Professor Clive Upton

Professor Clive Upton


My first degree, from the University of Wales (Swansea), was in English Language and Literature, specialising in Old and Middle English and Old Norse. I gained an English Language MA by Research, also from Wales, as one of the founder fieldworkers of the Survey of Anglo-Welsh Dialects (SAWD) working under the direction of David Parry. Following a lectureship in the University of Malawi 1970-1972, from 1972 to 1975 I was employed at Leeds as research assistant to Harold Orton, co-founder of the Survey of English Dialects (SED), helping to compile the Survey’s Linguistic Atlas of England (published 1978). I stayed at Leeds to complete my English Language doctorate in 1977. Thereafter I worked variously at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology and the Universities of Birmingham and Sheffield, returning to Leeds in 1997 and becoming Professor of Modern English Language here in 2006. I was appointed Professor Emeritus on my retirement in 2012. For five years between 2013 and 2017 I was Editor of the Cambridge University Press journal English Today.

Research interests

Speech Varieties

Much of my research activity ranges widely in the area of language variation, covering regional and social varieties of English, nationally within the UK and internationally. Besides the facts of dialectal difference and the means by which it is studied, relevant issues in the discipline include the relationships between standard and non-standard dialects, attitudes to variation, the worldwide spread of English, and crucially the facts and mechanisms of historical language change.

I have been closely involved with the Survey of English Dialects (SED) for some forty-eight years, since I acted as research assistant to Harold Orton. SED, the most comprehensive 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 maintained at Sheffield by John Widdowson, with whom I enjoy close collaboration. Pre-dating this are my close links with David Parry's Swansea-based Survey of Anglo-Welsh Dialects (SAWD), as I was one of its first fieldworkers (1968-70). This survey is now directed by my close colleague Rob Penhallurick of Swansea University. I co-authored Survey of English Dialects: The Dictionary and Grammar (London: Longman, 1994) with Parry and Widdowson.

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 gathered to discuss the subject of linguistic variation. Papers from this meeting were published in Barry Heselwood and Clive Upton, eds, Proceedings of Methods XIII, Bamberg Studies in English Linguistics 54 (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2010).

I am a member of the Advisory Board of the Linguistic Atlas Project of the American Dialect Society. I am also a Council Member of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, Britain's oldest dialect organisation (founded 1897), for which I edit the journal Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society.

For five years, from 2013 to 2017, I edited the Cambridge University Press journal English Today. This journal speaks widely to the growing academic area of research and teaching in World Englishes.

I am the author of the Oxford English Dictionary blog post

The Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture                                                   

I am the co-creator of the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture. With Oliver Pickering of Special Collections in the University’s Brotherton Library, between 2002 and 2005 I led the team which assembled the Archive, in a project for which we obtained a major Resource Enhancement grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board [now Council] (AHRC). The dispersed collections of the Survey of English Dialects and the former Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies of the University, the research body in which I had earlier served as a research assistant but which was dissolved in the early 1980s, were located, their material condition was stabilized, and a comprehensive catalogue was compiled. The Archive is now available to the research community through the Brotherton Library Special Collections.

The launch conference for LAVC, attended by delegates from universities and academic and municipal libraries and archives nationwide, was held in March 2005. 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 a report by the Research Council to HM Government. Dialectal elements of the Archive now feature in the teaching of the School of English, and a National Lottery Heritage Grant was awarded to the University in 2019 to allow the School and Special Collections of the University Library to enhance aspects of this work.

The BBC ‘Voices’ Project

In 2004-2005 the British Broadcasting Corporation mounted a major initiative, under the title ‘Voices’, deploying local-radio journalists to collect information on regional speech around the United Kingdom. With David Crystal of the University of Bangor, I acted as adviser on data-collection, and as the Corporation’s academic point of contact for the completion of the project and the extensive broadcasting of its findings. This resulted 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.

With Bethan L. Davies, I led a team first assembled with Sally Johnson which in 2007 received major 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 Davies, was published by Routledge in 2013. '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 Sciencessubmitted to Parliament by the Academy in June 2010.

With colleagues at the British Library, London, I obtained 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 ultimately carried out in London under the direction of Jonnie Robinson (formerly a member of the LAVC team), and I served on the project's Advisory Committee to its successful conclusion in February 2012. Further to this I was closely involved with British Library colleagues in the Library’s major winter exhibition of 2010-11, 'Evolving English'. 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

Since 1993 I have been responsible for the provision (and revision) of the Received Pronunciation model used in the larger Oxford English Dictionaries of Oxford University Press, these dictionaries including the iconic Oxford English Dictionary (OED), for which I continue to act as a pronunciation and general consultant. Other Oxford dictionaries using my pronunciation model include 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).

I am the British author of 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 Eben.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD English Language
  • MA (research) English Language
  • BA English Language and Literature