Investigating Language – books to inspire

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I confess to being a logophile and that I have Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable on my bedside table for dipping into in those last few moments before turning the light out. So I was excited to catch up with Patrick Skipworth publisher, linguist and author of Literally: amazing words and where they come from for our In The Reading Corner podcast. In just 12 words, literally covers a wide range of linguistic concepts, which could feed a year-long investigation in the classroom. You can read a full review here and listen in to the podcast here.

Literally: amazing words and where they come from by Patrick Skipworth and illustrated by Nicholas Stevenson published by What on Earth Books

This started us thinking about other books we recommend for sparking an interest in words and language use. The Dictionary of Difficult Words is a cornucopia (not in the book) of tantalizing words waiting to be discovered. The first two spreads offer some advice to the reader about pronunciation, how to work out meanings of words using morphology and guidance for using the book. Most readers will enjoy dipping in and will no doubt find their favourite. The book is lavishly produced with high production values making it enjoyable for dipping into, reading for pleasure and the large format invites sharing and conversation. Full-page illustrations for selected words add further interest.

The Dictionary of Difficult Words compiled and written by lexicographer Jane Solomon and illustrated by Louise Lockhart. Published by Frances Lincoln

Lost in Translation is an illustrated compendium of words from around the world for which there is no direct translation. The Italian verb commuovere – to be moved in a heartwarming way, usually relating to a story that moved you to tears was an example that resonated with me. I n this book there are examples from Swedish, Arabic, Dutch, Welsh, Icelandic, Japanese, Russian, Tulu, Indonesian, Yiddish, Nguni Bantu, Farsi, Korean and more. This could spark some interest in languages spoken by the children in school and there some words are harder to translate into English than others.

Lost in Translation by Ella Frances Saunders published by Vintage Publishing

Most readers will already be familiar with Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris sublime The Lost Words, following the successful campaigns to get the book into as many schools as possible.

The book began as a response to the removal of everyday nature words – among them “acorn”, “bluebell”, “kingfisher” and “wren” – from a widely used children’s dictionary, because those words were not being used enough by children to merit inclusion. But The Lost Words then grew to become a much broader protest at the loss of the natural world around us, as well as a celebration of the creatures and plants with which we share our lives, in all their wonderful, characterful glory.”

From The Lost words website https://www.thelostwords.org/book/

This wonderful book already hailed as a ‘classic’, encourages us to think about how we use words about the natural world with children. Do we refer to trees simply as ‘trees’ and birds as ‘birds’ or are we more specific when we observe and talk about the nature that surrounds us. It opens up possibilities for talking about local and regional words for plants, wildlife and topography too.

from The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris published by Penguin Books

The Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary is more than a dictionary. While lots of dictionaries tell you what an ‘alligator’ is, or how to spell ‘balloon’, they won’t explain the difference between a ‘ringbeller’ and a ‘trogglehumper’, or say why witches need ‘gruntles’ eggs’ or suggest a word for the shape of a ‘Knid’. Including real words and Dahls invented words, this dictionary compiled by the lexicographer at Oxford University Press, stimulates a creative exploration of language. Packed with child appeal, this could lead you down the path to consider other neologisms and how they came into the English language. Did you know, for instance, that there is no record of the words ‘bedroom’ or ‘eyeball’ until Shakespeare wrote them in his plays?

Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary published by Oxford University Press

Finally, we are giving the heads-up on a forthcoming publication that we will be featuring in our language packs. I’ll Believe You When is a collection of idioms from around the world. If you have a class of children who speak English as an additional language, you are likely to be very aware that idiomatic use of English can create moments of incomprehension. This book can open up a discussion about the ways language is culturally embedded and why certain idioms develop in different parts of the world.