Monday, December 08, 2008

Words disappearing

Words don't just change (see below); they sometimes disappear completely. At least, that's what The Daily Telegraph tells us has happened to words like thrush, marzipan and willow in the latest edition of Oxford University Press's Junior Dictionary.

Not only have these words been removed, but they've been replaced with newfangled ones like MP3 player, broadband and dyslexic. While the tone of the article borders on the splenetic (look it up, lexis lovers) to begin with, it does quote some sensible linguists too:

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.

Vineeta Gupta, the head of children's dictionaries at Oxford University Press, said: "We are limited by how big the dictionary can be – little hands must be able to handle it – but we produce 17 children's dictionaries with different selections and numbers of words.

"When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers for instance. That was because many children lived in semi-rural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed. We are also much more multicultural. People don't go to Church as often as before. Our understanding of religion is within multiculturalism, which is why some words such as "Pentecost" or "Whitsun" would have been in 20 years ago but not now."

So there you least Christmas is still in it, otherwise I'd be complaining too.

Edited to add: Henry Porter of The Observer has made his own response here. It's a bit verbose (Gilberto, that's you, that is) but has this paragraph which is quite interesting:

However necessary these dull newcomers to the Oxford Junior Dictionary may be, it must be true that with each word and experience excluded, the 21st-century child is minutely deprived. Language becomes more functional, the interior life more arid and the opportunities for rich expression and playfulness fewer.

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