J.D.A. (John) Widdowson (born 1935) is a British linguist and folklorist.

Early life and education

Widdowson was born in Sheffield and educated at Oxford University, the University of Leeds (where he wrote his MA dissertation on the dialect of Filey)[1] and Memorial University, Canada, where he completed his PhD (on Newfoundland folklore).[2][3]


In 1964 Widdowson founded the Sheffield Survey of Language and Folklore at the University of Sheffield, with the aim of collecting material and providing an academic resource centre. The Survey formed the basis of the Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language (CECTAL) which was inaugurated in 1975 within the university's Department of English.[4]

From 1975, CECTAL and the Institute of Dialect and Folklife Studies (University of Leeds), were the only two institutions which offered academic courses in Folklore in the UK. This remained the case until the latter's closure in 1984.[4]

In 1997, CECTAL was renamed the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition (NATCECT). Widdowson - who had headed all its previous iterations - remained as director of NATCECT until 2004.[5]

In collaboration with colleagues at the Institute of Dialect and Folklife Studies, Widdowson played a significant role in the Survey of English Dialects, being co-editor of the Survey's Linguistic Atlas of England (1978)[6] and co-author of its Dictionary and Grammar (1994).[7] He was also the lead for sites in England and in English-speaking areas of Wales for the Atlas Linguarum Europae for the initial period of cassette-recorded interviews.[8]

Between 1964 and 1999, Widdowson was editor of Lore and Language, a newsletter created as part of the Sheffield Survey of Language and Folklore, for researchers into the study of language and folklore.[4] The back run of Lore and Language is now digitised and freely available from Memorial University.[9]

In 1996, Widdowson published the Bibliography of British Folklore.[10] It is an alphabetical listing of "British and Irish material [...] its primary focus is on printed books relevant to the study of folklore in England."[11] The titles contained within were drawn primarily from three collections: The Herbert Halpert Folklore Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland; The Kenneth S. Goldstein Collection, Centre for the Study of Southern Culture, University of Mississippi; and The Library of the Folklore Society, University College London.[11] The bibliography is now freely available online.[12]

In 2000 Widdowson founded the Centre for English Traditional Heritage (CETH).[13] One of CETH's research projects is the Survey of English Tradition, which aims to "collect information on all aspects of language and tradition in England and throughout the British Isles".[14] Widdowson and Janet E Alton co-edit the centre's e-journal, Tradition Today.[15]

In 2016, Folklore published an article by Widdowson, 'New Beginnings: Towards a National Folklore Survey', which called for leading organizations to "undertake a comprehensive survey of the rich variety of traditions in our present-day multicultural society".[5]


Widdowson holds honorary degrees from Memorial University of Newfoundland and the University of Edinburgh.[16]

Between 1987 and 1990 Widdowson served as President of the Folklore Society. He was awarded the Society's Coote Lake Medal, for outstanding research and scholarship, in 2000.[17]

Selected publications


  1. ^ Widdowson, J. D. A (1976). Pronouncing glossary of the dialect of Filey in the East Riding of Yorkshire (Thesis). OCLC 995527669.
  2. ^ Newfoundland, Memorial University of. "English Language Research Centre". Memorial University of Newfoundland. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  3. ^ Widdowson, J. D. A (1980). Aspects of traditional verbal control threats and threatening figures in Newfoundland folklore (Thesis). Ottawa: National Library of Canada. OCLC 1019218751.
  4. ^ a b c "National Centre for English Cultural Tradition". Oxford Reference. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  5. ^ a b Widdowson, J. D. A. (1 September 2016). "New Beginnings: Towards a National Folklore Survey". Folklore. 127 (3): 257–269. doi:10.1080/0015587X.2016.1198178. ISSN 0015-587X. S2CID 151463190.
  6. ^ Orton, Harold; Sanderson, Stewart; Widdowson, John (1978). The linguistic atlas of England. London: Croom Helm. OCLC 466304700.
  7. ^ Clive., Upton (1994). Survey of English dialects : the dictionary and grammar. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-02029-8. OCLC 454502554.
  8. ^ Aveyard, Edward (2023). "The Atlas Linguarum Europae in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland". Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society: 3–11.
  9. ^ "Lore and Language". Memorial University - Digital Archives Initiative.
  10. ^ Widdowson, J. D. A (1996). Bibliography of British folklore. St. John's: Institute for Folklore Studies in Britain and Canada. ISBN 978-0-88901-306-3. OCLC 833095934.
  11. ^ a b Widdowson, J. D. A. (John David Allison) (1996). "Bibliography of British Folklore". Centre for Newfoundland Studies.
  12. ^ "'Bibliography of British Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland - Digital Archives Initiative".
  13. ^ "Home". www.centre-for-english-traditional-heritage.org. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  14. ^ "Survey of English Tradition". www.centre-for-english-traditional-heritage.org. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  15. ^ "Tradition Today ALL". www.centre-for-english-traditional-heritage.org. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  16. ^ Kelsey, N. G. N. (2019). Alton, Janet; Widdowson, J. D. A. (eds.). Games, Rhymes, and Wordplay of London Children. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-3-030-02909-8.
  17. ^ "The Coote Lake Medal". The Folklore Society. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
This article needs additional or more specific categories. Please help out by adding categories to it so that it can be listed with similar articles. (April 2021)