Vol. 14 No. 1


Winter 2000 p. 4




By Paul Meier, University of Kansas and
Founder and Director of IDEA

No, we’re not a hundred years old, but we have one hundred dialect samples. IDEA (International Dialects of English Archive), with the addition of a delightful recording from Carrolton, Kentucky, passed the one hundred mark just as the year 2000 began. Rinda Frye, University of Louisville, the newest of our now twenty-five associate editors, recorded the rural reminiscences of a lady (and we do mean lady) born in 1918. In addition to reading the now familiar Rainbow Passage (for the moment the standard text for all our dialect subjects), “Kentucky3.mp3,” as she is somewhat impersonally designated on the web site, recalls her girlhood days of milking the cows by hand and of penny candy at the general store. A fabulous real-life dialect confounding the stereotypical dialect that many non-native actors would come up with.

She becomes one of the voices from all parts of the globe stored on IDEA, freely accessible to all at http://www.ku.edu/~idea that have been accumulating for a little over a year since Shawn Muller and I launched the project at the University of Kansas.

Each one of the one hundred primary source dialect samples is about four minutes long, and is stored as an mp3 file (cyber neophytes should read Eric Armstrong’s great article in the last issue). This means that it needs only a fraction of the computer memory that a conventional sound file would, and delivers the recorded voice with fidelity indistinguishable from a CD—terrific news if you want to download and store the entire archive on your own hard drive. Our one hundred recordings would need a mere three hundred of your precious megabytes. You could easily store them on a single CD. Listen to them any time you like at your computer, or, armed with a portable mp3 player, you could listen as you jog or take them to rehearsal. (We are also planning to soon offer the recordings in the RealAudio format.)

We all know that no two speakers, even from the same town and social background, will sound alike. Actors cannot afford to base their dialect work on a single, monolithic, generic sound. If they are to play an Australian role, for example, they must listen to a dozen or more Australian speakers and that is the promise of IDEA. We have two Australian editors at the moment (Kate Foy and Geraldine Cook) and the seven Australian samples now found on IDEA will, thanks to their contributed recordings, swell to perhaps twenty or thirty before we are done, and represent the full diversity of Aussie accents. In addition to being free (!), IDEA has the advantage of being able to offer multiple examples of every dialect. So what is provided by the fewer samples that will fit on commercially available cassettes (Gillian Lane-Plescia’s excellent publications spring to mind), IDEA will make up for in speed of access and the sheer numbers of samples of given dialects that it can and will contain. But, of course, (because many of us at IDEA are dialect coaches with services for sale), we don’t provide dialect instruction. That would be giving away the store!

Who are the associate editors of IDEA? Almost all are VASTA members! Seventeen represent specific US states or regions, with the remaining eight representing other countries or regions of countries (England, Scotland, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand). We have a long way to go, obviously. To cover just the English-speaking world adequately will take perhaps a hundred associate editors, each collecting recordings from their own neck of the woods.

“How can I become an IDEA associate?” I hear you ask yourself. First, you would need to live somewhere currently without an editor: Oregon, North Dakota, South Africa, Ireland, Wales, Arizona, Louisiana, Western Canada, Central Canada, Israel, to name but a few places (check the list on the website). Second, you would be a professional in theatre, speech, linguistics or an allied discipline and be willing to spend a few hours a year recording the people you come into contact with on a daily basis. The recordings you make will be a mere ten to fifteen minutes long and consist of the reading and some unscripted conversation. Painless! And fun! You simply mail the tape to us at IDEA. We edit it, digitize it, compress it into an MP3 file and put in on the website. With the addition of a little paperwork at your end that’s it. One recording per month is all we ask of our editors—well within the resources of the busiest professional, we think. And a great academic credit for those in schools and universities.

Won’t you join us for our second century? We know IDEA will be a resource you will use editor of the first and only on-line dialect archive for actors and their coaches.

Eric Armstrong, Illinois; Michael J. Barnes, South Florida; Cynthia Blaise, Michigan; Michael Bruckmueller, Virginia; Katherine Burke, New York City; Linda Cartwright, New Zealand; Pat Childs, Tennessee; Geraldine Cook, Melbourne; Rena Cook, Oklahoma; Mavourneen Dwyer, Arkansas; Kate Foy, Brisbane; Rinda Frye, Kentucky; Doug Honorof, New England; Dudley Knight, California; Bethany Ann Larson, Iowa & Minnesota; Elisa Lloyd, Georgia; Katerina Moraitis, Northern England/Southern Scotland; Shawn Muller, Kansas/Holocaust Collection; Floortje Nijssen, Belgium; Lise Olson, North West England (Liverpool and environs); Karen Ryker, Wisconsin; Krista Scott, Mississippi; Susan Stackhouse, Eastern Canada; Pat Toole, North Carolina; Elizabeth van den Berg, Maryland.





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