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24 September 2014

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Willem Hollman is an expert in linguistics and a lecturer at Lancaster University. He's currently working on a project looking into the grammatical features that define Lancashire as being a distinct dialect different to other English dialects.

Willem is Dutch by birth and is one of a new generation of linguists who are more interested in dialects and accents, rather than standard English.

Willem and his colleague Anna Siewierska are using advances in technology to help them with therr research. He explains: "Since the sixties and the seventies it's become possible to collect huge texts and store them electronically. We've got hours and hours of interviews that have been previously recorded by other people, for example in the North West Sound Archive in Clitheroe. We're getting those transformed into electronic files that we can then use software on to read them and to look for specific grammatical features. That then allows us to look at far greater amounts of text than we would ordinarily be able to do by just going out on the street and talking to people."

Willem Hollman
Willem Hollman

"Grammar has very much to do with how we put sentences together. Pronunciation only has to do with how certain words are pronounced and maybe how the intonation of a sentence works. But grammar is very much to do with how we build a sentence out of individual words."

There is a line where these two aspects of language blur as Willem explains: "There are certain grammatical environments where the pronunciation differs a bit from other grammatical environments. I could for example say, "This isn't my car, this is your car". In that case I would say "your" in a very pronounced way. However if I said "your car" in a normal sentence like "Your car's been stolen", the prononciation of "your" differs considerably. It's a different function that "your" is playing in the sentence."

Lancashire is a rich area in which to study accent, dialect and grammar as Willem explains: "If I were say, playing with my pen in a very annoying way, and you were to take the pen away from me, I might tell you, "Hey, that's my pen, give it me!" but there's also speakers who wouldn't say "Give it to me!" but who would say "Give me it!" and then there's also speakers who would say "Give it me!" This last order "Give it me!" is not very common in Britain in general, but what we find in Lancashire is it's actually the preferred pattern."

If you are interested in finding out more about Willem's research, he has contributed to a joint article entitled, 'Ditransitive clauses in English with special reference to Lancashire dialect', which will appear in Mike Hannay & Gerard Steen (eds.), (2004), The English clause: usage and structure.


Voices local linguist
Willem Hollmann tells us about his research into the Lancashire dialect.
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