Dare Image by Ellen
Chronicle illustration by Ellen Winkler

If you read my posts, you may be familiar by now with the grand six-volume Dictionary of American Regional English, completed in print in 2013, but continuing to live beyond that date in quarterly updates on the internet.

Now DARE has come to life in another way. It’s not just in writing that the dictionary tells us about the different ways we talk in this vast country. DARE is speaking up!


Now we can hear the recorded voices of some 1,800 people in 1,002 communities in all 50 states who were interviewed between 1965 and 1970 by field workers driving “word wagons” with bulky recording equipment. The researchers used a lengthy paper questionnaire to note what people said, but they also asked if the interviewees would allow taped recordings, and the great majority did.

You don’t have to go to DARE headquarters at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, to hear these recordings, and you don’t have to pay for them either. Just follow the link to the university’s Digital Collection Center, and see for yourself.

If they made these recordings half a century ago, why has it taken so long to make them available? In a word, privacy. The interviewees were promised anonymity. In the last four years, having completed production of the print volumes, DARE enlisted student interns and volunteers to bleep out names in the recordings and thus finally make them freely available.

Now, however, they are all accessible, right at your fingertips. if you want to hear how someone sounded back in the 1960s in Aaronsburg, Pa.; Adams, Ky.; Beardstown, Ill., or a thousand other places, the index to this collection will quickly find an example for you. And among other things, the index will tell you what they talked about. In the case of Adams, Ky., for example, they discussed family history, logging, work animals, wild greens, home remedies, sorghum molasses, and curing pork.

So why wait? Give it a try yourself, right now. Whether you’re a linguist looking to chart dialect distinctions, an actor looking to put on an authentic local dialect, or just a traveler wanting to hear the sounds of home — it’s all here, much more than I have room to mention.


And if you wish, tell us: What did you find?