Dialect in British Fiction: 1800-1836Funded by The Arts and Humanities Research CouncilSupported by The University of Sheffield
About the Project

‘Dialect in British Fiction 1800-1836’ is a database which has been designed as a tool for identifying and analysing the representation of dialect in 100 novels published between 1800 and 1836. Each of the 100 novels is described in terms of plot, genre and setting, and tagged extracts from each novel are presented, with speakers classified in terms of place of origin and social role. 

The project grows out of what appears to be a very simple question: why is dialect speech represented in novels? A number of general reasons can be offered with reference to, for example, characterisation, narrative structure and genre conventions. When applied to specific novels, however, each of these explanations gives rise to further questions: why was this particular dialect chosen? Why is it represented through this set of linguistic features? Why does this character speak dialect but not that character? It is apparent that no single set of explanations can account for the way in which dialect is represented in all novels, and also that the function of dialect representation is subject to change over time.

To date there has been surprisingly little work that takes a historical view of the representation of dialect in English literature. This project focused on a period that has been particularly neglected, 1800-1836. This period is of interest because it comes after the publication of William Wordsworth’s influential ‘Preface to the Lyrical Ballads’ (1800), which greatly influenced the way in which writers used dialect, but before the publication of the novels of Victorian authors such as Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte, who are perhaps the best-known proponents of the use of dialect in novels.

The database can be used to provide an account of the way in the fictional representation of dialect developed during this period, situating this account within the broader context of literary history. It can also be used to explore the ways in which attitudes towards dialects and dialect speakers changed during this period, situating this account within the broader context of the history of the English language.

The project is co-hosted by the University of Sheffield, and was enabled by 2 years of funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Version 1.1 (December 2015)Background image reproduced from the Database of Mid Victorian Illustration (DMVI)