Emory Report
September 20, 2004
Volume 57, Number 05


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September 20 , 2004
Alumna Hall to speak on regional English dictionary

By Nancy Books

Joan Houston Hall, chief editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) and president-elect of the American Dialect Society, will speak on Sept. 23 at 6 p.m. in the Jones Room of Woodruff Library. A reception will follow.

Based on thousands of interviews across the country, DARE presents the English language in its seemingly infinite variety. Word lovers delight in the wit and wisdom found in the quotations that illustrate each entry, admiring the richness and diversity of spoken and written U.S. culture. DARE has been called “the most exciting linguistic project going on in the United States” by New York Times columnist William Safire.

Hall, a past president of the Dictionary Society of North America, has been instrumental in moving forward the daunting task of researching, compiling and editing DARE, first as a colleague of founder Frederick Cassidy and now as chief editor. A two-time Emory graduate (’71G, ’76PhD), Hall wrote her doctoral dissertation on the speech of rural Georgia.

DARE documents the language of everyday lives, as well as expressions from days gone by that otherwise might have been lost. It is widely used by writers, doctors, detectives, lawyers, historians and even
theatrical dialogue coaches, who use its interview tapes to train actors.

“We have a lot of librarian users; for them it’s a wonderful tool,” Hall said in an interview with Quest, a magazine produced by Albertson College of Idaho. “But it’s useful in many other ways, such as in psychiatry, psychology, law, medicine, linguistics—and for people who simply love our American language.”

Indeed, the book is a rich source of browsing pleasure for readers and word lovers. For example, depending on where someone lives, he may be invited to a potluck dinner, a pitch-in or a scramble; her children may play hopscotch, potsy or sky blue; he may wait in line or on line; she may hear spring peepers or pinkletinks; or he may have a scrap of paper, a scrid or a scrimption.

DARE is the result of more than four decades of dedicated effort. Researched and edited at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and published by Harvard University Press, its fifth volume (SL-Z) is scheduled for publication in 2008. The dictionary is based both on personal interviews conducted in all 50 states and a comprehensive collection of written materials dating from the colonial period to the modern era. It is funded by a number of private foundations, individuals, public agencies and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which provides office space and staff support.

“Since DARE is considered the authoritative reference tool on American English, every quotation is verified either by the editors or by our project assistants, against the original source whenever possible. If it is not possible, we attribute the quotation to the source in which we found it,” Hall said. “By doing such checking,
we have discovered and corrected literally hundreds of errors in other dictionaries, some of them resulting
in radically different interpretations of the evidence.”

For more information about DARE, see its website at http://polyglot.lss.wisc.edu/dare/dare.html.
Sponsored by the Friends of Emory University Libraries and the Atlanta History Center, the talk is free and open to the public. For more information, call 404-727-7620.