From 1965–1970, Fieldworkers for the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) conducted interviews with nearly 3,000 “Informants” in 1,002 communities across America. They visited native residents in all fifty states and D.C., collecting local words, phrases, and pronunciations. In addition to answering more than 1,600 questions from the DARE Questionnaire, many of the Informants, along with auxiliary speakers, agreed to be recorded by the Fieldworkers. These recordings consisted of conversational interviews as well as readings of “The Story of Arthur the Rat” (devised to elicit the essential differences in pronunciation across the country). This fieldwork data provided invaluable regional information for the Dictionary of American Regional English Volumes I–VI (1985–2013) and Digital DARE.
The Fieldwork Recordings are finally available online approximately fifty years after the recordings were first made. The recordings contain American regional speech samples from all fifty states, but their value is not linguistic alone. The full interviews contain an abundance of oral history from the 1960s, with topics ranging from the making of moonshine to the moon landing; from light-hearted jokes, recipes, and songs to serious discussions about race relations, politics, and the Vietnam War. It is truly a time capsule of American voices.
Originally recorded on reel-to-reel tape recorders, the Fieldwork Recordings were first digitized in the early 2000s under the auspices of a three-year National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to digitize, interpret, and make accessible audio recordings documenting linguistic diversity in the United States. The main partners in this project were the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies (MKI), the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures (CSUMC), DARE, and the University of Wisconsin Libraries, all at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The collection of Fieldwork Recordings included more than 1,800 interviews plus more than 1,400 extracted clips of speakers reading “Arthur the Rat.” Updated in 2017, the “Arthur clips,” a Subject Index, and metadata for the full audio collection were first published online in 2003 at the UW–Madison Digital Collections Center under the title “American Languages: Our Nation’s Many Voices.”
DARE had long wanted to make the full interviews available as well, but felt it critical to respect the privacy of the Informants and other individuals named on the recordings. Therefore, a four-year project (2012–2016) was undertaken to remove personal and sensitive information from the recordings while still preserving public names of historical value. (Despite our best efforts, it is possible that some identifying information was missed. If you come across such a case, we request that you treat it as confidential and that you report it to us, so that appropriate corrections can be made.)
Additionally, a pilot transcription project began in 2013 with the support of a grant from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation to DARE and the Wisconsin Englishes Project. As of July 2017, fifty-two transcripts have been included in the collection, with others to follow. Users of the Fieldwork Recordings are encouraged to make more transcriptions and submit them to DARE for inclusion.
DARE is always interested in hearing how the project’s materials are being used. Please drop us a line to let us know how they have been helpful, and feel free to send any questions or comments to DARE@english.wisc.edu.
AcknowledgmentsClick to read Acknowledgments
From reel-to-reel tapes to .mp4s, the “DARE Tapes” have been converted into many audio formats over the last fifty years. It would be difficult to compile a list of all who have played a part in bringing this collection to 21st-century ears. Therefore, we wish to direct you to this list which contains the names of most of those who contributed to the recordings and accompanying metadata, including the Fieldworkers themselves. However, we would be remiss if we did not recognize the exceptional efforts of certain individuals and organizations who were instrumental in making this collection accessible online.
A dedicated group of students, staff, and volunteers devoted many hours to preparing these recordings for online publication. At DARE, we (affectionately) referred to all those who prepared the recordings as “Bleepers,” and the project was internally called “The Bleeping Project.” Every recording was first listened to by a Bleeper who used the open-source software Audacity to add a tone to cover any private information. The same recording was then listened to by a “Checker.” There were many lively discussions about what to bleep as the process inevitably evolved over time. (Local business owners? Informants’ famous ancestors? Old Man X down the road? Do we bleep the names of ghosts?!) In the end, all efforts were made to balance the privacy of the speakers and other community members with the preservation of information of historical value. It was not easy! The Bleepers and Checkers did a really great bleeping job, and we thank them: Christa Berce, Ruby Blau, Sarah Calvert, Ainslie Campbell, Bingbing Chen, Meaghan Connell, Rebecca Cook, Amanda Ezell, Cris Font-Santiago, Trevor Fraser, Benjamin Heins, Erin Leary, Thomas Jack Neiweem, Brad Oestreich, Laura Peterson, Mona Sawan, Julie Schnebly, Lucy Sears, Trini Stickle, Devan Valona, Brontë Wieland, and Dominic Weisse.
Digitization Project and Posting of the Audio Recordings (2003–2017)
Beginning in 2003, the digitization of the audio recordings (in both .wav and .mp3 formats) was undertaken by Kevin Kurdylo of the Max Kade Institute, working primarily with students Stacey Jones Erdman and Kirk Martinson. At DARE, he was principally assisted by Luanne von Schneidemesser, Joan Hall, and Cathy Attig.
Kurdylo and his team created an invaluable database of metadata pertaining to the fieldwork, including the audio materials. While digitizing the recordings, they also extracted from the full interviews all of the readings of “The Story of Arthur the Rat.” These “Arthur clips” were included in the original digital collection titled “American Languages: Our Nation’s Many Voices.” The database was used to generate the metadata for the “Arthur clips,” and it laid the groundwork for the full collection of audio recordings in 2017.
Working with the Digital Collections Center to post the full collection were DARE staff members Julie Schnebly, Elizabeth Gardner, George Goebel, Joan Hall, and Yuhong (Jake) Zhu.
The project could not have been accomplished without the work of colleagues at the UW–Madison’s Digital Collections Center. We are grateful to Peter Gorman, Steven Dast, Jesse Henderson, Cat Phan, and Karen Rattunde for their professionalism, patience, and flexibility.
Transcripts Pilot Project (2013–2017)
The transcriptions of the recordings are a valuable resource and many hours were given to providing an initial sampling by these UW–Madison faculty, students, and DARE staff: Kelly Abrams, Amanda Ezell, Benjamin Heins, Eva Kuske, Eric Raimy, Erin Leary, Blake Rodgers, and Tom Purnell.
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