The School

Dialect in British Fiction 1800-1836

This 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. However, when applied to specific novels, 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.

Extract from dialect novel

The project will focus on a period that has been particularly neglected, 1800-1836. This period is of particular interest because it comes after the publication of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'Lyrical Ballads', which greatly influenced the way in which poets 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 project will develop a database as a tool for describing and analysing the representation of dialect in novels, and will record the representation of dialect in 100-120 novels published between 1800 and 1836.

The database will 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 will 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 hosted by the University of Sheffield, and has been enabled by 2 years of funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Jane Hodson in the Primary Investigator and Alex Broadhead is the Research Associate.. For further information on the project, contact Jane.

email : Dr Jane Hodson