Volunteers Needed for Orcadian Dialect Research

The ways in which the human brain processes Orcadian dialect will be at the centre of a new study from Abertay University in Dundee.

Ryan Kemp, a 4th year Psychology student from Abertay, is on Orkney to follow up on high profile research published last year, which showed the brain treats a dialect and a language in the same way.

Ryan Kemp Orcadian Dialect photo

Abertay University student Ryan Kemp who will be conducting the research

Led by Abertay’s Dr Neil Kirk, that study used a series of tests to measure how quickly the brain can react when asked to switch between standard speech and regional dialects.
Study participants were given a list of both English and Dundonian words which then appeared on a colour-coded screen in randomised order.

Depending on the colour, they were asked to say that word in either English or Dundonian – for example they would respond ‘house’ if the image was coloured green or ‘hoose’ if the image was blue.

Using similar techniques, Ryan will test Orcadian volunteers using local dialect, and is now appealing for volunteers to take part.

Dr Kirk said:

“While we are replicating some elements of the Dundonian study, we have also added additional components.

“The purpose is to investigate further how these dialect varieties are stored in the brain, and whether it is similar to speaking two separate languages.

“Orcadian is spoken in a more rural environment, compared with urban Dundonian, and this may have some effect on how the dialect is used.

“Abertay offers a range of Psychology programmes and this kind of real-life research project is an important part of all our degree courses.”

In the original study, the length of time that elapsed from an image appearing on screen to the participant saying each word was known as the ‘switch cost’.

It was a discovered that this ‘switch cost’ remained the same for people comfortable with both English and Dundonian, regardless of which direction the switch went.

However, for those with one language stronger than the other – in this case English participants with little or no previous experience of Dundonian – the ‘switch cost’ was greater when reverting back to speaking English.

When compared to previous language research, the results of the study showed bidialectals displayed the same ‘switch cost’ pattern as bilinguals who have two equally strong languages, suggesting that different dialects (or closely related language varieties) are stored in the brain in similar ways as languages.

The study is open to participants on mainland Orkney.

To get involved email dialect@abertay.ac.uk

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