A Useful Dictionary
I often see questions like “Do you use the word ‘soda’ or ‘pop’?” tweeted by writers, and a good number of people usually reply. This makes me wonder if my writer friends are trying to decide which word to use in their book and whether they have considered the settings in their stories.
Different words may be used to designate the same thing depending on the region. It’s important to consider this and use the right word to make the writing authentic.
Many linguists have conducted research to find the equivalent of certain words for objects in different dialects, or particular forms of a language used in various regions of a country. Such research in the United States has led to a vast collection of words recorded over several years and constantly updated as language changes.
Frederic Gomes Cassidy, a Jamaican-born professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Audrey Duckert, who studied dialect at the same university and took a course in the history of the English language from Fred Cassidy in 1947, were the people who founded and planned the project for what would become the “linguistic atlas” known as DARE.
They prepared a questionnaire, which was administered by eighty graduate students and professors, called “fieldworkers,” from 1965 to 1970. These fieldworkers were trained in phonetic transcription as well as fieldwork strategies and sent to 1,002 regions in the US. These regions were carefully chosen based on population density. The selection also took into account settlement history as well as immigration patterns.
Each fieldworker was required to find “informants” with specific characteristics. These informants had to be people who were native to those regions, had lived there most of their lives, and were willing to provide information about words.
The informants were then given the DARE questionnaire, and their answers were collected and sent to Cassidy and others who were also gathering data working on printed materials of all kinds, including letters, diaries, documents, novels, biographies, histories, and newspapers.
The result of the work of the fieldworkers and the help of the informants, sometimes more than one in each region, and all the findings based on the written materials, including several unpublished collections of dialect materials donated to the project, became this huge record of word history based on geography.
The Dictionary of American Regional English, or DARE, is the result of this endeavor. DARE is a remarkable source of information for not only linguists, but also teachers, librarians, researchers, and writers in that it contains American English words, phrases, and pronunciations as spoken in different regions of the United States.
Six print volumes of the DARE have been published by Harvard University Press. This dictionary is also available in digital format on the website: http://daredictionary.com.
In addition to the hundred sample entries, which can be found at https://www.daredictionary.com/page/100sampleentries, the map, the survey, and the bibliography are especially interesting.
Since vocabulary use constantly changes, in 2013, the DARE staff created a new survey. This survey was similar to the original, but some obsolete items were deleted and some words were updated.
This time, thanks to the advance of technology, people were invited to answer the questions on the updated survey online, through a website developed by DARE and the University of Wisconsin Survey Center.
Results of the online survey are posted on the website. https://dare.wisc.edu/surveys/survey-results.
Also, since summer 2015, DARE staff members have been publishing quarterly updates, including new and revised entries, on the project website: https://dare.wisc.edu/words/quarterly-updates/.
This tool can be extremely useful to writers whose stories are set in a specific region and who need the exact use and pronunciation of a word for their characters, especially in writing dialogue.
I hope this helps my writer friends.