Dictionary of American Regional English gets financial reprieve

May 8, 2013

by Jenny Price

Last month, the financial picture looked bleak for the Dictionary of American Regional English.

But the picture has improved with a $100,000 gift from an anonymous donor, announced last week following the dictionary's Board of Visitors meeting in Chicago, and a $30,000 gift from the American Dialect Society — the group that in 1962 asked the late Frederic Cassidy, a UW-Madison English professor, to create a dictionary of dialects of American English.

Photo: stack of volumes of Dictionary of American Regional English

New funding will allow DARE staff to continue the ongoing work of updating the dictionary.

Photo: Harvard University Press

The dictionary known as DARE is also receiving one-time funding of $100,000 in non-tuition, non-state funding from the UW-Madison College of Letters & Science, which has been working with the dictionary staff to develop a new business plan to attract more new donors to the project. Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Paul DeLuca and Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Darrell Bazzell have also committed $130,000 a year in central campus support for DARE for the next three years.

Chief Editor Joan Hall says the new funding will allow DARE staff to continue the ongoing work of updating the dictionary following Harvard University Press's launch of the digital edition this fall. It will include a state-of-the-art search function, browsing by region as well as alphabetically, audio of original DARE field recordings, and will allow users to dig into the data to make maps and find out more about the survey respondents who said particular words and phrases.

In 2012 DARE published its fifth volume, covering SI to Z, and in 2013 it released a volume of supplementary materials. The latter includes comparative maps, an exhaustive index, and lists of answers to more than 400 of the questions posed by UW researchers in more than 1,000 communities across the country between 1965 and 1970.

When word spread last month that DARE was facing a financial shortfall, many other friends of the dictionary decided to do what they could to help. In recent weeks, DARE has received more than 100 private donations from individuals, ranging in size from $5 to $10,000, Hall says.

"I was incredibly gratified. It was wonderful," Hall says. "I have sent a handwritten note to every one of them."