Vocabulary tally

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Mon May 31 22:32:31 UTC 2010

A 19th century philologist who had overheard a couple of rustics talking, figured that their vocabulary consisted of an absurdly low number of words, I forget what, well less that 1000, if I recall.
Considering that the average rustic, however uncouth, would know a couple of hundred nouns for farm animals, the genders and offspring of animals, the parts of animals, and so forth; to say nothing of the nouns required to name farm implements, their parts, etc.  This assumes the rustics live in the barn and have no need to name household furniture, or clothing.
And to say nothing of verbs.

I dare say that if this 19th century philologist had overheard a couple of 19th century philologists yakking, he would have come up with a similar count.  Folks can talk for a long time on a limited vocabulary.

Am I thinking of Archbishop Trench?


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

----- Original Message -----
From: Rick Barr <rickbarremail at gmail.com>
Date: Monday, May 31, 2010 1:30 pm
Subject: Vocabulary tally

> "Ever listen to teens talk? Here, I'll do the math for you: Two kids
> on the
> phone for an hour burns no more than 100 vocabulary words, tops, with
> these
> terms most used: *I go*, *he goes*,* like*, *and*, *so not cool*. Boring."
> This is writer James V. Smith, Jr. on page 45 of a 2006 book called "The
> Writer's Little Helper."
> I've often heard some form of this as a jeremiad about young people's
> vocabulary. I also heard it recently from one who should know, a grammarian
> who calculated young people's vocabulary at 1,000 words (including passive
> vocabulary). I find this very hard to believe, no matter how
> impoverished we
> assume a young person's vocabulary to be in light of formal, standard
> English. In this 1,000 word count, slang and nuanced uses must be
> overlooked. But my skepticism is anecdotal, not statistical. Does anyone
> know of relevant specialized literature that either confirms or denies
> these
> claims?
> I'm sorry if this has come up before, but I couldn't track it down in
> the
> archives.
> -- Rick
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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