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 allow 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. 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. Henry 1995, Bresnan 2000, Trousdale 2005, Adger 2000). 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 (SAND, Barbiers et. al 2006), Scandinavia (NORMS, Vangsnes 2009), the Basque region (BasDiSyn, Etxepare 2009), northern Italy (ASIS, Poletto 2007), Wales (the Syntactic Atlas of Welsh Dialects, Willis 2012), 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.