Qualicum Beach students Lauren Porter (front left) and Isabelle Gray (front right) show the book The Lost Words, alongside an Oxford dictionary with their Grade 5 Qualicum Beach Elementary School class. Many students in the class were inspired to send a letter to Oxford University Press over the nature words removed from their junior dictionary, which inspired The Lost Words book. — Adam Kveton Photo

Qualicum Beach students react to removal of words from Oxford Junior Dictionary

Class calls for return of ‘otter’, ‘acorn’ and more

The balance of technology and nature in the lives of people, especially the young, is important, says Qualicum Beach Elementary School teacher Petra Knight.

But, when a student looks out their window and can’t describe what they see in the world, there’s a problem, she said.

Many of Knight’s students felt the same way when she showed them a book called The Lost Words, written by Robert Macfarlane and inspired by Oxford University Press’s decision to remove about 50 nature-related words from their junior dictionary, and replace them with words like ‘blog’, ‘MP3 player’, ‘voicemail’ and ‘celebrity’.

Removed were words like ‘dandelion’, ‘heather’, ‘otter’, ‘kingfisher’ and others.

With the moves made in 2007, several campaigns against the changes have taken place between then and now, including a joint letter sent to Oxford by 28 authors, including Margaret Atwood in 2015.

When Knight revealed these changes to her students early this year, many were concerned, confused, and even angry, they said.

“I felt very, very upset and confused,” said Lauren Porter, a student in Knight’s Grade 5 class. “I didn’t know why they did it.”

“Kids need to know what these words are. I think nature is more important than technology,” said Fiona Campbell, another student.

Isabelle Gray said the changes worried her because she sees otters and ferns regularly, as well as ravens and herons right in her yard.

The students decided to send letters to Oxford University Press detailing their dismay and asking for the words to be put back.

Knight said she hopes Oxford will give the students some sort of reply, even if it’s just an explanation of why the words were removed.

In a 2015 blog post, Oxford Dictionaries sought to explain how it decides what words to include in children’s dictionaries.

Key is that the dictionary is small and can only contain so many words, meaning there are always very difficult choices to make. And with language evolving, Oxford seeks to include at least some of the newer words that have appeared and became useful, said the post.

Oxford also uses the Oxford Children’s Corpus, which shows what language children are most likely to come across in books, as well as what children often write. Lastly, the post notes that dictionaries are meant to reflect language as it’s used, not change how it’s used.

Knight said she felt that Oxford does have an impact on children based on what words it includes in dictionaries, and said she feels that Oxford has a certain responsibility to preserve language, especially when it comes to what words children learn.

“If you really have to reduce it, you shouldn’t be cutting out words that describe what you see out your window,” she said.

Though the debate around these changes has often turned into a debate about nature versus technology in the lives of children, Knight said she doesn’t deny the many positives technology has brought. In fact she said she was able to still take her class outside for their twice-weekly forest time and still do a previous interview over her cellphone with someone several provinces away.

“I think a balance is needed,” she said, with students in her class suggesting splitting time in front of a screen with time spent outside, or using technology outside, like taking photos of a friend or family member while out for a walk.

Ultimately, Knight said she’s excited that her students’ letters has generated interest. “I want them to know that their opinion matters, even at 10 years old.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Massive early-morning blaze destroys unoccupied Nanoose Bay home

Firefighters from three departments called in to battle fire

Captain Dziadyk to end season with Oceanside Generals on high note

Qualicum Beach player is longest-serving player in team history

Petition underway to stop bylaw on homeless camping in Regional District of Nanaimo

‘Canadians are known for their meekness but this time we need to have a voice’

Qualicum Beach approves Pheasant Glen zoning amendment

Majority of residents who spoke at public hearing endorsed proposed amendment bylaw

Centre withdraws from cell tower project in Qualicum Beach

TELUS plans to continue to look at plans to improve cellphone reception in the area

VIDEO: 2020 BC Winter Games wrap up in Fort St. John as torch passes to Maple Ridge

More than 1,000 athletes competed in the 2020 BC Winter Games

Still six cases of COVID-19 in B.C. despite reports of Air Canada passenger: ministry

Health ministry wouldn’t comment on specific flight routes

First win, fifth win highlight BC Senior Curling finals

Donna Mychaluk wins first title after finishing second five times; Wes Craig takes fifth crown

Violent ends to past Indigenous protests haunt Trudeau government

Trudeau adopted a more assertive tone Friday, insisting the barricade must come down

Zamboni driver, 42, earns NHL win over Maple Leafs

Emergency goalie called into action for Carolina Hurricanes

VIDEO: Wounded Warrior Run leaves Port Hardy on eight-day trek down Vancouver island

The team’s fundraising goal this year is $250,000, which is double last year’s goal.

BC Senior Curling titles to be decided in Vernon

Wes Craig, Penny Shantz looking for fifth championships; Steve Wright, Donna Mychaluk into finals

B.C. money laundering inquiry to begin amid hopes for answers, accountability

Eby argued that most B.C. residents already know the previous government, at best, turned a blind eye

Most Read