The Linguistic Atlas Project (LAP) was founded in 1929 at the behest of the American Dialect Society and remains the most thorough and expansive study of American English undertaken to date. The LAP consists of several sub-projects, divided by geographical region. Each project represents the collection of linguistic data (vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation) in the form of dialect interviews, face-to-face interviews in which people were asked a series of targeted questions, such as “What do you call the piece of furniture that has drawers for you to keep your clothes in?” (‘Bureau’, ‘dresser’, and ‘chest of drawers’ were common answers in the 1930s and 40s). Fieldworkers wrote down the answers in International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), a set of symbols that linguists use to capture pronunciation in addition to vocabulary.

This is an example of the verb forms, written in IPA, elicited by the question “What do you say when you wake up and find that it’s so cold that a lake is covered in ice?” This particular speaker said that the lake “was frozen” and that it “froze over”.

The concept behind the Linguistic Atlas is to paint a comprehensive picture of American English, a picture that highlights variation and points to connections between language and various social, cultural and historical factors. The amount of linguistic data contained in the Atlas is unparalleled in American sociolinguistics. With data that covers vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar, the LAP offers us a chance to look at how language varies from place to place, and how language changes over time.