The Regional Review

Volume IV - No. 1

January, 1940



[Editor's Note: Soon after reproduction of Joseph S. Hall's excellent article, "Recording Speech in the Great Smokies" (Vol. III, Nos. 4 end 5, October-November, pp. 3-8), Colonel Lieber wrote: "I see in The Regional Review that some attempts are being made to 'can' speech as a park by-product and I am glad of it." He went to his files and reread a hopeful suggestion which he had placed on paper several years ago. It follows.]

One of my hobbies, admittedly in an amateurish way, is comparative philology. The fifty-seven varieties of European nationalities have delved deeply into this matter. We have done comparatively little although our country, by reason of its historic and racial development, offers the most fertile and expansive field for such study.

In the extensive relief work which the Administration has undertaken, I am especially interested in the welfare of people who find themselves in great difficulty because opportunity in artistic, scientific end social fields has become sadly limited. It is this class of workers that must be encouraged, not only to furnish them a transitory livelihood, but moreover to turn their knowledge and enthusiasm by way of cultural approach into a definite and lasting national asset. With these thoughts in mind, it has occurred to me to suggest a comprehensive study end recording of national folk speech. Our language, being a living entity, is normally subject to changes, but our American speech has been extrinsically modified and strongly influenced by the various linguistic groups that found a home in the United States.

Years ago I pointed out that, in my own state of Indiana, is found a distinct difference in speech. Taking the country as a whole, we find that the stories of Uncle Remus are as hard to understand by the average person in the Great Lakes district as are the quaint poems of James Whitcomb Riley, for example, to the average Louisianian. English phraseology, as used by the mountain folk from North Carolina to the Ozarks, would at least seem queer to the average American. What, then, shall we say about German influences in the Middle West, Scandinavian in the North, French in the South, Spanish in the Southwest, and the so-called "Pennsylvania Dutch," not to mention the ubiquitous Scot or the ever-pleasing Irish brogue? What about the soft southern notes as compared with the nasal twang of some of New England. How interesting to note distinction in coastal or western New England, or the fine nuances even between Maryland and Virginia accent! And last, but not least, what of the variety of Indian idiom?

Aside from the folk speech, we should pay attention to inheritances and traditions by way of songs, ballads and stories, all the way from the Spanish Vaqueros following the Chisholm trail, to our own national product, the singing cowboy, resulting in much unprintable but lusty matter, up to Paul Bunyan of the North, and his exploits.

I am only sketching some of the possibilities of this vast territory to give an idea of the abounding "pay dirt". There must be, in the list of needy persons, a sufficient number of competent men and women to undertake this survey and to make permanent records by way of electrical transcription on cylinders or discs, supplemented by explanatory matter. The result of this labor, immensely valuable and interesting as it is even today, will become priceless in the future when the ever-leveling force of historic development has absorbed, coordinated, or discarded that which is today still available. I believe that our universities libraries and museums would be greatly interested. I know that, if this work can be done and is done, an inestimable wealth of information can be preserved which, otherwise, would be lost irredeemably.

Man shall not live by bread alone, yet, while this suggested enterprise would give bread to many who need it and in addition maintain among these intellectual workers a sense of ambition, so often lost by the mere relief worker and his family, it would build up and preserve for the time to come a veritable treasure-trove of folk speech and habits.

Some day the American Epic will be written. Even now we note its prelude by way of historic presentation, especially in the film. Photographs obtained in the course of the work outlined would furnish a source library to future research students.


Two well known American photographers, Miss Frances Benjamin Johnston, of Washington, and Carl Julian, of Columbia, South Carolina, made pictorial studies on the same day last month at Fort Pulaski National Monument, Georgia. Miss Johnston, a recipient of a Carnegie grant for the last seven years, has taken her camera to hundreds of historic structures throughout the country. "Fort Pulaski," she said, "is the outstanding example of brick construction that I have seen." She spent several weeks in making photographic records of structures of historical and architectural interest in and near Savannah. During that period she made numerous visits to Cockspur Island.

Mr. Julian, illustrator of Seed from Madagascar, went to the fort to take "one or two" pictures but exhausted his supply of films before leaving. "This," commented the Acting Superintendent, "is the usual reaction of photographers at the fort: they are always surprised at the number of pictures they have taken."

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Date: 04-Jul-2002