Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

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

  1. Nov 11, 2012 #1
    vs how many approx used in elizabethan era vs late 18th century. Where would i go to find this info? thanks
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 11, 2012 #2
    You could start here
     
  4. Nov 11, 2012 #3
    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.
     
  5. Nov 12, 2012 #4

    jim mcnamara

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    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.
     
  6. Nov 12, 2012 #5

    AlephZero

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    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/
     
  7. Nov 12, 2012 #6
    Seven. But I can't tell you which.
     
  8. Nov 13, 2012 #7

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    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. Nov 13, 2012 #8

    WannabeNewton

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Carlin's 7?:biggrin:
     
  10. Nov 13, 2012 #9
    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.
     
  11. Nov 13, 2012 #10
    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?
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2012
  12. Nov 13, 2012 #11
    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.
     
  13. Nov 13, 2012 #12

    AlephZero

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    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.
     
  14. Nov 13, 2012 #13
    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
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2012
  15. Nov 13, 2012 #14

    phinds

    User Avatar
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    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.
     
  16. Nov 13, 2012 #15
    nice pic phinds..may i ask, is that ur dog? kinda looks like hes smiling
     
  17. Nov 13, 2012 #16

    phinds

    User Avatar
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    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.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: How many words (approx) are used in everyday speech today
  1. The use of the word If (Replies: 19)

  2. Today's word is pellucid (Replies: 20)

  3. How many words (Replies: 27)

Loading...