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American Regional English words never disappear

By Yang Min | 2013-08-02 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
 Joan Houston Hall
The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) is a multi-volume reference work that documents words, phrases, and pronunciations that vary from one place to another place across the United States. It is consisted of 6 volumes. Challenging the popular notion that American language has been "homogenized" by the media and our mobile population, DARE demonstrates that there are many thousands of differences that characterize the dialect regions of the U.S.
DARE is based on face-to-face interviews carried out in all 50 states between 1965 and 1970 and on a comprehensive collection of written materials (diaries, letters, novels, histories, biographies, newspapers, government documents, etc.) that cover our history from the colonial period to the present. The Volume VI of DARE has been released in Nov.1. Contrastive maps, an index by Region, Usage, and Etymology, and responses to the DARE Questionnaire will be all available on December 3, 2012.
To trace further research outputs of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), its chief editor accepted the interview from Chinese Social Sciences Today.
Chinese Social Sciences Today: Hello, Joan Houston Hall, I am so glad you could accept my invitation for this interview. We know DARE is very meaningful for American Language because it demonstrates American Language has distinct and delightful local character. Besides that, could you tell me more about its significance or how does DARE affect common readers and researchers?
Joan Houston Hall: There are many uses for DARE. Because it includes words that are not "standard," and that are not found everywhere in the country, it often provides the answer when people come across words that are not familiar to them. Those might be words that are heard when people are traveling in different parts of the country, or that are read in books, newspapers, diaries, government documents, histories, etc. that were written in other regions of the country or were written decades or centuries ago. DARE has been useful to doctors whose patients use regional or old-fashioned terms for ailments or diseases; it has been valuable to lawyers who need to know whether a word can have different meanings in different places; it has been used to help solve crimes, such as in determining where the writer of a ransom note or threat letter is from; writers use DARE to be sure that the characters in their novels, stories, or plays use vocabularly that is appropriate to the time and place of the setting; teachers use DARE to show their students how language varies from place to place; and general lovers of language browse through the entries for pure pleasure. The quotations that illustrate the various definitions give a good (and often humorous) picture of American culture over the centuries.
Chinese Social Sciences Today: It took a long time to complete DARE, what works did you need to do?
Joan Houston Hall: We collected so much material in our fieldwork (3.2 million responses to the questions) and in our quotation-collection project that we had more evidence to sift through than we had anticipated. But we were also using computers for the first time in a lexicographic project like this, and there were many problems that had to be solved. Later, we decided to use them fully even though they took a huge amount of editorial time. We felt that they expanded and improved the entries enough that we should use them despite the extra time they required.
Chinese Social Sciences Today: Could you tell me the difference in the content and researching methods from 1st volume to 5th volume?
Joan Houston Hall: The use of the material from the fieldwork project, done between 1965 and 1970, did not change throughout the five volumes. But the use of newly available electronic libraries meant that Volumes IV and V have citations from many more sources that antedated, postdated, and expanded the regionality of our other citations.
Chinese Social Sciences Today: Talking about the 6th volume’s editing and researching process, what are the highlights of 6th volume?
Joan Houston Hall: Volume VI, which is in press right now, will be published early in 2013. It is very different from the five volumes of text. It includes several thousand maps showing contrastive distributions of synonyms, maps showing different uses among social groups (age, sex, race, education, and community type), the full index to all the regional, usage, and etymological labels in the five volumes of text, and all the answers to 430 of the questions in the DARE Questionnaire.
Chinese Social Sciences Today: As far as I know, to complete the first 5 volumes, researchers also had carried out numerous fieldworks, right?
Joan Houston Hall: It was all done between 1965 and 1970, in 1,002 communities across the country. There were 2,777 people who participated in answering questions. We have interviewed at least 2.3 million people across the country. If the responses showed a regional pattern, we included a map of the responses in the text. There are many thousands of maps in the five volumes.
Chinese Social Sciences Today: Sounds interesting. Could you tell me more about why you are planning to do such a survey and how to carry it on? What expectation do you have for this survey's result?
Joan Houston Hall: A popular assumption among many Americans is that the mobility of our population and the prevalence of national media are "homogenizing" American English. While it is true that language is always changing, and some regional terms will be pushed out of use by national terms, it is my belief that many local and regional terms will persist. But in order to state that with certainty, we need to do a new survey that is comparable to the original DARE survey. But that was extremely expensive and time-consuming. So we have applied for funding to do a pilot survey in the state of Wisconsin, using many of the questions in the original Questionnaire, plus many new questions dealing with items and concepts that didn't exist fifty years ago. We hope to work with the Wisconsin Survey Research Center here on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and carry out a web-based survey. If the process works well in Wisconsin, we will apply for funding to do the survey on a nationwide basis.
Chinese Social Sciences Today: Is there any researchers or linguists, as far as you know, carrying on researches on the basis of DARE?
Joan Houston Hall: Many scholars have used DARE materials in various kinds of research. One of the most interesting is to use the audio recordings we made between 1965 and 1970 and compare them to contemporary recordings to see how pronunciation has changed in a particular place.
Chinese Social Sciences Today: You said many scholars have used DARE, such as using audio recordings to see how pronunciation has changed in the particular place. Can you tell me more about the progress of this research and what is the latest finding about pronunciation? Thanks for your time.
Joan Houston Hall: A major shift in pronunciation that is taking place in urban areas around the Great Lakes is called the (See the work by William Labov for a description of it.) By comparing DARE recordings from 1965-70 (which have been digitized) with contemporary recordings from the areas where the shift is occurring, scholars can measure the changes in vowel positions.
Chinese Social Sciences Today: Recently, Oxford University Press announced in its latest quarterly update that were added to Oxford Dictionary, which aroused many doubts from the public and academic. What’s your take on it?
Joan Houston Hall: The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) adds new words as they become widely used and recognized, because its mission is to be a full record of the language. These words are appropriate additions for that dictionary.             
Chinese Social Sciences Today: In your opinion, how to choose words for dictionary? Do you have special standard of choosing words when doing DARE?     
Joan Houston Hall: DARE enters only words that have a regional distribution (whether that region is large or small) or that are part of our folk language. That is what makes DARE different from other dictionaries.
Chinese Social Sciences Today: As editor of DARE, what impresses you most during the whole researching process?                                       
Joan Houston Hall: I'm impressed by the tremendous variety of words, phrases, pronunciations, and even bits of grammar and syntax that exist across this country, which most people aren't even aware of. Despite the mobility of our population and the prevalence of nationwide media, many of these differences will continue to persist.
Chinese Social Sciences Today: As a scientist, what other researches do you do recently? Could you give us a brief introduction?
Joan Houston Hall: My title, Distinguished Scientist, is a university title that reflects the fact that lexicography is a scientific research enterprise. DARE is my full time occupation.
Joan Houston Hall is Distinguished Scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She joined the DARE staff in 1975, became Associate Editor in 1979, and was named Chief Editor in 2000.
Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 356, Sept.14, 2012