapping techniques, including displays for age and gender. Preliminary examples of analyses and prototype maps have already appeared in several papers and publications by some of the compilers (e.g. Hessle & Kirk, in press; Kirk, in press; Kirk & Hessle, in press).

A central aim of the new digitized atlas is nothing short of a re-evaluation of the distribution of lexical types or lexemes per lexical variant (or onomasiological concept) across the whole of Scots-speaking Scotland; consideration of the origins of these items; and a fresh interpretation of the geographical patternings item by item which emerge from the new mapping displays of the lexemes. Thereby, using these lexical criteria, the dialect structure of Scots is being re-assessed (cf. Tulloch 1997).

The paper will report ongoing developments by the time of the conference – both methodological and substantive. It will show how new insights about the vocabulary of Scots can be made from an old resource given fresh analysis techniques and innovative software.


Hessle, Christian & John Kirk. In press. 'Digitising Collections of Historical Linguistic Data: The Example of the Linguistic Atlas of Scotland'. In Bettelou Los, Benjamin Molineaux & Marti Mäkinen (eds.). Visualisations in Historical Linguistics. Special Issue of Journal of Data Mining and Digital Humanities [2020].
Kirk, John. In press. 'The Digital Lexical Atlas of Scotland Corpus: New Opportunities for Researching the Vocabulary of Scots'. In Beatrix Busse & Ingo Kleiber (eds.). Language and Linguistics in a Complex World: Data, Interdisciplinarity, Transfer, and the Next Generation. [2020]
Kirk, John & Christian Hessle. In press. 'Towards a Digital Lexical Atlas of Scotland'. In Scottish Language [2020]
Mather, James Y. & Speitel, Hans-Henning. 1975. The Linguistic Atlas of Scotland: Scots Section. vol. 1. London: Croom Helm.
Mather, James Y. & Speitel, Hans-Henning. 1977. The Linguistic Atlas of Scotland: Scots Section. vol. 2. London: Croom Helm.
Tulloch, Graham. 1997. ‘Lexis’. In Charles Jones (ed.). 1997. The Edinburgh History of the Scots Language. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 378–432.

I have degrees from the University of Edinburgh (MA), Sheffield (PhD) and Queen's University Belfast (PGHET). I have held teaching and research positions at the University of Bonn, Sheffield, Queen's University Belfast, TU Dresden, and since 2018 as professor at the University of Vienna and since 2020 additionally as guest professor at Klagenfurt University. I have been a partner in the International Corpus of English project since its inception in 1989 and recently completed a major review of it. I compiled its all-Ireland component and went onto create a daughter corpus, the SPICE-Ireland Corpus, in which the data were pragmatically and prosodically annotated. As a corpus linguist and dialectologist, my research focuses in Scots and Scottish English, Irish English, and World Englishes.