Words associated with Christianity, the monarchy and British history have been dropped from a leading dictionary for children.
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.
The publisher claims the changes have been made to reflect the fact that Britain is a modern, multicultural, multifaith society.
But academics and head teachers said that the changes to the 10,000 word Junior Dictionary could mean that children lose touch with Britain’s heritage.
“We have a certain Christian narrative which has given meaning to us over the last 2,000 years. To say it is all relative and replaceable is questionable,” said Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment at Buckingham University. “The word selections are a very interesting reflection of the way childhood is going, moving away from our spiritual background and the natural world and towards the world that information technology creates for us.”
An analysis of the word choices made by the dictionary lexicographers has revealed that entries from “abbey” to “willow” have been axed. Instead, words such as “MP3 player”, “voicemail” and “attachment” have taken their place.
Lisa Saunders, a worried mother who has painstakingly compared entries from the junior dictionaries, aimed at children aged seven or over, dating from 1978, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007, said she was “horrified” by the vast number of words that have been removed, most since 2003.
“The Christian faith still has a strong following,” she said. “To eradicate so many words associated with the Christianity will have a big effect on the numerous primary schools who use it.”
Ms Saunders realised words were being removed when she was helping her son with his homework and discovered that “moss” and “fern”, which were in editions up until 2003, were no longer listed.
“I decide to take a closer look and compare the new version to the other editions,” said the mother of four from Co Down, Northern Ireland. “I was completely horrified by the vast number of words which have been removed. We know that language moves on and we can’t be fuddy-duddy about it but you don’t cull hundreds of important words in order to get in a different set of ICT words.”
Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington College, a leading private school in Berkshire, said: “I am stunned that words like “saint”, “buttercup”, “heather” and “sycamore” have all gone and I grieve it.
“I think as well as being descriptive, the Oxford Junior Dictionary, has to be prescriptive too, suggesting not just words that are used but words that should be used. It has a duty to keep these words within usage, not merely pander to an audience. We are looking at the loss of words of great beauty. I would rather have “marzipan” and “mistletoe” then “MP3 player.”
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.”
She said children’s dictionaries were trialed in schools and advice taken from teachers. Many words are added to reflect the age-related school curriculum.
Words taken out:
Carol, cracker, holly, ivy, mistletoe
Dwarf, elf, goblin
Abbey, aisle, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, minister, monastery, monk, nun, nunnery, parish, pew, psalm, pulpit, saint, sin, devil, vicar
Coronation, duchess, duke, emperor, empire, monarch, decade
adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren.
Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran, bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender, leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow
Words put in:
Blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and paste, analogue
Celebrity, tolerant, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate, EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic, allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate, endangered, Euro
Apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum, classify, chronological, block graph