Apparently the Oxford Junior Dictionary has cut some words from their new edition in order to make room for new ones. Ah, yes, the evolution of language I hear you say. And fair enough. It’s not clear from the newspaper reports I’ve read so far how many words in total they’ve cut but at least 50 of them are to do with nature – acorn, buttercup and so on. The replacements are mainly concerned with computer terminology.
Because of this, a group of writers has written in protest to the OED asking that the natural words be reinstated because they’re concerned with how insular and isolated this makes childhood seem. In light of the decline of children’s play, they’re concerned about what we are doing to the next generation.
I’ve been pondering this all day (in between working I mean) and I’m not convinced. By either side, frankly. First up, dictionaries cannot dictate what we get children to do. If acorn is reinstated, will more children suddenly rush outside when they wouldn’t have if it was excluded? I doubt it. The dictionary reflects the wider world, it doesn’t shape culture.
But the authors have a point. When we stop talking about things, when we lose the ability to name them, they lose their value to us. So if we stop naming acorns, we forget them, and so are complicit in their destruction.
I have spent much of the last three weeks reading books to E. Practically all of them feature the natural world in some way. Should she ever feel the need to look words up for meanings, we already have two dictionaries and two thesaurus (plural? anyone?) in the house. (One of the consequences of having a relationship where you join two big readers is the profusion of reference books – S prefers OED and Roget, I prefer Chambers for both. We both refuse to throw them out. Both are, of course, well out of date when it comes to technological terms…) Few people seem to write storybooks about technology, at least in my limited experience.
We seem to be having trouble reconciling the old with the new. There must be space for both nature and technology. We take E to the park where she looks at sticks, birds, conkers and trees, we read her books featuring frogs, snails, whales, volcanoes, dinosaurs. She regularly helps me fill the bird feeder, and we will be taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch this year and encouraging her to take part. All of this from a city-based terraced house. But she also knows how to scroll through my phone and to play a game on my ipad. I’m told she loves it at nursery when they get the laptops out.
When she gets older all of these things may easily get ignored for something else. Or not. But I think the least we can do as her parents is to make sure she’s had exposure to as much as possible so she can decide what she’s interested in. Her generation will be facing huge challenges with the natural world – and they may choose to face those challenges using technology of some sort. Its all a matter of balance.
*I must find more opportunities to blog using song titles from 1980s one-hit wonders. Next up: The First Picture of You