Words Count: A Rantum Scoot through DARE—An exhibition exploring vocabularies, statistics, and text in the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE)

November 2, 2015

This exhibition commemorates fifty years since the DARE Survey began and thirty years since the publication of the first volume of DARE.

DARE is a reference work that documents words, phrases, and pronunciations that vary from one place to another place across the United States. Challenging the popular notion that our language has been “homogenized” by the media and our mobile population, DARE demonstrates that there are many thousands of differences that characterize the dialect regions of the U.S.

DARE is based on face-to-face interviews carried out in all 50 states between 1965 and 1970 and on a comprehensive collection of written materials (diaries, letters, novels, histories, biographies, newspapers, government documents, etc.) that cover our history from the colonial period to the present. The entries in DARE include regional pronunciations, variant forms, some etymologies, and regional and social distributions of the words and phrases. A striking feature of DARE is its inclusion in the text of the Dictionary of selected maps that show where words were found in the 1,002 communities investigated during the fieldwork. Learn more about the project at dare.wisc.edu.


Today, DARE is composed of six print volumes, one digital edition (Digital DARE), and ongoing Quarterly Updates.  It is a valuable resource for scholars, writers, physicians, librarians, actors and dialect coaches, natural scientists, oral historians, forensic linguists and detectives, and all lovers of language and regional nuance.

Working at the intersections of art and computation, Carrie Roy, an alumna of WID’s Living Environments Laboratory group and UW-Madison’s Humanities Research Bridge, creates art that offers alternative data and information experiences. As a scholar and artist, Roy works through complex data and complex ideas visually to create new modes and methods for integrative insights.


After viewing Roy’s Victorian Eyes exhibition, Joan Hall wondered if similar data visualizations could be used to express data and content from DARE.  Hall, Roy, and Julie Schnebly met to discuss the potential explorations and visual forms which could be exhibited at the crossroads where lexicography, digital text analysis, and the visual arts meet. And so began the “rantum scoot” through DARE. Along the way, Schnebly and Roy experimented in “counting words” using a variety of digital tools. The outing ended with Roy’s interpretation of the data coming to life through these extraordinary works of art.

Earlier this year, the exhibition traveled to Denver near where Roy currently resides. Former DARE Project Assistant Erin Meyer, who is now a librarian at the University of Denver, reconnected with Hall and Roy to host the exhibit at the University of Denver Library.  The exhibit was titled Reduction/Revelation: Visualizing Data from the Dictionary of American Regional English. Roy also presented a talk about her collaboration with DARE staff and her fascination with the ways Americans use their language.


The online exhibit launched in September 2014 and can be seen at darewordscount.com

A companion exhibit on dictionaries in Memorial Library is on display in the Reference Room, 262.

The exhibit returns home to Madison and can be seen at Memorial Library on the UW–Madison campus from Nov. 2-Dec. 30, 2015.