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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
Scots online archive planned
The SCOTS team, including Dr Fiona Douglas (front left)
The SCOTS team is looking for examples of real speech
Scots speakers are being invited to add their voices to the first major online archive of the country's different languages.

Academics are trying to gather together as many examples as possible of how people north of the border write and speak in their own tongue.

The results will be placed in an electronic archive - the Scottish Corpus of Texts and Speech (SCOTS) - which will be made available to the public and academics alike over the internet.

At the moment we have got very little knowledge about these languages

Dr Fiona Douglas
Glasgow University
The project will initially examine two different varieties of the language, Scots and Scottish English.

But it is hoped that the project will eventually expand to include Gaelic and non-indigenous languages such as Punjabi, Urdu and Chinese.

The aim is to allow the most detailed analysis yet of the differences within the Scots languages.

"At the moment we have got very little knowledge about these languages," said language expert Dr Fiona Douglas, of the University of Glasgow.

"If you take Scots and Scottish English, it is quite hard to work out where one variety ends and the other starts.

Sliding scale

"That may be a social issue, but it is also an individual issue."

She said that Scots and Scottish English represented the two extremes of a "linguistic sliding-scale".

She said that Scots had different choices - depending on their social class, education and location - about where they fell on that scale.

Boy at computer
The archive will be available on the internet
People could also move back and forward along the scale as they used different forms of speech, such as the change which occurs between people at work and at home.

"Further complications are presented by the lack of an agreed standard spelling system for Scots," said Dr Douglas.

"By building the corpus we will be able to investigate these language varieties with an accuracy hitherto impossible."

She said that those behind the project were trying to contact "the real people out there who use the language".

A publicity drive has been launched to find different texts - which can encompass both the spoken and the written word - from across Scotland.

Literary work

"We are hoping that we will get text from a very wide variety of sources," she said.

"We are looking for text that people wouldn't always collect, such as ephemera like emails.

"In terms of language use, that sort of thing is equally as interesting as great literary works."

The project is bringing together linguists and those working in information technology.

This pilot project will assess both the availability of material and the degree of effort needed to collate it

Henry Thompson
Edinburgh University
The collaboration involves the division of informatics at the University of Edinburgh and Glasgow University's department of English language and STELLA (Software for Teaching English Language and Literature and its Assessment) project.

The two main aims are to place the written and spoken texts into an electronic format, and then to enable the public to analyse the information over the internet.

This will allow scholars and students to investigate the languages of Scotland in new ways, while also providing a source of information for future generations.

This pilot study, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will also be examined as a possible model for other languages.

Edinburgh University's Henry Thompson said: "This pilot project will assess both the availability of material and the degree of effort needed to collate it and present it in a coherent and consistent form as an online language resource."

See also:

16 Mar 02 | Scotland
Gaelic targets a new generation
29 Nov 01 | Scotland
Final curtain for dodgy accents
13 Oct 01 | Scotland
Funding boost for Gaelic
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