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LNG 372: American English

guide to library research for Dr. Steele's course on linguistic variation (dialects)

Course Description + Assignment Prompt

Course Description

"An examination of linguistic variation (dialects) across the United States. Special attention will be paid to the significance of social, gender, and ethnic factors in dialect differences in American English.  We will also consider American dialectology as a crucible for the development of ethical and engaged linguistic theory."

Assignment Prompt

"Dialect areas and dialect patterns frequently coincide with major settlement patterns. Write a six to eight page paper that investigates and illuminates the pre-revolutionary, colonial, nineteenth, and twentieth century social/linguistic history of your own hometown or that of a neighboring region (for example, if you grew up in a suburb that didn't exist before 1980 and want to investigate language use in Trenton, focus on Trenton) and the effects those patterns of settlements might have on salient local dialect features that you have observed and that have been recorded in dialectology atlases or other reference materials. If you find yourself interested in a municipality that didn't exist before 1980 and are interested in that area regardless, you can write about contemporary settlement patterns and demographics. You will likely have slightly different sources, including interviews, census figures, etc. You should focus try to discover the impact of early settlement patterns on local speech."

Prewriting Activities

"Find out what archival resources are available to you. Does your hometown have a local historical society? Will you need to go to the state archives in Trenton? Will you need to go to some local graveyards to figure out what languages are on the graves?"

Use this libguide for help with...

  • Historical census data from different eras and geographic locations;
  • Histories of settlement in New Jersey;
  • Histories of migration by African Americans, Latin Americans, Jews, and other ethnic groups in New Jersey;
  • Histories of industry and industrial recruitment in New Jersey;
  • Nineteenth century newspapers published in New Jersey and elsewhere;
  • Directories of local historical societies; and
  • Examinations of housing/financing patterns, redlining, and white flight in New Jersey.

Find the above information in

  • Reference works (e.g., Dictionary of American Regional English, c1985-2012; Historical Organizations in New Jersey: A Directory, c1983);
  • Peer-reviewed journal articles about American dialects and regional English;
  • Scholarly books (e.g., Immigrants to Freedom: Jewish Communities in Rural New Jersey Since 1882, c1971);
  • Social Explorer (a library database that visualizes census data) and other sources of historical census data; and
  • Primary (i.e., historical) newspaper articles (e.g., New York Times, 1851- ).