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#2323 - 05/14/00 01:42 PM vocabulary size
tsuwm Offline
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Somebody, in a casual aside on one of these threads, asked what the size of an average person's vocabulary is.

4327

Seriously, this is one of those vexing questions which is endlessly arguable (maybe we can do it here). As an approximation, an average high school graduate probably has a vocabulary in the 1000s, 4 years of college gets you to the 10,000s, and if you are a lexicographer (or a verbiphage) you most likely are in the 100,000s -- unabridged dictionaries contain several hundred thousand words; the OED claims more than 500,000.

Why is this arguable? Do you know both of the cleaves? Do you count spelling variants (color/colour)? What about inflected forms? acronyms? etc.

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#2324 - 05/14/00 02:05 PM Re: vocabulary size
jmh Offline
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Posts: 1981
In term of child development, I read that at eighteen months the average (understandable but not exact) vocabulary is 50 words, at aged 2 it is 200 words and aged 3 around 1,000 words and growing rapidly.


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#2325 - 05/14/00 02:28 PM Re: vocabulary size
David108 Offline
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Posts: 112
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
Thank you, tswum. I was merely speculating on what is essentially an immeasurable concept. It also depends on the level of education, as well as economic factors (that word again!) I'm sure there is no reliable way of measurement.

<Do you know both of the cleaves?>
Interesting that the word has two meanings, that are almost opposed to each other.


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#2326 - 05/14/00 02:32 PM Re: vocabulary size
tsuwm Offline
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>Interesting that the word has two meanings, that are almost opposed to each other.

as was covered here elsewhen, they are actually two distinct words which came to have the same spelling. (I think the thread had to do with words that are their own antonym.)

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#2327 - 05/15/00 07:52 AM Re: vocabulary size
wsieber Offline
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You didn't mention the vocabulary size of an average scrabble-player.. In German, this is even more difficult with all the composite words which you can form. During our 9999th game of scrabble I nearly had a fight with my partner because I came up with the word "Leberkost" (liver diet) which was not in the "Duden". I think every editor of a dictionary has to put arbitrary limits here.


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#2328 - 05/15/00 08:29 AM Re: vocabulary size
emanuela Offline
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Registered: 03/16/00
Posts: 315
Loc: Italy - Perugia is a town with...
The vocabulary size can be also an interesting measure of the knowledge of a foreign language ( for me, English).
But what do you mean when you say " to know a word"? It is clear to me that , very often, I know the most simple meaning of a fixed word, but I cannot understand some sentence because there are some other meanings depending on the context.
Ciao
Emanuela


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#2329 - 05/15/00 11:08 AM Re: vocabulary size
tsuwm Offline
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>But what do you mean when you say " to know a word"?

sure... multiple senses... another factor(!) of "etc."
:-)

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#2330 - 05/16/00 09:02 AM Re: vocabulary size
Jackie Offline

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Tsoo-wum, you...actually WROTE...
>this is one of those vexing questions which is endlessly arguable (maybe we can do it here). Great jumping
jellybeans, what are you trying to do?? Start another
beg-the-question thread??


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#2331 - 05/16/00 12:21 PM Re: vocabulary size
AnnaStrophic Offline
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>Somebody, in a casual aside on one of these threads, asked what the size of an average person's
vocabulary is.

4327


tsu, I presume you mean a native English-speaker's vocab?


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#2332 - 05/16/00 01:02 PM Re: vocabulary size
tsuwm Offline
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>I presume you mean a native English-speaker's vocab?

yes; I presume you know that 4327 is a PIDOMA?

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#2333 - 05/17/00 03:27 AM Re: vocabulary size
juanmaria Offline
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Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 163
Loc: Malaga, Spain.
Does anybody know if there exist some kind of test that, based on determinate key-words, can calculate roughly the number of words that a person knows?.

Juan Maria.

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#2334 - 05/17/00 03:49 AM Re: vocabulary size
shanks Offline
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Registered: 03/16/00
Posts: 1004
Loc: London, UK
Stephen Pinker, in 'The Language Instinct', provides a rough method.

Use a standard dictionary a pick out a set of pages at random. List the head words from the definitions from those pages in two columns: one for words that you use confidently; the second for those who meaning you can recognise in context. Multiply up the numbers by the ratio of pages chosen to pages in the dictionary, and you have a rough and ready guide to the words you use, and the words you 'know' (even though you may never use them yourself).

I may have misstated the method slightly so I highly recommend reading the book (which is great in many other ways too).

cheer

the sunshine warrior


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#2335 - 05/17/00 08:01 PM Re: vocabulary size
Bingley Offline
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In David Crystal's "Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language", after discussing the problems involved he gives the figures arrived at by the method described by Shanks:

"An office secretary, a businesswoman (and a voracious reader), and a lecturer all carried out this exercise: their active totals (respectively) were 31,500, 63,000, and 56,250; their passive totals were 38,300, 73,350, and 76,250 -- an average increase of 25 per cent." (page 123)

P.S. would you like to guess which words (not proper names) the spell check didn't recognise?


Bingley
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#2336 - 05/17/00 10:29 PM Re: vocabulary size
AnnaStrophic Offline
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>yes; I presume you know that 4327 is a PIDOMA?


Nope. What's a PIDOMA?


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#2337 - 05/17/00 10:43 PM Re: PIDOMA
tsuwm Offline
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Pulled It Directly Outta... ummm... my... uh... Mid-Air; yeah, that's it.

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#2338 - 05/18/00 02:00 AM Re: PIDOMA
jmh Offline
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Registered: 03/22/00
Posts: 1981
On the other hand. The size of my vocabulary is best described by the word "googol".

How do you pronounce "deluded"?


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#2339 - 05/18/00 08:14 AM Re: PIDOMA
Jackie Offline

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>Pulled It Directly Outta... ummm... my... uh... Mid-Air; yeah, that's it.<

ohmigawd--where will this END?




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#2340 - 05/18/00 02:37 PM Re: PIDOMA
David108 Offline
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Registered: 05/09/00
Posts: 112
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
I plan to use PIDOMA in the next apposite moment in a sales meeting. I'll have to blame somebody, tswum! :o)


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#2341 - 05/21/00 02:52 PM Re: vocabulary size
juanmaria Offline
member

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 163
Loc: Malaga, Spain.
I’ve tried with several pages of my ‘Collins Spanish/English’ and, roughly, know 97% of the Spanish words and 80% of the English. That could make some 47,000/40,000 Spanish/English words.
But I think that this method is deceitful because it yields the quantity and not the quality. The English dictionaries are full of words of Greek/Latin origin and I know those words because they are quite similar to Spanish words and a lot of other words are derivations of well known words. For example I could understand ‘onomatopoeia’ and not being able of buying a box of diapers.
Another tricky thing is that when I read ‘onomatopoeia’ I know that it means ‘onomatopeya’ but if some friend asked me what’s the English word for ‘onomatopeya’ I wouldn’t be sure until I find it on a dictionary.
Anyway, that test has improved my mood. In 'Dirty Harry' words 'Has made my day'.



Juan Maria.

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#2342 - 05/22/00 06:07 PM Re: PIDOMA
Rubrick Offline
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Registered: 05/18/00
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The same way you spell 'fib', jmh!


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#2343 - 06/18/00 03:38 PM Re: vocabulary size
David108 Offline
member

Registered: 05/09/00
Posts: 112
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
It's an an old thread, but I came across this article and thought it would be of interest.

http://www.quinion.com/words/articles/howmany.htm

It's really a good site to explore. I've sent a query regarding public/private schools, but I notice that the Author is away until the end of July - we might have a long wait!


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#2344 - 06/23/00 02:40 PM Re: vocabulary size
Verbist Offline
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Registered: 06/23/00
Posts: 4
Loc: Northern CA
The Biggest question is how would someone measure someone's vocabulary. You can't just ask someone to List all the words they know. That’s impractical and many words would be left off.

And another question is how do you define vocabulary? Is it words we understand? Because a large percentage of the time we understand the word only because of context and not the word its self.



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#2345 - 06/23/00 03:03 PM Re: vocabulary size
ammelah Offline
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Registered: 06/22/00
Posts: 18
Loc: Vienna, Austria
Regarding the controversy about what to include in an estimation of a person's vocabulary: estimates of the size of Shakespeare's vocabulary range from 15,000 to 30,000 words, depending on what you decide to count. Here the question of counting method is crucial, since the scholars working in this area base their estimates on the same body of texts. The one who arrived at the highest word count regards the different forms of a word (such as cry, cries, cried, criedst) as separate words. He also includes proper names in his estimate. This does not address your question directly, I know, but indicates another kind of problem encountered when estimating vocabulary: what is a word? Regarding the question whether passive vocabulary should be included in such a count, I would say yes, since most of us use only a small part of our vocabulary actively and otherwise the numbers we would be looking at as estimates would hardly serve to satisfy our vanity. Isn't that what this question is all about, anyway?


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#2346 - 06/23/00 08:27 PM Re: vocabulary size
Verbist Offline
stranger

Registered: 06/23/00
Posts: 4
Loc: Northern CA
So maybe a better way to count someone's [someplace] used vocabulary would to strap a tape recorder to them and
record a few days worth of usage. Then enter all the words they used and have a computer count them and
remove redundancies. Do this 5-6 times and I bet you would have a very good idea as to how big
someone's used vocabulary would be.


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#2347 - 06/24/00 12:38 AM Re: vocabulary size
Bingley Offline
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But you would still have the problem of what counts as a word (do inflections and compounds count?) and would still only get the most commonly used part of their spoken active vocabulary. For example, I certainly know the word "fraternisation" but have only used it once or twice in my life.

Bingley
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#2348 - 06/24/00 11:54 AM Re: vocabulary size
Jackie Offline

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Here's another spanner in the works:
in counting someone's vocabulary, how many languages
do you allow ? Do you allow extremely well-known
words (e.g., pro bono, c'est la vie) from another language?
And what if the person speaks several languages?


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#2349 - 06/26/00 03:36 AM Re: vocabulary size
wsieber Offline
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Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 1026
Loc: Switzerland
It seems to me that most contributors to this thread assume at least implicitly that vocabulary size stands for a certain quality of a person: the larger the better.. This is certainly valid up to a point. Rather than speculating about the maximum possible vocabulary size, it would be interesting to know the "most useful" size, i.e. the point where further increase only appeals to collectors of rarities, and does not contribute anymore to the precision of communication. Accessibility of information quite generally decreases with growing volume.


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#2350 - 06/26/00 07:43 AM Re: vocabulary size
Jackie Offline

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Excellent, wsieber! The whole point of using words is to
communicate, and it is interesting to speculate on what
you're communicating if no one knows what you're saying.
One difficulty, though: who gets to decide at what point
>>"where further increase only appeals to collectors of rarities, and does not contribute anymore to the precision of communication."<<
As an example, I use in my normal speech words that many of
my church friends don't seem to know, but my Mensa friends do. And Tsuwm and our old friend Jeff, at least, are clearly light-years ahead of me in the vocabulary dep't.
Response eagerly anticipated!


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#2351 - 06/26/00 03:36 PM Re: vocabulary size
jmh Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 03/22/00
Posts: 1981
>Accessibility of information quite generally decreases with growing volume.

I find age a big factor, my recall is not what it once was. Perhaps it is because my brain is so full of useless information, for example where to buy the cheapest petrol (gas) in a place I no longer live. I know so many road names of places I may never visit again (one of the problems of moving house so much) I just wish I could archive some of the useless stuff and make room for some more information.




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#2352 - 06/27/00 12:42 AM Re: vocabulary size
wsieber Offline
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Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 1026
Loc: Switzerland
Hi Jackie,
>and it is interesting to speculate on what
you're communicating if no one knows what you're saying.<
Sorry to repeat myself, I have been harping on that before, in connection with Latin etc. In the case you mention, I am communicating: "Look what an intelligent and learned person I am and how lucky you are to know me" .



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#2353 - 06/27/00 03:19 AM Re: vocabulary
jmh Offline
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Registered: 03/22/00
Posts: 1981
We communicate in different ways with different people at different times.

If I am writing a leaflet for general consumption I keep the language clear and simple, leaving very little room for ambiguity.

If I am discussing computing with colleagues it is likely that the conversation will include technical language that wouldn't be used elsewhere. A group of people who had all studied, say History of Art, English Literature or Astrophysics would have another set of technical terms.

In a group like this we talk about words. One would expect to cover the whole range from the simple to the unpronounceable.

The "showing off" bit comes in when we choose to use inappropriately complex language in a situation where we know it will be perceived as being used to score points. In these days of inverted snobbery more people make their language downwardly mobile rather than the converse.

One of the things that I always found strange was that words from the study of literature, history or French would be considered as essential knowledge for an "educated" person. Whereas it would be possible to know everything there is to know about DNA, Quantum Theory or nuclear fusion and have very little to talk about at a party.

As science becomes the new "arts" with so much popular writing about science perhaps it will change. Somehow I'm not so sure.


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#2354 - 06/27/00 04:31 AM Re: vocabulary size
andwild Offline
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Registered: 06/27/00
Posts: 2
Loc: Switzerland
I think that one also has to differ between an active and passive vocabulary, i.e. between word that one would use and words one only understands. Therefore, your estimate of 4327 words might be quite good for an active vocabulary, at least for some people.


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#2355 - 06/27/00 06:54 AM Re: vocabulary size
Jackie Offline

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Dr. Sieber,
>> "Look what an intelligent and learned person I am and how lucky you are to know me" .<<
Indeed you are, and indeed I am! (And the fact that you got
my point exactly is a fine demonstration of these things!)







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#2356 - 06/27/00 07:03 AM Re: vocabulary size
Jackie Offline

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andwild--
Oh, what a perfect combination your username makes! (She said with envy.)
And, welcome aBoard.


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#2357 - 06/27/00 09:49 AM Re: vocabulary
tsuwm Offline
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>We communicate in different ways with different people at different times.

We should of course (and perforce) use language styled for the audience at hand, just as in writing. It is very annoying to have to listen to someone who seems to be talking solely to hear himself talk and is just sooooo impressed with his own erudition. [witness W. F. Buckley!]


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#2358 - 06/27/00 12:25 PM Re: vocabulary
Jackie Offline

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Well, Tsuwm,
You were right, as usual, when in one of your first posts on this thread you said this is endlessly arguable!
>>It is very annoying to have to listen to someone who seems to be talking solely to hear himself talk and is just sooooo impressed with his own erudition.<< Yup, 'tis. I usually make a quick exit if possible!




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#2359 - 06/29/00 04:14 PM Re: vocabulary size
tsuwm Offline
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I stumbled across the following link fortuitously - I don't know how much credence to give the method, but it might be interesting to use as a benchmark for several people...
http://minyos.its.rmit.edu.au/~s8904850/vocab.html


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#2360 - 06/29/00 05:25 PM Re: vocabulary size
jmh Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 03/22/00
Posts: 1981
Thanks for the test link. It is obviously flawed. My score was rather less than a google. It think that there should have been more words like "it" in it.

Apart from that, it seemed as if it would be quite useful for lesser mortals. Maybe it should have had a little more Kentuckian.


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#2361 - 06/30/00 07:29 AM Re: vocabulary size
Jackie Offline

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Registered: 03/15/00
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Loc: Louisville, Kentucky
>>it seemed as if it would be quite useful for lesser mortals. Maybe it should have had a little more Kentuckian.<

Well, I reckon the truth hurts. Confess we are not known
for high levels of education.




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#2362 - 06/30/00 06:50 PM Re: vocabulary size
Bridget Offline
addict

Registered: 06/27/00
Posts: 444
Loc: Sydney Australia
>>My score was rather less than a google. <<

I don't think this test lets you have a vocabulary of a googol - this is in a way a relief as it means I don't need to strive for that level!

Also, of course it only tests passive vocabulary, and even there it limits itself to 'words you can define out of context'. The question of what consititutes 'knowing a word' came up earlier in this discussion.

All that said, I've printed it out to take away and do next time I have a quiet weekend. Will get back to you in 2003 with my score...


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