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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is American English becoming “homogenized”?

American English, like every language, is always undergoing change. Sometimes a change means that a local word is supplanted by a more widely used word (particularly if nationwide advertising forces are involved). In other cases, a local word may simply drop out of use because the item or practice it refers to is no longer relevant. Old-fashioned words may also disappear with the deaths of the speakers who used them.

But at the same time, local words continue to make their way into the language as they fill specific needs or reflect particular customs. And regionally distributed words maintain their vitality because they are integral to the lives of the people who use them. There is no reason, for example, for people to switch from saying teeter-totter to see-saw, or bubbler to drinking fountain, or mosquito hawk to snake doctor if the people they associate with understand them and share their vocabulary. Many of the words that vary locally, such as whether our grandparents are called mee-maw and papaw, oma and opa, nanny and pappy, or gram and gramps, are the kinds of words we use with our families and friends, and they tend not to be affected by national trends.

So yes, the language is changing; and in many cases the boundaries of regionally distributed terms may be shifting, but no, our language is not being “homogenized.”

 

2. Are you still collecting material?

The period of active collection, when Fieldworkers used our questionnaire to interview people throughout the United States, was completed between 1965 and 1970. But after that we solicited information about specific entries for which we needed more documentation through queries in the Newsletter of the American Dialect Society. Now we post these queries to our website; look under Share Your  Words.

Many DARE staff members are avid readers. When reading U.S. newspapers, books, or other materials, we frequently mark words for inclusion in our files. Sometimes people write to us, asking or telling us about terms they know, whether used in their family, in a region they just moved to, or in the area where they have lived their whole lives. They may send us clippings. When this information is relevant, we add it to our files.

 

3. Where can I find more DARE audio samples?

There are 844 DARE recordings of "Arthur the Rat" (a reading passage that includes all the crucial sound contrasts in American English) posted on the website American Languages: Our Nation's Many Voices. Under "Search the collection" type in “Arthur”. Or to hear samples from a particular state, click on “Guided Search.” Enter “Arthur the Rat” (without the quote marks) in the first box and choose “as a phrase” from the first pull-down menu. Then enter a state name in the second line and choose “Place/Time” from the second pull-down menu and click on “Search.” (If you choose a state name with two parts, such as “New York” or “Rhode Island,” be sure to choose “as a phrase” in the first of the two pull-down menus on the second line.)

We are currently working with the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures and the Max Kade Institute here in Madison to post segments of our DARE audio interviews on American Languages: Our Nation's Many Voices Online. Segments from eleven Midwestern states are currently available. We plan to expand this section of the website to the whole of the U.S., section by section, but given our shortage of staff and the number of duties each staff member already has, it will not be a quick process.

 

4. Soda vs. pop debate?

See the article “Soda or Pop?” by Luanne von Schneidemesser in the Journal of English Linguistics 24 (1996): 270-87. It shows maps based on DARE's interviews, conducted 1965-70, and discusses findings of a very informal survey from 1994.

The website The Great Pop vs. Soda Controversy shows the distribution for pop, soda, coke, and “others,” as of 2002.

Bert Vaux's Dialect Survey from around 1999-2000 asked the question “What is your generic term for a sweetened carbonated beverage?” and shows responses soda, pop, coke, tonic, soft drink, lemonade, cocola, fizzy drink, dope, and others with maps.

 

5. How does a word get in a dictionary?

Usage! Lexicographers (people who write dictionaries) include words in standard dictionaries when they find evidence that the words exist and are used in an English context by more than just a few people. Usually this means that enough written citations have been found to demonstrate the word’s currency.

For a word to be entered in DARE, it must be a regional or folk term. Our evidence may be written or oral. We do not enter words which occur throughout the standard language; other dictionaries take care of this. And no dictionary will include a word you say you invented.

 

6. Is DARE accessible electronically?

Yes!  The electronic edition www.daredictionary.com launched in December of 2013. You may browse 100 entries, view maps printed in Volume VI, and see other resources and basic content for free. For full access of the dictionary text, original DARE fieldwork, and advanced searching features, contact Harvard University Press to learn more about subscriptions.

7. Who uses DARE?

Teachers use DARE to help their students understand that EVERYONE speaks a dialect.

Writers use DARE to verify the accuracy of their dialogue.

Forensic linguists and detectives use DARE to help apprehend and convict criminals.

Physicians use DARE to understand the folk medical terms used by their patients.

Natural Scientists use DARE to equate local folk names for plants and animals with corresponding scientific names.

Librarians use DARE to answer queries from their patrons.

Actors and dialect coaches use DARE’s audiotape collection to perfect their regional accents.

Oral historians use DARE to document the experiences of our ancestors.

And DARE is used by readers who simply delight in the variety, wit and wisdom found in the quotations that illustrate each entry in the Dictionary.

 

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