A language changes all the time, with new words entering the lexicon and others quietly fading out. One of the factors that can play a role is the users’ experience. Others argue, words that are available for use, can also recursively shape the users’ experience.
This, in a nutshell, is the crux of the row that has recently brewed up. It has been decided by Oxford University Press that the new edition of the 10,000 entry Oxford Junior Dictionary, aimed at seven-year olds starting on the Key Stage Two reading level, will feature changes that some have found objectionable : “A”, say the naysayers, should remain “is for acorn”, “B” for buttercup, “C” for conker ——- not attachment, blog or chat room.
The group of upwards of two dozen authors who have raised objections include Margaret Atwood, Helen Macdonald and Sara Maitland.. They call the decision “shocking and poorly considered”.
Their reservations are not unfounded, and stem from the reasonably well-documented effects of the urbanised experience of childhood. The current generation of children, they point out, has significantly diminished access to and experience of nature and the countryside.
The word “conker” is, for the most part, entirely outside the experience of most children —— unless the child has studied his/her Enid Blyton. It is also unknown to the children in the UK (where it was once used very widely), since they have never gone looking for dried-up and hardened acorns. The OUP’s new dictionary will lack some 50 words that are related to nature and the countryside, and will include, instead, words that perhaps have, in today’s world, ‘more traction’ with children. This has alarmed people because the new words chosen are “associated with the increasingly interior, solitary childhoods of today”.
Changes to this dictionary have been made earlier. The 20017 Oxford Junior Dictionary moved “almond”, “blackberry” and “crocus” aside for “analogue”, block-graph” and “celebrity”, and the current 2012 edition maintained the earlier changes while added “analogue”, broadband” and “cut-and-paste”.
This might to some feel like a “quibble” (trivial objection) over a minor issue. The OUP has pointed out that this particular dictionary, as well as others intended for older children, retains very many a “natural” words. Others take it as “nostalgia for a pastoral past” that is, well, mainly past in the industrialised West, a “resistance against the high-tech realities of the modern world”.
There is no denying that new sets of knowledge have to be learned by students, and, in some cases, are being accommodated while other, more traditional knowledge-blocks, are quietly falling by the wayside. For example “cursive writing” is no longer taught compulsively. Since today’s students will face professional and academic terrains, that earlier generations never envisioned, primary students in UK state schools have started having lessons in “coding” (and foreign languages from age seven) under the new national curriculum. Children, aged five upwards, are learning to create and debug simple computer programmes. They are also being taught about the storage and retrieval of data, the use of Internet engines, and children’s safety online.
It makes me sad to think that there is no “childhood and its little joys” for the children of today. They are expected to sprint before they have even learnt to walk .