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Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

American Memory

If a pedigree chart were compared to the bones of the body of family history, the flesh and life of the body would be the stories and history of the people. But have you ever wondered how your ancestors' speech sounded? Have you ever explored the American English Dialect Recordings of The Center for Applied Linguistics Collection in The Library of Congress, American Memory? The website describes the project as follows:
The Center for Applied Linguistics Collection contains 118 hours of recordings documenting North American English dialects. The recordings include speech samples, linguistic interviews, oral histories, conversations, and excerpts from public speeches. They were drawn from various archives, and from the private collections of fifty collectors, including linguists, dialectologists, and folklorists. They were submitted to the Center for Applied Linguistics as part of a project entitled "A Survey and Collection of American English Dialect Recordings," which was funded by the Center for Applied Linguistics and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The survey's documentation covers social aspects of English language usage in different regions of the United States. It reveals distinctions 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 many topics, such as 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 collection includes recordings from forty-three states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and parts of Canada. They were made from 1941 to 1984, with the bulk being recorded between 1968 and 1982. In some cases, transcriptions made by the collectors are available as part of this web presentation.
350 of the collection’s 405 recordings are available on this website; of these, 148 have accompanying transcriptions. The remaining recordings, which could not be posted due to copyright issues and other restrictions, may be heard in the AFC Reading Room in Washington, DC.
It is possible that an ancestor's memory of a location or a name was influenced by the dialect spoken.  In my own genealogy, one Great-great-grandfather's birthplace in Northern Ireland was recorded by his daughter who likely spoke a Western American dialect of English. One way to "translate" the location is to try and reproduce the original Irish-English accent and see if the results produces a real location in Northern Ireland. In this case, unfortunately, even using the dialectal assumption has failed to produce a verifiable location.

Listening to a person speaking in the dialect of the area of your ancestors' origin could be one way to establish a connection with them not available in any other way.

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