Taking the Englishness out of the English language

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There's no place for "plaice" in this dictionary. Words about Christianity (vicar, sin, parish), Christmas (carol, mistletoe), the monarchy (coronation, duke, monarch), seafood (lobster, mussel), pets (corgi, goldfish, hamster), fairy tales (elf, goblin), woodland flora (tulip, sycamore, pasture), and fauna (doe, starling, terrapin) are gone, too, from a popular children's dictionary:

Oxford University Press has removed words like 'aisle', 'bishop', 'chapel', 'empire' and 'monarch' from its Junior Dictionary and replaced them with words like 'blog', 'broadband' and 'celebrity'. Dozens of words related to the countryside have also been culled.

How can you read Winnie the Pooh or The Wind in the Willows without words like stoat, beaver, gorse, or (oh, bother!) piglet? And what fiend would flush "budgerigar" down the lexicographical loo? As one commenter on the linked story wrote:

What a pity! Future generations will not be able to understand Monty Python until they've studied it at university.

(This isn't necessarily a new phenomenon: Some advanced individuals in previous generations used comedy and comic strips as a personal curriculum in cultural literacy.)

Another commenter writes:

I've got to 62 and have survived life still not quite knowing what a trapezium is. But the same could not be said had I not known the meaning of buttercup, fern and hazelnut. Our children's lives are being impoverished by this kind of misguided editorial policy.

As a teacher for 30 years, I was saddened by the increasing disappearance of basic idioms from children's language; the Oxford Dictionary policy is symptomatic of the cultural impoverishing of children's vocabulary, language and its use.

And another:

Take away our language and who are we? Our beautiful words, many of which date from Anglo-Saxon times, are now taken from us and generations of future children. They are more than words, they are the golden threads that bind together the rich tapestry of our country's story.

Reading the words taken out is absolutely heartbreaking. They read like the roll call of honour for a country that is dying.

This seems to put it all in a nutshell, referring to the sets of words deleted from and words added to the dictionary:

It would be interesting to try to write two poems: one with the first set of words, the other with the second.

The list of removed words brings to mind "Last of the Summer Wine," "The Archers," and All Creatures Great and Small. The list of added words brings to mind "Only Fools and Horses" and "The Office."

This sentence from the Telegraph story suggests that the shift away from church and countryside has already taken place in children's literature:

Oxford University Press, which produces the junior edition, selects words with the aid of the Children's Corpus, a list of about 50 million words made up of general language, words from children's books and terms related to the school curriculum. Lexicographers consider word frequency when making additions and deletions.

This defense of OUP's omission of these words didn't give me any comfort:

Critics tend to assume that children either read dictionaries for fun to learn new words (which they probably don't) or look up words that they meet in reading or in everyday life. In fact, it's older children who use dictionaries to look up the meanings of words; children aged 7-9 tend to use dictionaries to help them with spelling when they are writing out what they did at the weekend, or keeping a diary - typical school writing tasks. Therefore the contents of the dictionary need to reflect children's actual lifestyles, not an idealised picture of how we would all like childhood to be.

This suggests that children 7-9 aren't reading good books in school, where they might encounter unfamiliar words.

Read the full list here.

(Via Roger Kimball, via NRO's Corner.)

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3 Comments

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

"This suggests that children 7-9 aren't reading good books in school, where they might encounter unfamiliar words."

Even if they aren't getting the good books in school, (and they aren't) The parents have the responsibility to get the good books to their children. Roald Dahl anyone?

S. Lee Author Profile Page said:

Well, at least "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" is still there.

Steven said:

I think most kids use the internets. As long as the words can be found there I think we are fine.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 8, 2008 7:16 PM.

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