UW researchers to update regional language survey - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UW researchers to update regional language survey

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MADISON (WKOW) -- UW-Madison researchers want your help to update their research into regional language characteristics here in Wisconsin.

50 years ago, fieldworkers set out across the country to ask Americans questions and collect audio recordings of them speaking to hear the differences in the way people talk based on where they live. Findings were published in multiple volumes of the Dictionary of American Regional English in 2012.

Now, the researchers want to update their data so they're going back to 22 Wisconsin communities that participated in the original study. Chief editor Joan Houston Hall tells 27 News the goal is to see how and find out why languages evolve and change over the years.

"What we hope is to find out how language has changed over the last 50 years," Hall says. "It doesn't change in the same ways or at the same rates in all places, so what we want to find out is whether the regionalisms that we discovered 50 years ago still are holding firm in the places where they exist. I think that in many cases that'll be true."

One of the cities on the list is Jefferson. The community has been deeply rooted in its German heritage from the beginning. The town even holds an annual celebration of the culture.

City council president Bill Brandel says many people end up living in Jefferson most their lives and so do their families. Years ago, Brandel remembers older people in the neighborhood speaking German and many picked up and maintained phrases and words from that culture.

Brandel tells 27 News in recent years, the city's Hispanic population has grown, which could someday also alter the language there.

"I would almost guarantee that there's not going to be the German influence there would have been," Brandel says. "I would guess that you're going to lose a lot of that German dialect and terms that were common growing up in Jefferson."

Hall says most words that are personal and people learn growing up will likely never leave an individual's vocabulary, but it's possible words that were only common in other parts of the country 50 years ago may show up more often here in Wisconsin.

The survey runs through the end of September. Researchers hope to get at least one response for each category in every city listed. Visit DARE's website to find out if you're in a community that's part of the survey.

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