Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Words Are Ideas

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Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

On March 29 2002, four Cambridge University professors in the Department of Zoology—Andrew Balmford, Lizzie Clagg, Tim Coulson and Jennie Taylor published a paper in Nature entitled Why Conservationists Should Heed Pokemon.

The researchers reported the results of an investigation of whether British school children knew more about Pokemon critters (fictional) than British plants, birds and insects (real). The eight-year-olds were more likely to know more of the fictional Pokemon characters than actual species. Furthermore, knowing Pokemon critters did not indicate that the children knew more about real species.
Robert MacFarlane is a well known British environmentalist and natural historian who is a collector of words. His 2015 book Landmarks is a compilation of thousands of words and phrases from British dialects that are used to describe places, large and small.  These are falling out of use. 

In a review Kristy Gunn provides a sample of those words. "At the end of every section," MacFarlane includes "a swath of words cut and lifted from dictionaries and phrase books, from common usage, idiolect, slang and poetry. Words for stones and rubble, chucky, clitter and fedspar; for ice, pipkrares and shuckle; for hill and gully and lifestock and branches and leaves and weathers and, in 'Ways of Walking,' for a certain kind of mud--muxy rout and slunk."

In his just published, The Lost Words, MacFarlane restores words that are falling out of use by children. In a discussion between MacFarlane and illustrator, Jackie Morris on the construction of the book, MacFarlane describes the intent: Jackie and I have always thought of The Lost Words not as a children's book but as ‘a book for all ages’ - or perhaps a book for children aged 3 to 100. We wanted it to be quite unlike any other book that exists: to catch at the beauty and wonder - but also the eeriness and otherness - of the natural world.

Jackie Morris was the instigator of this book and I urge you read her account of its beginning. When she received a letter asking her to sign a petition about returning words that had been culled from the Oxford University Press Junior Dictionary. She wondered how words such as acorn, conkers and heron could possibly be removed. Morris writes, It wasn’t the fault of the dictionary that these words were not included, but the culture in which we live which seems to give more importance to the urban than the wild. The dictionary was a symptom of this, and a timely reminder that we should take a good, long look at what we value.

The Lost Words is a book of spells which Morris describes "is to cast spells of language to summon the words back into common usage."



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