Refugees, Tim Peake, Star Wars, Shakespeare, and social media are just some of the events, people, and subjects that influence British children’s creativity and use of language, says a report published by Oxford University Press (OUP).
Following OUP’s analysis of the 123,436 entries for the 2016 BBC Radio 2 Chris Evans Breakfast Show’s 500 WORDS short story competition, a wealth of fascinating insights into the lives of British children and their imaginative use of English have emerged. The winners of this year’s competition were announced live on-air on Friday 27 May in a very special broadcast of the Breakfast Show live from Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside, in London. This year, HRH Duchess of Cornwall was an Honorary Judge. Her Royal Highness will attend the Final and present the Gold winners’ prizes. Celebrities including Julie Walters, Warwick Davis, Andy Serkis, Nick Jonas and Raleigh Ritchie will be reading out the Bronze, Silver, categories (5-9 and 10-13 years), and One Republic, All Saints, and Foxes will be performing with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the London Community Gospel Choir during the show.
‘Refugee’ is the Children’s Word of the Year, due to a significant increase in usage by entrants writing in this year’s competition combined with the sophisticated context that children were using it in and the rise in emotive and descriptive language around it. Despite the tenderness of their years, youngsters show a sensitive and mature understanding of the issues involved (the war in Syria, the journey across the Mediterranean, people smugglers, the camps in Calais) and they wrote compassionate, moving stories. The subject matter was mostly the plight of children their own age leaving home and undertaking difficult journeys, with powerful descriptive language and visual imagery—showing how they respond to what they see on TV, in newspapers, and on the internet. There was also a marked increase in vocabulary associated with refugee, words such as boat, camp, dinghy, crisis, border, shelter, journey, sea, desperate, safe, flee, travel, and trek. OUP’s analysis of the stories found that the attitude towards refugees was empathetic.
One entrant wrote ‘I’m in France . . . place called Calais. It turns out that nobody wants us after all. There was no gold at the end of the rainbow. I have no idea when or how I will get away from this prison’; whilst another said ‘“Son our neighbours just got bombed. We’re lucky we weren’t in the house! It’s decided we’re going!” “Ok . . .” Replied Yusuf solemnly “I’ll go pack . . .” This was a tough time for Yusuf. He was going to leave his friends, School and home.’
Vineeta Gupta, Head of Children’s Dictionaries at Oxford University Press, says “The children writing in this year’s competition have demonstrated a sophisticated use of language in their storytelling. They have used rich descriptions to convey emotion and have produced powerful stories that resonate with the reader. Our extensive research has provided a deeper understanding of children’s language skills across the UK and we continue to be inspired by their creativity.”