John M Kirk

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Digital Lexical Atlas of Scotland

The Linguistic Atlas of Scotland: Lexical Section was published in two volumes in 1975 and 1977 and widely regarded as a monumental research achievement of national importance. Nearly half a century later, atlases and especially their negotiability and interactivity have become revolutionised by online resources and Internet potential. It is thus not before time that The Linguistic Atlas of Scotland: Lexical Section should be digitised.

To do just that, together with Christian Hessle, Ludwig Hans-Christian Breuer, and Hans-ChristianLudwig Breuer and Markus Pluschkovits, I have established a small team at the University of Vienna. The original data are being re-analysed in terms of lexical types or ‘lexemes’, and the results are to be digitally generated by new dot maps, with separate gestations for respondent age and gender. In the process, topological issues (such as those pertaining to the data) and topographical issues (such as those pertaining to geography and the physical terrain) are also being addressed. The approach of the project is to address the issue of variation in the lexicon – specifically the hyponymy (or synonymy) among onomasiological responses for the same concept or referent – and how the range of responses from a national elicitation in Scotland seeking ‘local’ words should be judged.

How do responses being offered as ‘local’ square with their geographical distribution on the one hand, and their status as ‘Scots’ or ‘English’, or as ‘dialect’ or ‘standard‘ on the other? How are ‘dialect’ or ‘standard‘ responses offered as ‘local’ responses from the same individual to be considered? Is the issue that of a straightforward dialect-standard binary opposition, or is there a third value between the two? Does that third value encompass a middle ground between dialect and standard, or include both? How is the absence of responses to be regarded?

For elucidation of such linguistic issues, the mathematical principle of the excluded middle is invoked. With such considerations it is possible and necessary to establish a theoretical framework for the digitalisation of a historical data collection. An online, dynamic, visual reinterpretation of the data-set of The Linguistic Atlas of Scotland will thus enable a fresh insight into the traditional folk and often rural culture and society of Scotland as expressed through the vocabulary of Scots in the mid-20th century.


John Kirk & Markus Pluschkovits. 2022b [in preparation]. 'The Ulster material in the Digital Lexical Atlas of Scotland'. Paper proposed for NPIE7 (New Perspectives on Irish English 7), Cork, 6-8 June 2022.

John Kirk & Markus Pluschkovits. 2022a [In preparation]. ‘Introducing the Digital Lexical Atlas of Scotland’. In preparation for the Proceedings of FRLSU13München, ed. by Christine Elsweiler.

John Kirk & Markus Pluschkovits. 2021. ‘The Digital Lexical Atlas of Scotland: An Introduction and some First Results’. Paper presented at FRLSU13, München.

John Kirk and Christian Hessle. 'Towards a Digital Lexical Atlas of Scotland' accepted for Scottish Language 39. 2020. pp. 1-39.

John Kirk. 2020'The Digital Lexical Atlas of Scotland Corpus: New Opportunities for Researching the Vocabulary of Scots'. In Language and Linguistics in a Complex World: Data, Interdisciplinarity, Transfer, and the Next Generation, ed. by Beatrix Busse, Nina Dumrukcic & Ruth Möhlig-Falke. Heidelberg University & University of Cologne. pp. 119-124.

Christian Hessle and John Kirk. 'Digitising Collections of Historical Linguistic Data: The Example of the Linguistic Atlas of Scotland', Journal of Data Mining and Digital Humanities., 2020. pp.1-17. 'hal-02166186v2'. [Special Issue on Visualisations in Historical Linguistics, ed. by Bettelou Los, Benjamin Molineuax & Marti Mäkinen]