09 October 2009

Language: Regional speech is history

Regional US dialects are investigated at the Library of Congress, as its American Folklife Center debuts "American English-Dialect Recordings: The Center for Applied Linguistics Collection," as part of the LOC's American Memory collections.

There are some Jewish recordings, such as that of Samuel Arkin, then-92, born in Lutsk near 40 miles from Bobruisk (now Belarus) and living in Concord, Massachusetts. He recalled his life in Russia before immigrating, how he managed to come to America when Taft was president, and arrived in Boston.

It is a very interesting account of one person's journey from Russia to Germany, a small boat to Hamburg, a nine-day journey by ship to Boston, and continues through his working life and learning English.

There is a monologue with a then-70-year-old man of Russian Jewish background, in Savannah, Georgia who describes seeing Haley's Comet.

Recorded from 1941-1984, and most between 1968-1982, the collection's 59 audio recordings (118 hours) documents North American English diaects in 43 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and parts of Canada.

350 of the collection’s 405 recordings are available online; 148 also have transcriptions. The balance had restrictions, but may be heard in person in the AFC Reading Room in Washington, DC.

The survey's documentation covers social aspects of English language usage in different regions of the US, revealing differences in speech related to gender, race, social class, education, age, literacy, ethnic background, and occupational group (including the specialized jargon or vocabulary of various occupations).

The oral history interviews are a rich resource on storytelling and family histories; descriptions of holiday celebrations, traditional farming, schools, education, health care, and the uses of traditional medicines; and discussions of race relations, politics, and natural disasters such as floods.

The recordings include speech samples, linguistic interviews, oral histories, conversations and excerpts from public speeches drawn from various archives and from the private collections of some 50 linguists, dialectologists and folklorists.

Check out the recordings.

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