Professor Clive Upton

Professor Clive Upton

Emeritus Professor of Modern English Language

Summary: Modern English Language; diachronic and synchronic dialectology; sociolinguistics; history of English; phonetics and phonology; world English, pidgins and creoles.

Research Interests

Vernacular Speech

My primary research interests are in regional and social English dialectal variation. Besides the facts of dialectal difference, and the means by which it is studied, relevant issues in the discipline include the relationship of standard to non-standard dialects, attitudes to variation, and the mechanisms of language change.

I have been closely involved with the Survey of English Dialects (SED) for over forty-five years, since I acted as research assistant to Harold Orton. SED, the only systematic survey of the dialects of England yet to be carried out, was begun at Leeds by Orton (d.1975) and Eugen Dieth in 1948, and was for many years continued at Sheffield by John Widdowson, with whom I enjoy close collaboration. I also have close links with David Parry's Swansea-based Survey of Anglo-Welsh Dialects (SAWD), having been one of its first fieldworkers (1968-70): this survey is now directed by Rob Penhallurick, another of my close colleagues. I co-authored Survey of English Dialects: The Dictionary and Grammar (Longman, 1994) with Parry and Widdowson.

I am a member of the Advisory Board of the Linguistic Atlas Project of the American Dialect Society.

The Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture (LAVC)

In 2005, with Oliver Pickering of Special Collections in the University’s Brotherton Library, I completed work on The Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture (LAVC) Project, funded by a major Resource Enhancement grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The collections of the former Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies of the University, a research body which was dissolved in the early 1980s, are now held for consultation in Special Collections, their data made accessible through the project’s electronic catalogue ( to all in the research community with interests in the speech, customs, beliefs and practices of traditional British communities.

The conference of the LAVC project was held in March 2005, attended by delegates from universities and academic and municipal libraries and archives nationwide. The final report on the Archive project was assessed as 'Outstanding' by the AHRC, and on completion the project was selected as one of five nationally to be audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers for that Research Council's report to Government. A new project to begin digitization of the whole archive is now under way, directed by Fiona Douglas of the School of English and Joanne Fitton of Special Collections.

BBC 'Voices'

In 2004-5 the British Broadcasting Corporation mounted a major initiative to collect and broadcast information on regional speech around the United Kingdom. With David Crystal, I acted as the Corporation’s first academic point of contact for this project, this resulting in my having privileged access to a large body of professionally-gathered data on vernacular speech, and in my consequent involvement in two large-scale research projects. I led a team, first assembled with Sally Johnson, which in 2007 received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to analyse the materials contained on the project's BBC website: this undertaking, entitled 'Whose Voices?: Language ideological debates on the interactive website of the BBC Voices project', finished its analyses in 2011. A resulting book, Analysing Twenty-first Century British English, edited jointly with Bethan L. Davies, was published by Routledge in 2013. An associated Routledge-hosted website ( contains data from the project, as well as providing access to other national and international dialect holdings.

'Whose Voices?' featured as one of ten research projects in the British Academy publication Past Present and Future: The Public Value of the Humanities and Social Sciences, submitted to Parliament by the Academy in June 2010.

I was closely involved, with British Library colleagues, in obtaining a further major grant, this from The Leverhulme Trust, for more analysis of 'Voices' output. This undertaking focused on the 700+ hours of sound recordings collected by BBC journalists working on the project. The research, 'Voices of the UK', was carried out in London under the direction of Jonnie Robinson (formerly a member of the LAVC team), and I (with Penhallurick, Braber and others) served on the project's Advisory Committee to its successful conclusion in February 2012. I was closely involved with British Library colleagues in 'Evolving English' 2010-11, the Library's most successful winter exhibition to date, which featured our shared dialect materials.  As a result of BBC 'Voices' research, a large new recorded speech resource is now available alongside other British Library holdings on accents and dialects, which include substantial material from SED.

Dictionary Pronunciation of English

The accent of British English which is presented in dictionaries is usually known as Received Pronunciation, or simply RP. Like other accents, RP is subject to variation and change: I am responsible for the provision of a modern RP model which has been adopted by the latest Oxford English Dictionaries of Oxford University Press, including the iconic Oxford English Dictionary (OED), for which I act as pronunciation consultant. Some of the other Oxford dictionaries displaying this model are The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (editions from 1993 on), The Concise Oxford Dictionary (editions from 1995 on), and The New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998, 2003).

In addition, I am the British author for two joint British and American pronouncing dictionaries, The Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English (2001 in hardback, 2003 in paperback), and a new revised and enlarged edition of this, The Routledge Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English, published in 2017. Also in the area of English sounds is my Oxford Rhyming Dictionary (2004), written with my son Dr Eben Upton.

Other Activities

For five years, from 2013 to 2017, I edited the Cambridge University Press journal English Today (

I am a Council Member of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, Britain's oldest dialect organization, for which I edit Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society.

In August 2008 I hosted at Leeds the thirteenth conference in the international ‘Methods in Dialectology’ series, Methods XIII, when more than two hundred dialect scholars from twenty-five countries spent a week discussing the subject of linguistic variation.

Invitations to speak on language variation at conferences or to research groups have included those from the Finnish-British Society, The Department of English of the University of Helsinki, the Royal Geographical Society, and the Universities of Helsinki, Innsbruck, and Mainz. Keynote addresses have included those to OX-LEX 4 at the University of Oxford, the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, the National Association for the Teaching of English and the National Association for the Teaching of English and Other Community Languages (NATECLA), and the Austrian Academy of Sciences. I frequently broadcast on English Language issues: more recent broadcasts include for BBC Radio 4 on its ‘Making History’ programme, 15 March 2016, and BBC Radio 3’s ‘The Verb’, 7 April 2017.

Some of my later publications are listed here

2018. ‘Sociolinguistics on BBC Radio’, in Christine Mallinson, Becky Childs, and Gerard Van Herk, eds, Data Collection in Sociolinguistics. New York and London: Routledge, 305-310 [1st edition 2013].

2017. The Routledge Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English. London: Routledge [with William A. Kretzschmar Jr].

2016. ‘Regional and Dialect Dictionaries’, in Philip Durkin, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Lexicography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 381-392.

2015. ‘British English’, in Marnie Reed and John Levis, eds, The Handbook of English Pronunciation. Malden MA and Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 251-268.

2015 [1987]. Word Maps: A Dialect Atlas of England. Routldege Library Editions: The English Language, Volume 27. London: Routledge [with Stewart Sanderson and John Widdowson].

2014. ‘The language of butchery, the UK’s last public craft’, in Sarah Buschfeld, Thomas Hoffmann, Magnus Huber, and Alexander Kautzsch, eds, The Evolution of Englishes: The Dynamic Model and Beyond. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 470-485.

2013. Analysing 21st-century British English: Conceptual and methodological aspects of the BBC 'Voices' project. London: Routledge [ed., with Bethan L. Davies].

2013. ‘Blurred Boundaries: the dialect word from the BBC’, in Clive Upton and Bethan L. Davies, eds, Analysing 21st-century British English: Conceptual and methodological aspects of the BBC 'Voices' project. London: Routledge.

2013. ‘Analyzing the BBC Voices data: Contemporary English dialect areas and their characteristic lexical variants’. Literary and Linguistic Computing 2013 [with Martijn Wieling].

2012. ‘An Evolving Standard British English Pronunciation Model’, in Raymond Hickey, ed.  Standards of English: Codified Varieties around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 55-71.

2012. Modern Regional English in the British Isles, in Lynda Mugglestone, ed., The Oxford History of the English Language. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 379-414 [1st edition 2006].

2012. The importance of being Janus:  Midland speakers and the "North-South Divide", in Manfred Markus, Yoko Iyeiri, Reinhard Heuberger, and Emil Chamson, eds.  Middle and Modern English Corpus Linguistics: A Multi-dimensional Approach.  Amsterdam: Benjamins, 257-268.

2012. Geographical Analysis of the Vernacular.  Journal of Information Science 39(1), 26-35 [with John Holliday, Ann Thompson, Jonathan Robinson, and Paul Norman].

2010. Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary and Beyond. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang [ed., with Manfred Markus and Reinhard Heuberger].

2010. Proceedings of Methods XIII:  Papers from the Thirteenth International Conference on Methods in Dialectology, 2008. Bamberger Beiträge zur Englischen Sprachwissenschaft 54.  Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang [ed., with Barry Heselwood].

2010. Designing maps for non-Linguists, in Alfred Lameli, Roland Kehrein, and Stefan Rabanus (eds), An International Handbook of Linguistic Variation, Volume 2: Language Mapping. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 142-157.

2010. Language ideological debates on the BBC 'Voices' website: hypermodality in theory and practice, in Sally Johnson and Tommaso Milani, eds, Language Ideologies and Media Discourse: Texts, Practices, Politics. London : Continuum, 223-251 [with Sally Johnson and Tommaso Milani].

2009. 'Mind the Quality, Feel the Width: tolerance(s) in Standard English.  Language Issues 20, 2, 26-32.

2008. Varieties of English 1: The British Isles. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter [ed., with Bernd Kortmann].

2008. Received Pronunciation, in Bernd Kortmann and Clive Upton (eds), Varieties of English 1: The British Isles. Berlin : Mouton de Gruyter, 269-282.

2008. Whose Voices?: A hypermodal approach to language ideological debates on the BBC 'Voices' website.  Centre for Language and Social Life, Lancaster University: Working Paper 127  [with Sally Johnson and Tomasso Milani].

2007. Introduction to Alan S.C. Ross (1954) ‘Linguistic Class-indicators in Present-Day English’, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 1a CVIII, 109-111.

2006. An Atlas of English Dialects. 2nd edn. London : Routledge [with J.D.A.Widdowson].

2005. Modelling RP: a variationist case, in Katarzyna Dziubalska-Kolaczky and Joanna Przedlacka (eds), English Pronunciation Models: A Changing Scene. Linguistic Insights Series. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 409-420 [with Lawrence M. Davis and Charles L. Houck].

2004. A Handbook of Varieties of English: A Multimedia Reference Tool. 2 volumes plus CD-Rom. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter [ed., with Edgar W. Schneider, Kate Burridge, Bernd Kortmann, and Rajend Mesthrie].

2004. The Oxford Rhyming Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press [with Eben Upton].

2004. Leeds 1966: Some early evidence of "new RP"?, Leeds Working Papers in Linguistics and Phonetics 10, 32-39 [with Lawrence M. Davis and Charles L. Houck].