Language takes an unnatural turn

One of the things we frequently discuss in our Post-Graduate Public Relations program here at Loyalist is language, its uses and impact on human behaviour.

So needless to say, two front section articles in today's Toronto Star and Globe and Mail caught my eye, and prompted a heated in-class discussion.

The latest news is that the Oxford University Press is removing a number of nature words from its Oxford Junior Dictionary --words like beaver, dandelion, heron, magpie, otter, acorn, ivy and clover. (A number of Christian terms are also being deleted, including nun, monk and psalm.)

In their place, Oxford is inserting more technological terms such as Blackberry, MP3 player, voice mail and broadband into its Junior Dictionary.

Are you kidding me? As if our kids weren't already far enough removed from the natural environment, we are now actually removing words from their vocabulary that will allow them to discuss the ecosystem using specifics?

Anyone remember Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods (2005) where the author discusses the concept of Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD)? If Oxford's latest move is any indication, we are apparently headed toward a world where there are no woods at all (or beavers or heron for that matter), let alone any children with first-hand knowledge of them.

What worries me is not only the removal of these "nature words" but their replacement with more technological terms. While I'm clearly in favour of new technology (I'm blogging, aren't I?), there is something intrinsically perverse about saying one can replace the other.

If language is a tool that helps shape our understanding of the world around us, then let's hope publishers like Oxford come to their senses before it's too late. Otherwise we can blow good-bye kisses to the natural world as we know it, along with the life-altering richness that comes from experiencing the great outdoors... unplugged.