The general purpose of the dialectology researcher group is the study of the spoken variants of Danish. Research is conducted in the following areas:
- Geographical variation: the traditional Danish dialects and the younger regional and social variants of spoken Danish, which in many regions have replaced the dialects. Until recently, the research conducted at the Section mainly focused on spoken language in the Danish archipelago (i.e. not Jutland or Bornholm).
- Social language variation. The approach and methodology is predominantly sociolinguistic; language is described with reference to speakers’ social backgrounds, in terms of such variables as age, gender, and ethnicity.
- Conversation analysis. The methodology combines conversation analysis and dialogism with lifestyle analysis and other sociological approaches
Dialects and regional languages
Dialects are geographically defined varieties. The traditional dialects contain many features that differ from modern standard Danish, and are usually linked to small local areas. The modern dialects contain only a few different features, and are linked to larger local areas. They are therefore also called regional languages.
The Centre for Dialectology engages with all aspects of speech: pronunciation, morphology, syntax, phraseology, word formation, vocabulary, and discourse.
The Section's main publication Ømålsordbogen (the Dictionary of Danish Insular Dialects) describes the language and culture of the Danish rural communities in the time before industrialisation, with emphasis on the period 1850–1920 where over half the population lived in rural areas and most spoke dialect.
The dictionary describes spoken language and is based on oral sources, i.e. on records (written in dialect alphabet on paper notes) and transcripts from tape recordings of older rural dwellers. To a limited extent it also includes written sources. The oldest oral "informants" for the dictionary were born ca. 1850, whereas the written sources can reach further back.
During the 1970–1980s sociolinguistics became a major research discipline in the Section. A number of studies were carried out with a particular focus on the linguistic standardization/dedialectalisation of Denmark, inspired by the development of sociolinguistic theories and methods initiated by William Labov, including for example the use of social variables and quantitative statistics.
With the labovian-inspired 'Copenhagen Study in Urban sociolinguistics' – which investigated inner-city Copenhagen speech at the end of the 1980s – urban language became an object of research. Since then, sociolinguistics has been a central discipline at the Section. In recent years there has been increased focus on studies of multiethnolect, youth language, urban lifestyle and language.
Conversation analysis has been developed as part of the Section’s research since the early 1990s. Research has focused on language in the workplace and in different institutional settings, including use of language in educational practice and in management and human resource management. The methodology combines conversation analysis and dialogism with lifestyle analysis and other sociological approaches.
Language change in real time
Since the initiation of the LANCHART centre in 2005, the Section has been involved in the centre’s multifaceted endeavours to describe and explain how the Danish language and the Danish speech community changes during the 20th century. The recordings found in the Section of Dialectology are essential to the work at LANCHART. LANCHART has been an integrated part of the Centre for Dialectology since 2015.