Northumbrian Language Society

J. Wright

Joseph Wright FBA (1855 –  1930)  was a Bradford born bobbin doffer who rose from humble origins to become Professor of Comparative Philology at Oxford University.   It was in this position that he apparently
Wright’s greatest achievement is considered to be the editing of the six-volume English Dialect Dictionary, which he published between 1898 and 1905, initially at his own expense. This remains a definitive work, a snapshot of English dialect speech at the end of the 19th century. In the course of his work on the Dictionary, he formed a committee to gather Yorkshire material, which gave rise in 1897 to the Yorkshire Dialect Society, which claims to be the world’s oldest surviving dialect society.

Wright was born in Idle, near Bradford in Yorkshire, the second son of Dufton Wright, a woollen cloth weaver and quarryman, and his wife Sarah Ann (née Atkinson). He started work as a “donkey-boy” in a quarry around 1862 at the age of 6 years old, later becoming a bobbin doffer – responsible for removing and replacing full bobbins – in a Yorkshire mill in Sir Titus Salt’s model village. Although he learnt his letters and numbers at the Salt’s Factory School, he was unable to read a newspaper until he was 15. He later said of this time: “Reading and writing, for me, were as remote as any of the sciences.”

Wright’s greatest achievement is considered to be the editing of the six-volume English Dialect Dictionary, which he published between 1898 and 1905, initially at his own expense. This remains a definitive work, a snapshot of English dialect speech at the end of the 19th century. In the course of his work on the Dictionary, he formed a committee to gather Yorkshire material, which gave rise in 1897 to the Yorkshire Dialect Society. Wright had been offered a position at a Canadian university, who would have paid him an annual salary of £500 – a very generous salary at the time. However, Wright opted to stay in Oxford and finish the Dialect Dictionary without any financial backing from a sponsor.[citation needed]

From 1891 to 1901, Wright was Deputy Professor and from 1901 to 1925 Professor of Comparative Philology at Oxford.

Wright specialised in the Germanic languages and wrote a range of introductory grammars for Old English, Middle English, Old High German, Middle High German and Gothic which were still being revised and reprinted 50 years after his death.

Wright had a strong interest in English dialects and claimed that his 1892 book A Grammar of the Dialect of Windhill[ was “the first grammar of its kind in England”

 

The introduction to the English Dialect Dictionary states:

The dictionary includes so far as is possible the Compleat vocabulary of all English dialect words which are still in use or are known to have been in use at any time during the last 200 years the Compleat vocabulary of all English dialect words which are still in use or are known to have been in use at any time during the last 200 years in England Ireland Scotland and Wales. All words occurring both in the literary language All words occurring both in the literary language and in the dialects but with some local peculiarity of meaning in the latter are also included. and in the dialects but with some local peculiarity of meaning in the latter are also included.

The English Dialect Dictionary  – being the complete vocabulary of all dialect words still in use, or known to have been in use during the last two hundred years; founded on the publications of the English Dialect Society and on a large amount of material never before printed.

(Information from Wikipedia)