Cloud, stream, net and web: how nature words have been taken over by tech


Researchers at the University of Leeds used two bodies of transcribed, informal conversations among members of the public, comprising five million words in the 1990s and 12 million words in the 2010s.

In the earlier conversations, 100 per cent of references to a ‘field’ concerned grass or farmland. That has fallen to 70 per cent, with modern conversation taking in the metaphorical fields of work, gravity or energy.

Researchers also found that the following nature words have decreased in relative frequency among young people between the 1990s and 2010s: lawn, twig, blackbird, picnic, fishing, paddle, sand, welly, desert, paw, snow, grass, jungle, sky, path, bridge, bush, land, hill, fish, pond, mountain, soil, branch, stick, park, ground, wheel, tree, stream, rock, bird, road, garden, shell.

The study was commissioned by the National Trust to mark the launch of its 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11¾ initiative, which lists free activities including cloud watching and observing a sunrise or sunset.

Andy Beer, the organisation’s regional director for the Midlands, said: “As a nation we are losing our connection with nature. This is really worrying for us as a conservation charity.

“One of the key reasons we were formed was to protect and look after green spaces and wildlife for the benefit of the nation. If today’s children aren’t connected to nature, then who is going to stand up for our countryside and wildlife in the future?”

Dr Robbie Love, a linguistics fellow who conducted part of the study, said: “Language represents what’s important to a culture or society. Nature language being replaced or used less frequently suggests nature potentially becoming less important or being replaced by other things.”


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