Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Oxford Junior Dictionary dropping ‘nature’ words | csmonitor.com

Oxford Junior Dictionary dropping ‘nature’ words | csmonitor.com

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Seriously. No words. I like to talk and write about nature, but apparently "nature words" aren't relevant to the experiences of children any longer, so the Oxford folks deleted them from their junior dictionary. We have BlackBerry, the device, but not blackberry, the fruit. No acorn, no cygnet, and no drake. Oh and by the way, there is no "sin" anymore according to this version.

I just finished reading a fabulous article in Natural History magazine titled "Flowers Have No Names" about the revival of the Hebrew language. One of the obstacles in reviving the language was that the primary source of words were religious texts, and the vocabulary did not extend to things like flowers. There were words for roses and for lilies, but not other plants. So in 1913 in the nascent Hebrew state, when questioned about the identity of nearby flowers, a girl had to reply "Flowers have no names." Hebrew linguists had to develop those words and many others in their quest to establish a homeland, and the words they developed helped shape the culture of Israel.

There is an adage the "the beloved child has many names." We name things that are important to us. What happens when a child encounters the word "violet" in "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett," goes to look it up in her Oxford dictionary and finds it missing? Or 'magpie" in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland?" Neither word can now in the Oxford junior dictionary, evidently.

Just when are are starting to appreciate that disorders in mental health can be caused by a deficit of experience in the natural world, this venerable media company sets the cause back many years.

I am involved with a non profit that helps add lands to the state's parks and trails systems, and my involvement stems from my preservation ethic, but also because I view the state's parks and trails as essential places for kids to connect with nature. Having words for the things we see - allows us to assimilate information and form an emotional connection with the subject. If a subject in the natural environment has no name, this reflects a lack of cultural value, and the child gets that message.

Language is an immensely powerful tool. Naming the individuals in a crowd of people not of our class, race or religion humanizes them and forces us to consider the effects of our actions (economic embargo, shock and awe) on their lives. Naming the plants and birds we view along the roadsides draws us into that space as a 3-dimensional experience, one that is more real and enriching.

Banishing from the kid's dictionary such words as "canary," "beaver," and "vine" can only impoverish the imaginations and experiences of children, and shape our culture in ways we may regret. What is Oxford thinking?


RuthieJ said...

.....so Oxford is apparently assuming that the last child has left the woods?? Sounds like the duty will remain with parents, mentors and other interested people who will help kids overcome "nature deficit disorder."

twinsetellen said...

I always disliked junior dictionaries, to be frank. They never had the words I needed.

And I agree completely with your position on the importance of naming. When in high school, I knew I liked plants, but when I went to work in a nursery and learned the names of so many more plants it was thrilling. I would walk down the street and see so many more plants than I'd ever noticed before - because they were no longer just green things; now, they had names.