The FITS Corpus: Tracing the origins of fifteenth-century Scots sounds and spellings

Aug 23, 2018 12:00 AM
University of Glasgow

In this paper, we report on the construction and functionality of the From Inglis To Scots (FITS) corpus (Alcorn et al. forthcoming) which maps individual 15c Scots spellings onto their presumed sound values and links these sounds to their etymological source — via a series of proposed changes where necessary. This database of grapho-phonological correspond-dences allows for a fine-grained examination of the phonotactic distribution of individual segments aswell as variation in their values over time, space and text. It was compiled using the Germanic vocabulary from the texts in the Linguistic Atlas of Older Scots (LAOS – Williamson, 2008) which, in turn, brings together c. 1,250 local Scots documents dating from 1380 to 1500.

We assume that our source materials were set down by scribes “capable of sophisticated and subtle linguistic analysis” (Laing and Lass 2003: 258), so we expect there to be a systematic connection – albeit not necessarily a one-to-one match – between orthographic choices and underlying sound systems. As a result, we are able to reconstruct the array of spellings for individual sounds, and conversely, the array of sounds that can be represented by individual graphemes (see Fig.1) and can retrieve the spatial and temporal distribution of individual sound-spelling pairings. In addition, linking each root morpheme to its etymological source (Old Northumbrian, Norse, or other) allows us to propose plausible sound values in the Older Scots material, as well as a path for their development. The result is a corpus of detailed form histories, supported by a Corpus of Changes. This paper will discuss the technical and theoretical challenges of such procedures and exemplify the types of questions that this quantitative and dynamic approach affords researchers interested in the history of Scots sounds and spellings.


Alcorn, R., V. Karaiskos, J. Kopaczyk, B. Los, W. Maguire & B. Molineaux (forthcoming) From Inglis to Scots: A Corpus of Grapho phonological Correspondences (1380-1500) with Associated Corpus of Changes.

Laing, M., & Lass, R. (2003). Tales of the 1001 nists. The phonological implications of litteral substitution sets in 13th-century south west-Midlands texts. English Language and Linguistics, 7(2), 1-22.

Williamson, K. (2008). LAOS: A Linguistic Atlas of Older Scots, Phase 1: 1380-1500. Retrieved from from The University of Edinburgh

Benjamín Molineaux
Benjamín Molineaux
Lecturer in Linguistics

I am a historical linguist, working on sounds, spellings, word structure and stress in Mapudungun and Older Scots.