The University of Georgia maintains the Digital Archive of Southern Speech in order to further linguistic research and understanding of Southern American English. The links on the right sidebar provide more details on linguistics as a field of study, the history of the Digital Archive of Southern Speech, and the purpose of the Linguistic Atlas Project

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The Digital Archive of Southern Speech (DASS) is a subset of the Linguistic Atlas of the Gulf States (LAGS), which is itself a part of the Linguistic Atlas Project (LAP). The purpose of the DASS is to record and catalogue samples of Southern American English for linguistic study. 

The process of compiling sources and information for the DASS was a long and difficult one. Researchers conducted recorded interviews between 1968 and 1983, where they asked 64 speakers (30 female and 34 male) of different social, ethnic, religious, geographic, etc. backgrounds a series of questions in order to elicit samples of southern speech. These questions focused on topics such as food, religion, social relations, cultural practices, and occupation. Questions like "What's the first day of the week?" and "If a person can't hear, he's what?" targeted specific words in order to see what kinds of language people used (in this circumstance, "Sunday" and "deaf"). The interviewers also asked speakers to describe their houses and lifestyles. There were in total 914 audio-taped interviews across Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, averaging about 6 hours per interview. That's 5500 hours in interview recordings in all! The average speaker age is 61 years,  but there are samples from people as young as 15 and as old as 92. The following map shows where each speaker lived at the time they were interviewed, segmented by land region.

Speaker distribution by land region, with accompanying speaker identification number
Speaker distribution by land region, with accompanying speaker identification number

These recordings were preserved on audio reels and digitally transcribed at the University of Georgia. Personal information of each speaker is beeped out to protect their privacy. A program called DARLA returns phonetic information about each interview, including transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (used as the standard representation of spoken sounds) and information about the vowel and consonant qualities of each speaker. 

Want more information on the speakers and audio files? See our Further Reading page, which can be accessed through the link above. You can also access the Gazetteer of Southern Vowels page in order to see more demographic information about each speaker, as well as view more advanced linguistic information about southern speech vowel qualities found in the DASS. Finally, the Linguistic Atlas Project's DASS archive contains demographic information in shorthand as well as samples of the audio recordings themselves from each speaker. 

Person at whiteboard

The Linguistic Atlas Project (LAP) is a nationwide endeavor intended on cataloguing American speech through conducting interviews of native speakers of different dialects of English from 1930 to 1980, and beyond. It is currently hosted at the University of Kentucky. The Digital Archive of Southern Speech represents one subsection of the LAP. Other projects under the LAP include the Linguistic Atlas of New England, the Linguistic Atlas of Oklahoma, and the Linguistic Atlas of the Pacific Coast. While some of these projects are still in the process of transcription and analyzing, others have been completed, and can be read about on UGA's Linguistic Atlas Project website. Though the website is outdated, the "Atlas Projects" sidebar tab provides information on each region, and the "Data Download Center" includes hours of audio samples. 

What can this data be used for? Linguists refer to corpora like the LAP while making comparisons to modern speech styles in order to better understand language change. The data also provides an insight into how language differs demographically, such as between speakers of different ethnicities and social classes. Finally, these types of interviews preserve the cultural knowledge, traditions, and habits of people who lived in the past. As you may notice on the Southern American English page, many of the speech styles and terminology used by the speakers are no longer in popular use today. Documenting these practices before they're gone connects us to our history and helps us better understand our own language in the present day.