The fieldworkers travelled England and its borders finding people who were willing to be interviewed from within 313 chosen localities. These ‘informants’ responded to a Questionnaire designed by Orton and Dieth to record region specific words, pronunciations and grammatical features. The Questionnaire included over 1,300 questions on topics ranging from animals and farming, to family, friends and the weather. The majority of informants were men who worked in farming and rural trades, but women were also questioned on topics relating to housekeeping and food production. Informants with a good set of teeth were preferred to aid clarity of speech!

Word Map of the United Kingdom.

'SED Fieldworkers Map' (LAVC/PHO/S008) by Harold Orton. Held at Special Collections, Leeds University Library. Licensed under CC-BY-NC 4.0.




The very first people to go dialect hunting were the Survey’s founders, Orton and Dieth, accompanied by Fritz Rohrer who was a linguist from Switzerland. Once the Questionnaire had been tested and work could begin in earnest other fieldworkers were added to the team. These included Peter Wright, Stanley Ellis, Peter H. Gibson, Marie Haslam, Donald R. Sykes, John T. Wright, Averil H. Playford, Professor W. Nelson Francis, Michael V. Barry, David Parry and Howard N. Berntsen.

Together the fieldworkers surveyed the country recording answers in their response books using the International Phonetic Alphabet and making sketches. Later on fieldworkers returned and recorded on tape the voices of their informants. You can hear the fieldworkers’ and informants’ voices here. After the Survey, some of the fieldworkers remained within academia – such as Stanley Ellis and David Parry – whilst others went into different careers, including teaching and the Royal Air Force.

Transcript of diary:

Field Notes                                                            1953

Jan. 53. Ford Castle. Mr & Mrs E. Huntington, Ford Castle, Berwick on Tweed. 14 Jan. Visited Scottish Dialect Survey HQ at Edinburgh. That Mr Anthony, technician; Mr Woolly, Senior Research Assist., Mr Gatford, Research Assist.

16 Jan. Returned to Leeds for consultations, by rail, car at N. castle. 

Visited in succession. Embleton, Thropton Nr Rothbury (Newcastle Hotel, Rothbury); Ridsdale – Anthony Ghailton, Northumbrian piper, was sole informant; Haltwhistle – assisted by Mr Matt Philipson of Westlands Haltwhistle, local naturalist; Heddon on the wall, Lowick, Nr Ford (substituted for Ford Recordings.) 

Finished work in Northumberland on April 2nd.  

25 April. ((Married)) & visited network selected in Dorset. 

15 May. Went to ((Bowland)). ((Limes)) 

((Bowland)) was really too big, there was no other place of any size for miles around. The best informant was a working man and could only be seen 

Handwriting on a journal page.

‘Stanley Ellis’s fieldwork diary’. Reproduced with the permission of Martin Ellis, Andrew Ellis and Hilary Templar.

Listen to Donald Sykes share what it was like to be a SED fieldworker.