Arthur the Rat

“Arthur the Rat” is a short tale devised to obtain phonetic representation from throughout the country of all phonemes in American English. See full text of the story here. Recordings were made of DARE Informants from all over the United States reading this passage when fieldwork for DARE was done in 1965-70. Following is a merged version of the passage, combining several speakers, each reading a short segment of the passage. Information on each speaker precedes the section read.

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Speaker is from Brooklyn, New York; she is a 70-year old white female with a college education:

Once upon a time there was a rat who couldn’t make up his mind. Whenever the other rats asked him if he would like to come out hunting with them, he would answer in a hoarse voice, “I don’t know.” And when they said, “Would you rather stay inside?” he wouldn’t say yes, or no either. He’d always shirk making a choice.

Speaker is from a rural community in northern Maine; he is a 73-year old white male with a high school education:

One fine day his aunt Josephine said to him, “Now look here! No one will ever care for you if you carry on like this. You have no more mind of your own than a greasy old blade of grass!” The young rat coughed and looked wise, as usual, but said nothing.

Speaker is from Roxbury section of Boston, Massachusetts; she is a young black female with a high school education:

“Don’t you think so?” said his aunt stamping with her foot, for she couldn’t bear to see the young rat so coldblooded. “I don’t know,” was all he ever answered, and then he’d walk off to think for an hour or more, whether he would stay in his hole in the ground or go out into the loft.

Speaker is from Memphis, Tennessee; he is a 72-year old black male with a college education:

One night the rats heard a loud noise in the loft. It was a very dreary old place. The roof let the rain come washing in, the beams and rafters had all rotted through, so that the whole thing was quite unsafe. At last one of the joists gave way, and the beams fell with one edge on the floor. The walls shook, and the cupola fell off, and all the rats’ hair stood on end with fear and horror.

Speaker is from an island in eastern Virginia; he is a middle-aged white male with a high school education:

“This won’t do,” said their leader. “We can’t stay cooped up here any longer.” So they sent out scouts to search for a new home. A little later on that evening the scouts came back and said they had found an old-fashioned horse-barn where there would be room and board for all of them. The leader gave the order at once, “Company fall in!” and the rats crawled out of their holes right away and stood on the floor in a long line.

Speaker is from a small city in south-central Georgia; she is a middle-aged white female with a college education:

Just then the old rat caught sight of young Arthur — that was the name of the shirker. He wasn’t in the line, and he wasn’t exactly outside it–he stood just by it. “Come on, get in line!” growled the old rat coarsely. “Of course you’re coming too?” “I don’t know,” said Arthur calmly. “Why, the idea of it! You don’t think it’s safe here any more, do you?”

Speaker is from Wichita Falls, Texas; he is a middle-aged white male with probably a high school education:

“I’m not certain,” said Arthur undaunted. “The roof may not fall down yet.” “Well,” said the old rat, “we can’t wait for you to join us.” Then he turned to the others and shouted, “Right about face! March!” and the long line marched out of the barn while the young rat watched them.

Speaker is from a village in northwestern Washington; he is a 74-year old white male with a high school education:

“I think I’ll go tomorrow,” he said to himself, “but then again, perhaps I won’t — it’s so nice and snug here. I guess I’ll go back to my hole under the log for a while just to make up my mind.” But during the night there was a big crash. Down came beams, rafters, joists — the whole business.

Speaker is from a small city in northwest Wisconsin; she is a middle-aged white female with a college education:

Next morning — it was a foggy day — some men came to look over the damage. It seemed odd that the old building was not haunted by rats. But at last one of them happened to move a board, and he caught sight of a young rat, quite dead, half in and half out of his hole. Thus the shirker got his due, and there was no mourning for him.

Illustrations by Andrea Dagmar Swenson Brown and Linda Mitchell Thompson.

Want to hear more? There are 1,380 additional examples of Arthur the Rat that can be heard at American Languages: Our Nation’s Many Voices. Click on “Search the collection.” Following “Search entire collection by keyword:” type in “Arthur”.

No more shirking! Check out the National Museum of Language’s new online exhibit which features DARE informants from all over the country reading “The Story of Arthur the Rat” along with illustrations like this one.