About the project

Summary

Place-names are the main source of evidence for Anglo-Saxon settlement in northern Britain, and for the Northumbrian dialect of Old English which developed into Older Scots and northern Middle English. The data are largely untapped, particularly north of the present Scottish/English border. This project makes the first sustained attempt to investigate Anglo-Saxon place-names in Scotland. Building on the momentum of the recently inaugurated Survey of Scottish Place-Names, it focuses on the south-eastern county of Berwickshire, the heartland of Anglo-Saxon settlement in Scotland, in order to examine the linguistic features of Old Northumbrian.

Context

Old English, the collective term for the dialects spoken by the Anglo-Saxon settlers in Britain from the fifth to eleventh centuries, is the ancestor of both Present-Day English and Scots. Of the three main types of sources – manuscripts, inscriptions and place-names – only place-names are available for the study of the Old Northumbrian dialect spoken north of the present Scottish/English border. They have not yet been investigated, since the evidence they preserve can only be accessed through systematic place-name survey, which has been ongoing in England since the 1920s but has only recently begun in Scotland. The historical county of Berwickshire has some of Scotland’s earliest recorded place-names. They derive from a range of Celtic and Germanic languages including Brittonic, Gaelic, Old English and Old Norse; most later names are from Scots. The data are of immense value, both as evidence for the Old Northumbrian dialect, and as evidence for the ways in which it interacted with earlier and later linguistic strata, developing the features that differentiate Older Scots from northern Middle English. The project thus addresses one of the most important gaps in current knowledge of English historical linguistics – the earliest form of English spoken in Scotland.

Aims

The aims of the project are:

  • to investigate the Old Northumbrian dialect of Old English. As most Old English texts are preserved through the medium of the West Saxon literary dialect, place-names comprise key data for other varieties. The project will use place-name evidence to produce a ground-breaking study of Old Northumbrian, including its lexis, morphology and phonology.
  • to investigate the development of Older Scots in the Scottish Borders. Like Middle English, Older Scots is a descendant of Old English, but it is uncertain how far the differences reflect the respective varieties of Old English from which they derive, and how far they result from interaction with other languages, particularly Norse. With no evidence of major Norse settlement in the Borders, there is greater continuity of language from Old English to Scots here than elsewhere, so this is the best opportunity to establish which features of Scots derive from Old Northumbrian rather than from Old Norse.
  • to advance understanding of the relationship between place-names on either side of the present Scottish/English border. Cross-border comparison will both assist analysis of the project data, and lead to significant re-interpretations of place-names related to those in the study area.
  • to advance the Survey of Scottish Place-Names, making available data for the study of the history of language, settlement, environment, social organisation, and the use and perception of landscape.

Outputs

The project will produce:

  • a volume presenting place-name survey of the border parishes of Coldstream, Eccles, Foulden, Hutton, Ladykirk and Mordington, published within the Survey of Scottish Place-Names as The Place-Names of Berwickshire Volume 1: The Tweedside Parishes.
  • a fully searchable web resource of all Berwickshire place-names on the OS 1:50,000 Landranger map (over 1,000 names), designed for both public and scholarly use.
  • journal articles on topics related to the project, including the lexis, morphology and phonology of Old Northumbrian. These will underpin a monograph to be completed following conclusion of the project.
  • conference papers and exhibitions introducing the research to the scholarly community and interested public.
  • a PhD thesis on an aspect of Berwickshire place-names.