How many words (approx) are used in everyday speech today

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

vs how many approx used in elizabethan era vs late 18th century. Where would i go to find this info? thanks
 

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  • #2
4,465
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You could start here
 
  • #3
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I heard Shakespeare had an inordinate vocabulary compared to us today. I try to learn new words every day. I'd like to think my vocabulary is above average, but I don't know how I would accurately find out. A vocabulary test that would accurately tell me how many words I know would have to be pretty long.
 
  • #4
jim mcnamara
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Robert (Robin) McNeil in 'The story of English' said that Shakespeare 'ransacked the lexicon' and people back in Elizabethan times were not speaking that way.

As you progress through life an the education system, your vocabulary grows.
For example, I was a botanist for the first half of my career. There are huge numbers of terms used in that field that are local only to the discipline: phyllotaxy, antrorse, viscid, and so on. It ain't fodder for dinner table conversation. So vocabulary does not necessarily grow in directions that are useful outside of your very limited sphere.

Medical terminology and Computerese are rife with acronyms. I am now a unix sysadmin. I did in fact work on an LDAP problem today. I personally do not think these things are really words, especially if you consider how fast they are coined, they are more of a convenience. They also fade from use - how many FDDI cables you got?

Irvy Goosen, author of the first Navajo-English dictionary, along with Lorraine Becenti,
claimed that a functioning but minimal vocabulary in English was on the order of 25000
words. In Navajo it was closer to 100000. So If I were to have a lot of education, my specialty vocabulary plus my "standard" English vocabulary is probably less than the average traditional Navajo speaker's command of the language.

So I'm not sure what a high word count vocabulary means, if anything. Maybe it means reading technical manuals more easily.
 
  • #5
AlephZero
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Irvy Goosen, author of the first Navajo-English dictionary, along with Lorraine Becenti,
claimed that a functioning but minimal vocabulary in English was on the order of 25000
words. In Navajo it was closer to 100000. So If I were to have a lot of education, my specialty vocabulary plus my "standard" English vocabulary is probably less than the average traditional Navajo speaker's command of the language.
Defining what you mean by "a word" is not a trivial problem (and a definition that works sensibly in one language might not work in another) so this isn't an exact science.

But 25,000 words seems too many for a "minimal functioning" English vocabulary. Special purpose languages like Simplified Technical English (used for writing safety-critical maintenance manuals, etc) only uses 900 "approved words" and 2000 "non-approved words" (which are mostly synonyms of the 900), plus any specialist vocabulary required. (STE also has strict rules on grammar etc, but that's off topic to this thread).

The Oxford Dictionary researchers have produced a list of 3000 words for priority study learnig English as a foreign language, and written an "advanced learner's dictionary" with all its definitions expressed in that 3000 word vocabulary.
http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/oxford3000/
 
  • #6
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Seven. But I can't tell you which.
 
  • #7
Evo
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It seems to me, from old texts I've read, that they were much more verbose in that time period, some people call it "flowery". I think people today are much more to the point and use less words to get an idea across.
 
  • #9
Containment
Get your hands on a bible from the 18th century as imo that is one of the most common books around from both time periods.
 
  • #10
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It seems to me, from old texts I've read, that they were much more verbose in that time period, some people call it "flowery". I think people today are much more to the point and use less words to get an idea across.
In Dutch and German there has been a tendency to write much more garrulously than speaking it. There was a distinct difference between the two. For instance you would say: "Miss, can I go .. ?" but you would write: "Dear lecturer, may I audaciously interrupt your highly appreciated elaboration to inquire if you could permit me to utilise the adjacent plumbing fixtures for a brief moment?"

So how can we know if that split language use was also present in earlier times?
 
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  • #11
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If you guys want to help improve your vocabulary, I suggest the "dictionary tip" add on for Firefox and Chrome. Whenever you don't know a word, you can double click it and a small window will show you the definition. It helped me learn just now what "garrulous" meant.
 
  • #12
AlephZero
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Get your hands on a bible from the 18th century as imo that is one of the most common books around from both time periods.
IIRC the total vocabulary of English translations of the bible is only about 8500 words, even if you count inflected forms of words separately (i.e. stand, standing, stands, stood counts as four words, not one) and include all the names of people and places in the count.
 
  • #13
918
16
IIRC the total vocabulary of English translations of the bible is only about 8500 words, even if you count inflected forms of words separately (i.e. stand, standing, stands, stood counts as four words, not one) and include all the names of people and places in the count.
This site says 14000. I don't know if they count inflected forms separately.
Bible bits
Here's a site that breaks it down further:
8,674 different Hebrew words in the original
5,624 different Greek words in the original
12,143 different English words in the King James Version.
Agards
 
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  • #14
phinds
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Only a tiny fraction of the extant words in English, which has, as I recall, about twice as many (something like 400,000) words as any other language.

I've heard it said that while many languages politely lift a word here and there from other languages, English chases other languages down alleys and robs them blind them for words.
 
  • #15
nice pic phinds..may i ask, is that ur dog? kinda looks like hes smiling
 
  • #16
phinds
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nice pic phinds..may i ask, is that ur dog? kinda looks like hes smiling
Loki, the 140lb Great Pyraneese, is my wife's dog and he's probably laughing at me because he just drooled on me, which he often does.
 

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