Vocabulary

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Some of the twenty volumes of the printed version of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). Today the dictionary is available on-line to subscribers, and a CD version is also available

A vocabulary is a list of words.

The vocabulary a person uses is all the words that person uses. A person who is five knows 4,000 to 5,000 words.[1] Adults who go to college may know 20,000 words.[2]

The number of words in a language is more than of the words. One dictionary may have a list of 500,000 (half a million) words. Another dictionary may have some other words that the other dictionary does not have. When you add all the words in those dictionaries, there are about 750,000 words in English. There may be more words than that.[3]

If there are 750,000 words, how can we talk with only 3000 words? Because, we do not need all the words. You can say most things with 3000 words.[4]

The most used words are short words. That is true in all languages.[5] The 50 most common words in English have less than seven letters. Half of these words have less than four letters.[3]

The vocabulary of a language is always changing. New words are made or words change their meaning. Words about computers, like "download" are new to the English language. The new word "bling" came from hip hop. Words like "cool" have developed new meanings.

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References[change | change source]

  1. Nation, Paul, and Robert Waring. 1997. Vocabulary size, text coverage and word lists. Vocabulary: Description, acquisition and pedagogy, 6-19. [1]
  2. Goulden R; Nation P. & Read J. 1990. How large can a receptive vocabulary be? Applied Linguistics 11: 341-363.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Crystal, David 1995. The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language. Cambridge University Press, p119, p423.
  4. Adolphs and Schmitt 2003. Lexical coverage of spoken discourse.[2]
  5. Zipf G.K. 1949. Human behavior and the principle of least effort. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley.