Yorkshire Dialect Society History

Founder of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, Joseph Wright

On 10 November 1894, Joseph Wright addressed a meeting about a mammoth project to prepare and publish an English Dialect Dictionary. The committee formed as a result of this meeting, which eventually collected some 350,000 Yorkshire words and phrases, was to be the nucleus of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, officially inaugurated on 27th March 1897.

Professor Wright was an amazing man. Born in 1855 in Idle, Bradford, he started work at the age of six, and on reaching his teens and while working in one of the many mills in the West Riding, he taught himself to read and write, set up his own night school at home to supplement his income, and went on to become a teacher, and eventually a professor at Oxford.

Even his dream of publishing the Dictionary was marred by him not finding anyone willing to take the risk, and he ended up publishing it at his own, not inconsiderable, expense. He went on expanding his academic knowledge until his death in 1930.

For an in-depth look at his fascinating life, see Dr Arnold Kellett's tribute in YDS Transactions 2004.

In 1946, Professor Harold Orton, in a lecture delivered at Sheffield University, spoke of the urgent need for an English dialect atlas. This became the well-known Survey of English Dialects which was directed from the University of Leeds in the 1950 and 60s.

Members of the Society took part in this survey, most notably a former Honorary Secretary, Stanley Ellis, who played a leading role in the fieldwork. This is now accessible online on the British Library site (see Links page).

The Old Yorkshire Dialect Society Logo and Map

In 1949, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Society, a collection of dialect was published under the title A White Rose Garland. Containing a wealth of poems, prose, sayings, colloquialisms, and information about the county, it is long out of print but copies are occasionally to be found in second-hand bookshops.

In 1997, the Society organised a series of get-togethers to celebrate us reaching the magical 100 mark. No telegram from the Palace, but lots of kind and supportive comments, plus our AGM and dinner in York, and meetings at the Hovingham home of our then President, Sir Marcus Worsley, and at Saltaire, where Joseph Wright, at an early age, had worked in Salt's Mill.

We also published three collections of dialect:
Goin tu t'Spaws, a collection of prose and poetry which had first appeared in our mid-year publication, Summer Bulletin; A Century of Yorkshire Dialect, an anthology selected from 100 years of the Society's annual journal Transactions (now out of print), and Yorkshire Words Today, the results of a more recent survey of dialect words and phrases conducted by Sheffield University in conjunction with the YDS.