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Acting 5 Theatre 570: Scene Work in Pre-Modern Texts: Language Tools - etymology, dialects, etc.

Finding what an actor might need to prepare to perform

Language Tools

Sources that can help you puzzle out the text through context and/or actual pronounciation guides.


  •  Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) - a record of regional variations of American English. It is different from other dictionaries in that it does not include words that are commonly used throughout the United States, but rather focuses on the regional aspects of our language, documenting words, phrases, and pronunciations that vary from one place to another.
  • Oxford English Dictionary - A source for the history of a word, when it first entered use, how it was originally pronounced, how it is pronounced now, etc

  • IDEA - International Dialects of English Archive is a database of audio
  • North American Dialects - This site is really ugly, and is done by an amateur, but there is quite a lot of useful information
  • DialectBlog - Created by an actor and dialect coach
  • Illuminations Media and Touch Press have an iPad app of the Sonnets read by a variety of actors. You can watch the videos from them all (yes, all 154) at the Touch Press website 
  • The British Library captured audio and language differences from all over the UK and they have two different sets of materials up.
  • Shakespeare's Original Pronuciation - A CD in the UWM Library's collection in which you can hear, based on scholarly research, how Shakespeare's words sounded in his day - why certain rhymes worked then that don't seem to now. Ben Crystal also reads one of the Sonnets in OP on the Illuminations entry above, and he has a theatre company Called Passion in Practice that specializes in OP productions with an extensive YouTube channel.


Find That Quote!

Can you locate the source of a quote that you find in a play? Sometimes even the playwrite gets it wrong. Here are some sources that can help.

Open Source Shakespeare - keyword searching across all of Shakespeare's works, the sonnets included.

Bartleby - search across a variety of sources, including Emily Dickinson, Lives of the Saints, Walt Whitman...

Need Help?

Anna Grau Schmidt's picture
Anna Grau Schmidt
Golda Meir Library, User Services
(414) 251-7510