cognate vocab as a measure of relatedness

Andy Pawley apawley at
Wed Jun 12 03:14:36 UTC 2002

Re Adrian Clynes' question:

>1) What percentage of basic vocabulary is cognate in English and German,
>using (say) a 200-item Swadesh list?
>2) Ditto, for English and French?

In his book A Course in Modern Linguistics Hockett (1958) says
contemporary English and German share approx. 59 percent cognates on
the 200 meaning list.

I have an idea the figure for English and French is around 20-25
percent. As I recall, figures for most of the Indo-European families
are given in a book on the lexicostatistics of IE languages by
Isidore Dyen and Paul Black. I forget the exact details but I think
it was published in the 1970s.

Literary Dutch and German I believe have been scored at 84 per cent.
That reinforces David Mead's point about 60 to 90 percent being a
grey area re mutual intelligibility. Actually my experience is that
mutual intellibility is always pretty low if basic vocab. cognation
is below 80 percent -- except where speakers have had extensive
exposure to each others' languages and are therefore at least
passively bilingual.  But obviously phonology plays a big part.

Andy Pawley
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