Material relating to Professor Angus McIntosh (1914-2005)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The item in the collection is a printed copy of A new approach to Middle English dialectology. This is a revised version of a lecture delivered in the University of Edinburgh to the staff of the English Language Department and a few invited colleagues, Wednesday, 18 November 1959.

Administrative / Biographical History

Angus McIntosh was born to Scottish parents near Sunderland, County Durham, on 10 January 1914. He was educated at Ryhope Grammar School, then at Oriel College Oxford where in 1934 he graduated with first class honours in English language and literature. Between 1936 and 1938 he was at Harvard and on his return to Britain he became a Lecturer at the Department of English, University College Swansea.

During the Second World War, McIntosh initially served with the Tank Corps then as a Major in Military Intelligence during which time he was posted to Bletchley where he participated in the decrypting of German military communication Enigma codes.

After the war he took up a lectureship at Christ Church Oxford and then in 1948 he was appointed first Forbes Professor of English Language and General Linguistics at Edinburgh University. At Edinburgh, he was the prime mover in the founding of the School of Epistemics - now Informatics - and the School of Scottish Studies, of the then separate Departments of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics. He was also behind two major dictionary projects and of the Linguistic Survey of Scotland.

While looking at returns from the questionnaire for the Linguistic Survey of Scotland, McIntosh realised the possibility of applying the methodology of modern dialect surveys to the investigation of past stages of the language. Middle English in its written forms exhibited high degrees of linguistic variation, known broadly to correlate with England's geographical regions. Experimenting with the Linguistic Survey data, he attempted to localise material from informants purely on the evidence of their written linguistic forms. The method which was devised - in what later became the Middle English Dialect Project - became known as the Fit Technique, and this was essentially an application of the principles of set theory to geographical distributions. It was to revolutionise dialect research in historical linguistics. A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English, or LALME, was published in 1986, 34 years after its inception, and enthusiastically received in the scholarly community. LALME led the advent of variationist methodology in the study of the linguistic history.

McIntosh did pioneering work for the Linguistic Survey of Scotland and this resulted in the publication in 1952 of his Introduction to a Survey of Scottish Dialects. In the same year he set up the Joint Council for the Scottish Dictionaries. He was also a tireless supporter of both the Scottish National Dictionary and the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue or DOST.

From 1977 to 1989, he was president of the Scottish Text Society - and later honorary president - and for many years he was a member of the Early English Text Society's council. He was a member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, and he was a fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Professor Angus McIntosh died on 26 October 2005, aged 91. That same year, the Departments of English Language and of Linguistics at Edinburgh University, both founded by McIntosh, merged.

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Acquisition Information

Accession no: E2007.06, January 2007.

Note

The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) [online]. The University of Edinburgh. School of Informatics. Angus McIntosh (1914-2005). Obituary. [Accessed 31 January 2007].

Other Finding Aids

None prepared for this collection.

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Graeme D. Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections.