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Wednesday, August 4th, 2010 by

. . . in the 8/4/2010 New York Times Schott’s Vocab column.

In the item, guest columnist David Crystal, a linguistics professor at the University of Bangor in Wales, writes about what he learned when he recently asked a 12-year-old to go through one of his manuscripts and underline anything she didn’t understand. The result — demonstrating that there’s a vast cultural knowledge gap between today’s youngsters and the rest of us — may seem obvious, but writers and editors working on material targeted for children or young adults still stumble over this every day.

In Crystal’s case, he made a reference to John Wayne, and his young test reader had no idea who Wayne was, had never seen any of his movies, and could not have cared less. I was reminded of the time my youngest son came home from school and, following up on some discussion in his second-grade classroom, asked me, “Daddy, what was it like during the Civil War?” Not wanting to disappoint, I told him how it was, but you get the idea . . .

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