Dialect in British Fiction: 1800-1836Funded by The Arts and Humanities Research CouncilSupported by The University of Sheffield
How the Texts Were Selected

In order to identify novels for inclusion, we took as our starting point two of Peter Garside et al.’s bibliographies: The English Novel 1770-1829: A Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles: Volume II, 1800-1829 (2000) and The English Novel, 1830–1836 A Bibliographical Survey of Fiction Published in the British Isles (2004). We skim read the entire set of novels identified by Garside et al. in a year at four years intervals (i.e. all the novels from 1800, 1804, 1808, 1812, etc).  On average, around 80 novels were published in each of these years (ranging from a peak of 111 in 1808 to a low of 59 in 1816).  All the available novels in each target year were briefly surveyed and assigned a ‘dialect rating’ on the following basis:

  • One star: No character is represented as speaking dialect, no metalinguistic comments upon language variety. 
  • Two Stars: There are one or two instances (fewer than 10 lines total) where some language variation is marked.  This is not extensive or detailed, and may not be specific to region.  There may be one or two comments about language variation.
  • Three Stars: One or more characters speak dialect, and that dialect is represented in some detail.  The total amount of dialect representation is more than 10 lines but less than 100.  There may be several comments upon language variety.
  • Four Stars: Either one character speaks dialect very extensively, or several characters speak dialect.  The total amount of dialect representation is more than 100 lines.  There may be frequent and/or extensive comments upon language variety.

The ten novels rated most highly for dialect for each year were then selected for inclusion in the database, which required close reading, analysis and excerpting.  The result is a list that contains well-known novels by writers such as Walter Scott and Maria Edgeworth, but also contains many novels by little-known or anonymous authors.

There are two aspects to this project which this systematic approach to text selection makes possible. The first is that the database has a strong diachronic element embedded within it.  Because it moves forward in regular increments of 4 years, it enables users to track change over time on a number of different levels, including the treatment of specific dialects, social groups and linguistic features. The second distinctive aspect is the fact that it treats all novels equally, making no assumptions about which texts and authors are significant for the development of dialect representation.  It might be objected that this makes for an idiosyncratic account of literary history, where badly written and little read novel are given the same weight as established and influential classics, and this is certainly a consideration to be borne in mind when perusing the database.  However, it is offset against the advantage that this approach enables a better understanding of the context within which the better-known texts were published and provides an insight into what other dialect-rich novels were being produced at the time. 

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