Yorkshire Dialect Society

The Yorkshire Dialect Society is the oldest Dialect Society in the world.It was founded in 1897 through the activities of Bradford born Joseph Wright (1855-1930).

His story starts in the workhouse in Clayton where he helped his mother who worked as a cleaner for three farthings an hour. Aged six he worked as a “donkey boy” taking the delver’s (quarryman) tools to the blacksmith to be sharpened or repaired. Whaen aged seven he went to Salts mill where he worked as a doffer - removing full spindles from the spinning machine. At twelve he became an apprentice wool sorter (best paid job in t’mill) and was fully qualified at 14 earning 20 to 30 shillings per week on piece work.

Aged 16 he heard a worker reading to another worker (who couldn’t read) and decided it was time he learnt to read. Using the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress at home and later at the Mechanics Institute he did learn to read and write. Over the following years he developed an interest in languages and could read and write in English, French, German and Latin.

Aged 21 he went to Heidelberg University to study for a term and on on returning to the U K became a teacher of English and Maths, for less pay. In 1855 aged 30 he returned to Heidelberg to do a PhD in linguistics his thesis being ” The Qualitative and Quantative Changes in the Indo-Germanic Vowel System in Greek”.

He then began lecturing at English Universities and aged 46 he became Professor Comparative Linguistics at Oxford University. At this point he started work on the English Dialect Dictionary. This was meant to contain any dialect words from the previous 200 years. To do this he set up committees all over the country which sent to him details of dialect words. He received more than one and a half million words and in 1897 published the first volume of the dictionary.

At this point no further material was accepted and the committees disbanded except one, which was in Bradford. It became Yorkshire Dialect Society which is still going strong today.