Since its foundation, dialectologists in English-speaking North America have affiliated themselves with the American Dialect Society, an association which in its first constitution defined its objective as "the investigation of the spoken English of the United States and Canada" (Constitution, 1890). Over the years, its objective has remained essentially the same, only expanded to encompass "the English language in North America, together with other languages or dialects of other languages influencing it or influenced by it" (Fundamentals, 1991).
The organization was founded as part of an effort to create a comprehensive American dialect dictionary, a near century-long undertaking that culminated in the publication of the Dictionary of American Regional English. In 1889, when Joseph Wright began editing the English Dialect Dictionary, a group of American philologists founded the American Dialect Society with the ultimate purpose of producing a similar work for the United States.
Members of the Society began to collect material, much of which was published in the Society's journal Dialect Notes, but little was done toward compiling a dictionary recording nationwide usage until Frederic G. Cassidy was appointed Chief Editor in 1963. The first volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English, covering the letters A-C, was published in 1985. The other major project of the Society is the Linguistic Atlas of the United States and Canada.
The Society has never had more than a few hundred active members. With so few scholars advancing the enterprise, the developments in the field came slowly. Members of the organization include "linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, authors, editors, professors, university students, and independent scholars." Its activities include a mailing list, which deals chiefly with American English but also carries some discussion of other issues of linguistic interest.
Since 1991, the American Dialect Society has designated one or more words or terms to be the word of the year. The New York Times stated that the American Dialect Society "probably started" the "word-of-the-year ritual". However, the "Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache" (GfdS) has announced a word of the year since 1977.