Two of the UK’s leading dyslexia experts are launching an alternative version of the dictionary in a bid to make the English language more accessible to those with the learning difficulty.
Father and son duo Dr Neville and Dr Daryl Brown have dedicated their lives to developing new methods that can help children to overcome dyslexia - a pursuit that led them to open specialist Staffordshire-based teaching and research centre, Maple Hayes Dyslexia School, in 1982.
Now, after almost 25 years analysing the way dyslexics learn, the Browns have decided to rewrite the dictionary after identifying that its layout, which is biased towards phonetic language, proves to be a huge stumbling block for youngsters with dyslexia. The traditional dictionary - as its name indicates - was originally a tool primarily to promote the correct pronunciation of words.
The new version will be considerably different to those that have occupied classrooms for centuries, as it will prioritise the link between words with similar meaning - no matter how they are pronounced - by putting all related words, regardless of the prefixes they use, on the same page instead of scattered throughout the dictionary.
Daryl, who is headteacher at Maple Hayes, said: “It is not that the dictionary we all know and love is wrong - it works for many people but, quite simply, is completely inaccessible for dyslexics.
“We teach literacy using an entirely different method to phonics, instead using the ‘morphological approach’ which was developed by my father over 30 years ago. This bypasses the requirement to learn words by sounding them out - instead using icon meaning cards to visually represent words or parts of words.
“The meanings of words will be prevalent in our dictionary. Whilst we believe it will be an invaluable tool for dyslexics, it will also give children and adults without the learning difficulty a greater understanding of the origins of our language, enabling them to grasp the true meanings behind parts of words and make greater sense of a language that we learn verbatim, but never question.”
Through their studies, the duo have already mapped out 49,800 words formed from 3,713 morphemes.
Daryl explains: “A brief example of the work we’re doing can be explained by the morpheme ‘AC’. The fundamental meaning of ‘AC’ is having the capacity to do something now, for example with a sharp point or jab, or to form into a sharp point. Think of words beginning with ‘AC’ and you will discover that, as a rule, they adhere to this meaning.
“Take ‘acne’ - its basic meaning is to form one point or single points, and ‘acme’ is thinking of something as one high point or peak. Morphemes also operate across the senses - ‘acuity’ is a clarity or sharpness of vision, ‘acute’ is pain caused by a jabbing point and ‘acupuncture’ relates to the body and mind and involves needles.
“Morphemes, unlike phonology, provide the principles not only for the formation and origin of existing words, but also for the coining or invention of new words.”
The new dictionary, which the Browns estimate will be completed by the end of 2015, will however retain its Staffordshire roots. The determined duo live in Lichfield, with Dr Daryl Brown beiDr g the second lexicographer to be born in the city after famous writer Samuel Johnson, the man who scribed “A Dictionary of the English Language” - the earliest version of the dictionary we use today - back in 1755.