Bad Language in Children’s Books

In a recent article attention was drawn to the deteriorating standard of language used on social media websites. While this referred primarily to the use of profane and obscene words, it might well have been extended to bad spelling (in spite of spell checkers), punctuation and the use of various pidgin dialects. While some might excuse such phenomena as free expression and adult realism, few would condone such language in writing intended to be read by children. Young people are free to surf the web and it might be argued that it is impossible to provide a completely effective shield to prevent them stumbling upon much that their parents would prefer them not to see. Nevertheless, most would agree that all that is produced specifically for juvenile consumption should be of the highest quality.

Children’s books are written to serve a variety of purposes that are all supplied to varying degrees within each production. While the primary purpose is to entertain, amuse and, perhaps, settle for sleep, there is usually an intention to encourage reading and extend education in a number of directions such as basic science, technology, history and geography, and perhaps above all, an understanding of human behaviour. While building vocabulary may be a primary concern of authors and parents, this desire hardly extends to words and expressions which most parents refrain from using in conversations with their offspring and which could cause embarrassment if encountered in a book at bedtime.

The editing of all books, now assisted by electronic aids, can ensure correct spelling and punctuation, and apart from the occasional and inevitable typographical error, all children’s books should be perfect in these respects. Any shortcomings that remain are entirely the fault of the author; it is up to him or her to determine to what degree his/her work is upgrading and enlightening. This does not mean that slang and dialectical expressions should not be used, but that where they are used, it should be clear to the reader that they are peculiar to, and characteristic of, a certain minority group of English speakers and not part of the core language.

Vietnamese traders travel to China to buy goods to retail back in Vietnam but they do not conduct the business in Vietnamese or Chinese, they converse in English, which is the first foreign language taught in school in both countries. All writers in English have the additional responsibility that derives from English being adopted as the international medium of communication in economic, social and cultural interactions. Children’s books thus assume an important role in helping to facilitate the learning of English throughout the globe. It is therefore essential that the language should be standardised and above reproach.

Saint George, Rusty Knight, and Monster Tamer is a series of nine self-contained historical short stories which introduces George, a hapless knight who has an unusual skill for monster taming, and which, with wit and delightful aplomb takes the young reader on an adventurous journey though some significant moments in history.

Historical Novel Society, February 2016

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