Dialect studies began in the latter half of the 19th century. The idea of dialect studies began in 1876, by Georg Wenker, who sent postal questionnaires out over Northern Germany. These postal questionnaires contained a list of sentences written in Standard German. These sentences were then transcribed into the local dialect, reflecting dialectal differences. Many studies proceeded from this, and over the next century dialect studies were carried out all over the world. Joseph Wright produced the six-volumeEnglish Dialect Dictionary in 1905.

Traditional studies in Dialectology were generally aimed at producing dialect maps, whereby imaginary lines were drawn over a map to indicate different dialect areas. The move away from traditional methods of language study however caused linguists to become more concerned with social factors. Dialectologists therefore began to study social, as well as regional variation. The Linguistic Atlas of the United States (1930s) was amongst the first dialect studies to take social factors into account.

In the 1950s, the University of Leeds undertook the Survey of English Dialects, which focused mostly on rural speech in England and the eastern areas of Wales.

This shift in interest consequently saw the birth of Sociolinguistics, which is a mixture of dialectology and social sciences.

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