No wonder we are concerned for children and Nature

3 Nov

So I don’t blog for months, then two come along in four days!! Well I just felt that they were terribly important and had to blog them! so here goes . . . . . . . . .

I expect you will all know about Sara Maitland’s interest in the natural world? Well I didn’t until my wife started quoting from her recent book entitled ‘Gossip from the Forest’ and she read me one fact that I just thought I MUST make all my colleagues aware of this fact. It is as follows:

 “In 2008, a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary- designed for children aged between 7 and 9- decided that the modern English primary school child had no use for a remarkable range of fairly basic ‘nature words’, including:

  • catkin;
  • brook;
  • acorn;
  • buttercup;
  • blackberry;
  • conker;
  • holly;
  • ivy;
  • mistletoe;”

 she then goes onto give us their replacements:

 “Of course the words that have replaced them – like database, export, curriculum, vandalism, negotiate, committee, compulsory, bullet point, voicemail, citizenship, dyslexic and celebrity- are useful words to have, but I was walking in Epping Forest with Robert Macfarlane, a master of enchantment, who sums it up in his wonderful essay, ‘A Counter-Desecration Phrasebook’:

 A basic language-literacy of nature is falling from us. And what is being lost along with this literacy is something perhaps even more valuable: a kind of language magic, the power that certain words possess to enchant our imaginative relations with nature and landscape.”

 I probably should not have included the second quote as it is not what really grabbed me, nor is it the point I want to get over here, but isn’t it magical? 

 “a kind of language magic, the power that certain words possess to enchant our imaginative relations with nature and landscape.”

 But to the point, don’t these omissions and inclusions underpin just the sort of society that we are creating and just those aspects of society that, particularly in realm of children and play, cause us greatest anxiety?

 And, perhaps, what concerns me most, is that once a dictionary and particularly the Oxford Dictionary, does this for children it is setting this deterioration in stone.

 “Excuse me, Ms, but what’s an acorn?”

 “look it up in the Dictionary dear”

 “but Ms it isn’t there!”

 Need I say more? Perhaps someone can suggest ways in which this can be undone? Are Sara Maitland and Robert Macfarlane involved with the Wild Project?







5 Responses to “No wonder we are concerned for children and Nature”

  1. Richard Woodcock November 3, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    This is quite shocking Robin – thanks for drawing it to my attention. With your permission I’d like to spread it round my own networks.

  2. bernardspiegal November 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    It is terrifying, Robin. Obliterating the language is a step towards obliterating the possibility of a certain kind of shared experience. The anxiety this prompts in you, me and no doubt many others seem to me linked to the relative silence we have imposed upon ourselves about talking about certain aspects of life being intrinsically worthwhile (more on this anon and in another place); as though ‘evidence’ can even begin to counter the violence being done to a language stripped of, for example, ‘conkers’ and ‘mistletoe’. No more ‘games of…’ or ‘kissing under…’ for the next generation.

  3. Mick Conway November 3, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    Apart from ‘catkin’ and ‘brook’ I’m pretty sure the missing words are in fairly regular use among children – certainly among my nephews and nieces in Crawley and in Devon and the children I’ve come across in the Exploring Nature Play project. Though ‘blackberry’ might not necessarily just mean something to eat!
    Thankfully the dictionary is not the language – for example ‘playworker’ is not in the Concise Oxford or the UK Encarta. But this Junior Oxford story does give me an Orwellian shiver – I doubt very much if it is based on the Corpus or other usage data.
    The Oxford Dictionaries site says:
    We never leave words out of dictionaries on the grounds that they aren’t ‘good English’. Similarly, if a word is used only in very informal contexts, or only by specific groups of people, or if it is offensive in some way, we make this clear in the dictionary entry. (If a dictionary is written for children at the primary school level, however, some of the more ‘adult’ words will be excluded.) New words will be added if we have enough evidence of their use in print or online sources.

  4. Jenny Lynn November 3, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    Good piece Robin, and well done Jessica for drawing attention to Sara Maitland! it is a bit terrifying that such a great bunch of nature study words are said to be no longer relevant…but I reckon that most if not all of them will still be in use wherever children get to go for walks or scrabble around in the garden….
    My god-daughter Molly once asked her mum, “why does Jenny Know all about life?” – she was about three at the time – turned out that it wasn’t my great metaphysical understanding to which she was referring – just the fact that I used to tell her the names of trees and flowers, and show her the little beech seedlings growing in the bluebell wood near Whalley when we went for a walk there…don’t think anyone has ever paid me a nicer compliment!
    Jenny Lynn

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