Research context

The Scots Syntactic Atlas addresses two key research questions:

Q1: What is the distribution of non-standard syntactic features in the dialects of Scots spoken in Scotland?

Q2: What does the distribution of dialect features of Scots tell us about the nature of syntactic variation and hence the architecture of the grammar?

To answer these questions, we combined the project team’s expertise in theoretical syntax, dialectology, sociolinguistics and digital media to produce a systematic and theoretically informed online dialect syntax atlas of Scots, based on data gathered from 550 speakers of different generations in 146 locations across Scotland. The Scots Syntax Atlas provides not only an invaluable archival resource for Scots and language heritage more generally, but also allows us to ask far-reaching questions about the nature of syntactic variation and the theory of grammar.

Dialect atlas surveys have a long history in linguistic research, providing a wealth of detailed descriptive information on language use across geographic space, both in the historical record and in the present day. In the context of the UK, these resources are largely focussed on the documentation of dialect forms across lexis and phonology (e.g. the Linguistic Survey of Scotland, Mather et al 1975-1986; The Survey of English Dialects, Orton et. al 1962-71).  In terms of dialect syntax, research typically focuses on a handful of syntactic phenomena across single dialects (e.g. Adger & Smith 2010; Edelstein 2014; Henry 1995; Myler 2013). The Scots Syntax Atlas thus constitutes the first systematic documentation of multiple dialect features across an entire region, significantly enhancing our knowledge of the dialect landscape of linguistic form in the 21st century. Its dual interface has been carefully designed to make the underlying data accessible and useful to the broadest possible range of potential users and interest groups.

Detailed empirical investigation and meticulous documentation of this kind then allows researchers to address key questions concerning the nature of syntactic variation and how it can be theorised. A systematic geospatial view of non-standard syntactic phenomena provides a valuable contribution to linguists’ understanding of the range and the limits of grammatical variation across regional, national and international space. The comparison of closely related varieties allows us to employ the methods of comparative syntax, with within-language microvariation effectively acting as a ‘natural experiment’ to test the adequacy of theories of syntax (Kayne 2000). The research area of microcomparative syntax has grown rapidly in recent years, culminating in a number of successful syntactic atlas projects in the Netherlands (Barbiers et. al 2008), Scandinavia (Vangsnes et al 2019), the Basque region (Orbegozo 2019), northern Italy (Benincà & Poletto 2007), Wales (Willis 2019), North America (Zanuttini et al 2018), amongst others.

Until now, no such resource was available for varieties of English, despite this language being central to modern-day linguistic research. The Scots Syntax Atlas addresses this substantial gap, allowing the user to analyse patterns of co-occurrence, complementarity and other possible distributional relations between syntactic features. In doing so, it provides the empirical basis for a new wave of English dialect syntax research.



Adger, D and Smith, J. 2010.  Variation in Agreement: a lexical feature-based approach, Lingua. 120(5), 1109-1134

Barbiers, Sjef, Johan van der Auwera, Hans Bennis, Eefje Boeuf, Gunther de Voegelaer & Margreet van der Haam. 2008. SAND: The Syntactic Atlas of the Dutch Dialects. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Benincà, Paola & Cecilia Poletto. 2007. The ASIS enterprise: a view on the construction of a syntactic atlas for the Northern Italian dialects. Nordlyd 34. 35–52.

Edelstein, E. 2014. This syntax needs studied, in Zanuttini, R. & Horn, L. (eds.) Micro-Syntactic Variation in North American English. Oxford: Oxford University Press 242-268.

Mather, James Y., H.H. Speitel & George W. Leslie. 1975-1986. The linguistic atlas of Scotland. London: Croom Helm.

Orton, Harold & Eugen Dieth. 1962-1971. Survey of English Dialects. E.J. Arnold & Son, Leeds.

Henry, A. 1995. Belfast English and Standard English. Dialect Variation and Parameter Setting. Oxford: University Press.

Kayne, Richard. 2000. Parameters and Universals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Myler, N. 2013. On ‘coming the pub’ in the North West of England: accusative unaccusatives, dependent case and preposition incorporation. Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics 16(2-3) 189-207.

Orbegozo, Itziar, Iñigo Urrestarazu, Ane Berro, Josu Landa & Beatriz Fernández. 2018. Euskara Bariazioan / Basque in Variation (BiV) (2nd ed.). UPV/EHU.

Vangsnes, Øystein Alexander & Janne Bondi Johannessen. 2019. The Nordic research infrastructure for syntactic variation: Possibilities, limitations and achievements. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics, 4(1). 1-26.

Willis, David. 2019. Dialect syntax as a testbed for models of innovation and change: Modals and negative concord in the Syntactic Atlas of Welsh Dialects. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics, 4(1). 1-31.

Zanuttini, Raffaella, Jim Wood, Jason Zentz & Laurence Horn. 2018. The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: Morphosyntactic variation in North American English. Linguistics Vanguard 4(1).