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Linguistic Atlas of New England Records, 1931-1972
40 boxes (19.75 linear ft.)
Collection number: MS 330

Chiefly papers and records generated during research and field work for the Linguistic Atlas of New England (1939-1943), including over 400 interview records (carbon copies) from fieldworkers' notebooks arranged by community, then by informant; audiotapes of follow-up interviews; phonological analyses of informants' speech; character sketches of informants by fieldworkers; fieldworkers' blank notebook; a published Handbook of the linguistic geography of New England (2nd edition); and word index to the atlas.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

The collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use:

Identities of persons named in the ledger of informants may not be published under conditions of the original interviews.

Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Biographical Note

In 1921, members of the Modern Languages Association first conceived of a large-scale project to record linguistic information about regional variations in English language usage in the United States, a project that would gradually evolve into the Linguistic Atlases of the United States and Canada. After several years of discussion and planning, the MLA's Present-Day English group formally proposed undertaking the project in December 1928, and coincidentally less than a month later, E. H. Sturtevant of the Linguistic Society of America proposed a broadly similar project to the American Council of Learned Societies.

With the encouragement of the ACLS, the two initiatives joined forces at a planning conference in March 1929 and a coordinating committee was formed, chaired by Hans Kurath and including other prominent linguists such as Leonard Bloomfield, Eduard Prokosh, and John S. Kenyon. The initial plan was to carry out an ambitious project to canvas speech patterns throughout the United States and Canada, but when faced with a proposed budget of $664,000, the Executive Committee of the ACLS suggested beginning with a smaller-scale study of one region, centered on the dialects of New England. Kurath organized a staff for the proposed Linguistic Atlas of New England (LANE), and by July 1931, a cadre of linguistic fieldworkers was trained and set to work.

The primary objectives of the LANE project were to define the dialect areas of New England and to discover both innovations in speech and relics. In each community the canvassed, fieldworkers sought to include interviewees (informants or consultants) from each of three broad categories:

  • An elderly "descendant of an old local family," who might help "establish the regionalism of the pre-industrial era of New England in considerable detail, with the possible exception of the highly urbanized area around Boston."
  • A middle-aged person, "native to the community, who had received better schooling" and who had "read more widely or enjoyed contact with the better educated."
  • "Cultured informants, with a college education or the equivalent, were to be chosen in most of the larger cities... and a number of smaller communities" (Kurath 1939: 41).

Although it was not always possible in a given community to find consultants for each of the theoretical categories, fieldworkers followed a rigorous protocol based on a highly structured and consistently applied worksheet. Spending from six to twenty hours with each consultant, fieldworkers elicited responses to a questionnaire regarding 814 words and phrases in 711 numbered entries, touching on a range of everyday activities from work and family to domestic goods, numbers and expressions of time, clothing and bedding, animals and calls to animals, agriculture, and social relations. By the time of the last interviews in September 1933, the survey included a total of 416 consultants in 213 communities in New England, whose responses were painstakingly transcribed using the International Phonetic Alphabet to preserve nuances of pronunciation. Although no sound recordings were made in the initial survey, a few aluminum disk recordings were made in follow up work between 1934 and 1939.

After analysis and editing, the interviews resulted in the publications Handbook to the Linguistic Geograpy of New England (1939) and the three volume Linguistic Atlas of New England (1939-1943). The methodology pioneered in New England was replicated in other regions across the country, including the Gulf States, Middle and South Atlantic, North Central, Oklahoma, Pacific Northwest, Pacific West, Rocky Mountain region, and Upper Midwest, as well as the African American and Gullah dialects of the southeast. Work on the Rocky Mountain states project was still in progress as of 2012.

Scope and contents of the collection

The heart of the LANE records consists of carbon copies of handwritten transcription sheets recording hundreds of interviews held in communities throughout New England during the 1930s. Organized by an alphanumeric code that corresponds to the community and name of the consultant, these sheets are written in the International Phonetic Alphabet, with some including explanatory comments in longhand and others with phonological analyses, and all are keyed to the "character sketches" of consultants assembled by fieldworkers. At the end of the collection are five cassette tapes including audio recordings of follow-up interviews made in 1934. The published Handbook of the Linguistic Geography of New England (organized, like the Atlas, term by term) can be used as an index, introduction, and commentary to the collection.

For the methodology see Kurath 1939, Kurath 1939-1943.

Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

The collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use:

Identities of persons named in the ledger of informants may not be published under conditions of the original interviews.

Preferred Citation

Cite as: Linguistic Atlas of New England Records (MS 330). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

History of the Collection

Acquired in 1974 from the director of the Linguistic Atlas of the United States through Audrey R. Duckert, editor of the 2nd edition of the Handbook to the Linguistic Atlas of the United States, 1972.

Processing Information

Processed by Katherine Emerson and Linda Seidman, March 1983.

Additional Information
Contact Information
Special Collections and University Archives
W.E.B. Du Bois Library
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Amherst, MA 01003-9275

Phone: (413) 545-2780
Fax: (413) 577-1399
Link to SCUA
Related Materials

A few aluminum disk recordings made from 1933-1939 still exist in the Library of Congress. The original field books and manuscripts for the LANE project are housed with the Linguistic Atlas Project, Dept. of English, University of Georgia.

Related Materials
Literature and language
New England

Duckert, Audrey R., "The Linguistic Atlas of New England revisited,"Publication of the American Dialect Society 39 (1963): 8-15.
Kurath, Hans, Handbook of the Linguistic Geography of New England. ACLS: New York, 1939. Call No. PE2846.L5 K8 1939
Kurath, Hans, Linguistic atlas of New England, 3 vols. Providence: Brown University, 1939-1943. Call No. PE2845.L5 K8 1972 oversize

Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Contents List
Introductory material, field worker's blank notebook, published Handbook of the Linguistic Geography of New England, word index

Box 1
Character sketches of informants by the field workers, 1-240

Box 2
Character sketches of informants by the field workers, 241-431

Box 3
Phonological analysis

Box 4
Interviews, in numerical order

Box 5-39
Tapes of the interviews, in numerical order

Box 40

Search Terms
The following terms represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. Use these headings to search for additional materials on this web site, in the Five College Library Catalog, or in other library catalogs and databases.

  • English Language--Dialects--New England.
  • Linguistic Atlas of New England.
  • Linguistics--Massachusetts.

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