Within the humanities research community, a resource exists which has not been fully utilized. This resource is the extensive set of recordings of speech which have been made by investigators who use spoken language as data. Access to these recordings is typically limited to the collector and a few close associates. Considerable duplication of data collection effort results and opportunities for comparative studies are missed.
A Survey and Collection of American English Dialect Recordings set out to address this problem in two ways. First, a comprehensive survey of tape-recorded speech samples of American English that currently exist was conducted. The goal of the survey was to document the characteristics of existing recordings by describing the social attributes of the speakers represented, the topics discussed, the technical properties of the tapes, and the potential for access by others. A reference guide entitled American English Dialect Recordings: A Guide to Collections was prepared which describes over 200 collections, including speakers from 43 states and the District of Columbia, Canada, and communities in other locations.
In conjunction with the survey, the topic of audiotape preservation was investigated. As a service to holders of private collections, the prevailing recommendations on caring for audiotapes were synthesized and presented as a brief set of guidelines for tape maintenance.
Second, a representative collection of speech samples was compiled from tapes submitted by survey participants. The goal of this activity was to create a centralized source of American dialect samples and to provide for the preservation of this valuable resource that might otherwise be lost. A total of 118 hours of speech samples, in ten to thirty minute segments, were identified for inclusion, representing most of the states covered in the survey, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. The recordings have been offered to the Library of Congress and Library staff have indicated a strong interest in adding the collection to the recorded sound holdings. Thus, it is anticipated that the tapes will be carefully preserved and public access will be facilitated.
This project has improved the access of scholars to the vast resource represented by dialect recordings held in private collections and has facilitated the sharing of information about existing collections. By drawing attention to their existence, it has also served to increase awareness of the desirability of preserving language recordings as part of our cultural heritage.
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