Harold Orton

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Harold Orton
Born(1898-10-23)23 October 1898
Died7 March 1975(1975-03-07) (aged 76)
OccupationProfessor of English Language, Dialectologist

Harold Orton (23 October 1898 – 7 March 1975) was a Dialectologist and Professor of English Language and Medieval Literature at the University of Leeds.


Orton was born in Byers Green, Co Durham on 23 October 1898 and educated at King James I Grammar School, Bishop Auckland and at the University of Durham. He left university in 1917 to enrol in the Durham Light Infantry in which he was commissioned as a Lieutenant. He was wounded severely in 1918, never regaining full use of his right arm, and was invalided out of the army in 1919.[1]

Orton died in Leeds on 7 March 1975 following a stroke.[2]

Academic Career[edit]

After leaving the army, Orton went to Merton College, Oxford, where he studied under Henry Cecil Kennedy Wyld and Joseph Wright, author of the English Dialect Dictionary (McDavid, 1976). He then spent several years on the staff of Uppsala University in Sweden until 1928 when he was appointed to a lectureship at King's College, Newcastle (now the University of Newcastle). Between 1928 and 1939, he surveyed the dialects of 35 sites in Northumberland and north Durham, which became known as the Orton Corpus. This was not published until 1998, edited by Kurt Rydland.[3] He became Head of the Department of English Language at the University of Sheffield in 1939 but secondment to the British Council interrupted that work until the end of the war.[4]

In 1946 he was appointed Professor of English Language and Medieval Literature at the University of Leeds, succeeding Bruce Dickins, where he taught until his retirement as Emeritus Professor in 1964.[5]

Orton was Visiting Professor at the Universities of Kansas (1965, 1967, 1968), Iowa (1966) and Tennessee (1970, 1972, 1973) and at Belmont University, Nashville (1971).

Orton is best remembered as co-founder of the Survey of English Dialects (SED). He developed the questionnaire for the survey together with Eugen Dieth. His pupil David Parry went on to apply the same principles used for the SED to Welsh English, founding the Survey of Anglo-Welsh Dialects (SAWD) at Swansea University in 1968.

Bibliography (selection)[edit]

  • Orton, Harold (1930). The Phonology of a South Durham Dialect. London.
  • Orton, Harold (1971). Editorial Problems of an English Dialect Atlas. In: Burghardt, Lorraine H. (ed.): Dialectology: Problems and Perspectives. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee, 79-115.
  • Orton, Harold and Eugen Dieth (1952). A Questionnaire for a Linguistic Atlas of England. Leeds: Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society.
  • Orton, Harold and Nathalia Wright (1972). Questionnaire for the Investigation of American Regional English. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee.
  • Orton, Harold and Nathalia Wright (1975). A Word Geography of England. New York: Seminar Press.
  • Orton, Harold et al. (1962–71). Survey of English Dialects: Basic Materials. Introduction and 4 vols. (each in 3 parts). Leeds: E. J. Arnold & Son.


  1. ^ Journal of the International Phonetic Association Volume 5, No 2, December 1975
  2. ^ The Guardian, Obituary
  3. ^ Maguire, Warren (August 2003). ""Mr. A. J. Ellis – the pioneer of scientific phonetics in England" (Sweet 1877, vii): an examination of Ellis's data from the northeast of England" (PDF). University of Edinburgh. pp. 5–6. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  4. ^ Journal of the International Phonetic Association Volume 5, No 2, December 1975
  5. ^ http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/info/20040/school_of_english/1253/history_of_the_school_of_english/2
  • McDavid, Raven I. Jr (1976) "Harold Orton: 23 October 1898 – 7 March 1975", American Speech, 51, 219-222