Linguistic Survey of Scotland

Angus McIntosh and the Linguistic Survey of Scotland

The Linguistic Survey of Scotland (LSS) consisted of two large-scale dialectological surveys conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the mid 20th century – the Linguistic Atlas of Scotland (LAS), which concerned itself with documenting the Scots dialects of Lowland Scotland and Ulster (Mather and Speitel 1975, 1977, 1986), and the Survey of the Gaelic Dialects of Scotland (SGDS), which recorded dialect variation in Gaelic in the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles (Ó Dochartaigh 1994-7).

Angus McIntosh played a central role in the planning and administration of the LSS throughout its history, from its inception in 1948 until its end in the mid 1980s. With David Abercrombie and Myles Dillon, Angus McIntosh initiated the LSS in 1948 and set the scene for later fieldwork by conducting a pilot survey of the ‘Highland Line’. This pilot survey sought to determine where the major linguistic fault-line in Scotland, between Gaelic and Scots, lay. This division was crucial for determining the geographical limits of Gaelic and Scots and the areas targeted in the LSS study of the two languages.

highline line

The Highland Line, according to the Linguistic Atlas of Scotland (Mather, Speitel and Leslie, 1985, p.9)

In 1952, McIntosh published a manifesto for the LSS (McIntosh 1952), describing its aims and philosophical foundation. He argued that the survey should be an ongoing record of Scottish language, not just a single snapshot in time, and that it should (in theory at least) attempt to analyse all kinds of linguistic variation in Scotland (e.g. historical and modern, Celtic and Germanic, rural and urban, lexical and phonetic). The results of the LSS are a huge, unique record of the 20th century Scots and Gaelic dialects of Scotland which stands as a lasting testament to Angus McIntosh’s vision and leadership over the four decades of the survey.