The Dialect Test was created by Joseph Wright in February 1879. It first appeared in the works of A.J. Ellis, to whom Wright dictated the test. It stands as one of the earliest methods of identifying vowel sounds and features of speech. The aim was to capture the main vowel sounds of an individual dialect by listening to the reading of a short passage. All the categories of West Saxon words and vowels were included in the test so that comparisons could be made with the historic West Saxon speech as well as with various other dialects.
The test consists of seventy-six words, although some of the words are repeated. The pronunciation of each word or the substitution of another word [for example, many dialects would use "See!" rather than "Look!"] is noted during the test. In On Early English Pronunciation, A.J. Ellis distinguished forty-two different dialects in England and the Scottish Lowlands.
In A Grammar of the Dialect of Windhill, Joseph Wright said of Ellis' work, "If his rendering of the dialect test of other dialect speeches is as inaccurate as that of the Windhill dialect, the value of these tests for phonetic and philological purposes is not very great." However, Wright did commend the dialect categorisations and boundaries that Ellis determined.