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Athens, Georgia
Preserving “A National Treasure”: Spoken American English
Bill Kretzschmar, editor of the Linguistic Atlas Project, holds a Linguistic Map of New England. In 2012, the University of Georgia recognized Kretzschmar's work on the LAP by presenting him with the Albert Christ-Janer Award for outstanding work in the humanities. Image courtesy of the Linguistic Atlas Project.

Bill Kretzschmar, editor of the Linguistic Atlas Project, holds a Linguistic Map of New England. In 2012, the University of Georgia recognized Kretzschmar's work on the LAP by presenting him with the Albert Christ-Janer Award for outstanding work in the humanities. Image courtesy of the Linguistic Atlas Project.

Bill Kretzschmar, editor of the Linguistic Atlas Project (LAP), describes himself as the “guardian of a national treasure”: decades worth of research on spoken American English in all its regionalisms and variety, much of it in audio form. But in the early 2000s, this work was at risk. Audiotape degrades over time, and the recordings were in danger of being permanently lost. With a grant, the NEH provided the resources to save this research, and with it the invaluable records of the ordinary Americans who spoke to researchers. These people discussed their lives, describing their homes, beliefs, and families. Their recordings are now digitized, free and publicly available. With them, users can map how words like “weather” and “pen” are pronounced across the nation. The end result is a website that, according to Kretzschmar, “gives individuals the chance to see language in a much broader way than they ever could by themselves.”

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