The Library of Congress > Wise Guide > October 2009 > Why Can't the English?
Why Can't the English?

Ever wonder what distinguishes the speech is of Gullah speakers hailing from coastal South Carolina, sharecroppers from Arkansas, Puerto Rican teenagers from New York City, Basque sheepherders from Colorado, Chesapeake Bay watermen or Vietnamese immigrants from Northern Virginia? How about giving a closer ear to the accents of some great Americans, such as Franklin Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart and Jack Dempsey?

Row of students practising speech holding mirrors. Between 1910 and 1930. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-D419-84 (b&w glass neg.); Call No.: LC-D419-84 <P&P>[P&P]. Catalog Record:'s wife, Arkansas. 1935. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USF33-T01-002021-M3 (b&w film dup. neg.); Call No.: LC-USF33- 002021-M3 [P&P]. Catalog Record:

The Library of Congress' American Folklife Center debuts a new presentation, "American English-Dialect Recordings: The Center for Applied Linguistics Collection," as part of the Library's American Memory collections.

The Center for Applied Linguistics Collection comprises 59 audio recordings (118 hours) documenting North American English dialects. The recordings include speech samples, linguistic interviews, oral histories, conversations and excerpts from public speeches drawn from various archives and from the private collections of some 50 linguists, dialectologists and folklorists. They were submitted to the Center for Applied Linguistics as part of a project titled "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 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).

Made from 1941 to 1984, with the bulk being recorded between 1968 and 1982, the collection includes recordings from 43 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and parts of Canada.

A selection of audio recordings from the center’s American Dialect Society Collection is incorporated into the American Memory online presentation, "Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories."

American Memory offers more than 11 million digital items in more than 135 thematic collections that range from the papers of U.S. presidents, Civil War photographs and early films of Thomas Edison to papers documenting the women’s suffrage and civil-rights movements, Jazz Age photographs and the first baseball cards.

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training. The Center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world.