Does the English language have more words than Swedish ?

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by Arcadian, Feb 14, 2014.

  1. Arcadian Junior Member

    Devon UK
    English - Devon & Cornish dialects
    Transferring across an interesting earlier thread which was going off topic in "Hemavan tycker om dej"....

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    Reply by Ben Jamin

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    By Ogago

     
  2. Arcadian Junior Member

    Devon UK
    English - Devon & Cornish dialects
    This is very interesting one indeed about the words car and red.

    What do both remaining Swedish words mean in English as I've always thought bilen was cars plural not knowing at all about the words bilar and bilarnas ! However Red is an interesting one in English as whilst it is always usually singular and occasionally the plural reds, say for example two football teams distinguished by being called the reds and the blues, what do rött and röda mean ?
     
  3. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Bil is car.
    Bil-en is the car.

    Bil-ar is cars.
    Bil-ar-na is the cars.

    Bil-ar-s is cars'
    Bil-ar-na-s is the cars'

    Also, for the singular possessive, en bils (a car's), bilens (the car's).
    Red as an adjective is always singular, or more appropriately, it only has one form. When you use colours in the plural like that, it means you're forcing the adjective to stand as a noun and it's more of a noun usage rather than an adjective. It's not something that really should be compared with different adjective declensions found in other languages though. You might find this site helpful.
    :)

     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2014
  4. Arcadian Junior Member

    Devon UK
    English - Devon & Cornish dialects
    Great and many thanks for the link. I was working in Sweden at the time in the Eighties and started off with the routine Swedish classes, I think it was called Kursverksamheten (sp ?), but we never got around to much grammar so it was always just basic speaking but it served me well. In the end even thinking in Swedish though reading was always difficult. Are there any online lessons anywhere ?

    I think the interesting point is that living and speaking it daily for nearly three years is as good a way for anyone to pick up a new language and why I'm hoping to get back into it all again using Skype.

    Tack ska du har :)
     
  5. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    If you click back into Nordic Languages and look at the top, there is a thread called 'Nordic Language Resources' and it's where any really good learner material that other users have found helpful goes, so you will definitely find links to some good lessons there, I imagine.
     
  6. Arcadian Junior Member

    Devon UK
    English - Devon & Cornish dialects
    Yes some great links thanks !! :)
     
  7. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    As far as I am informed the English language has the world record, what vocabulary is concerned. High German could be second.

    I mean, if you pick up Webster's and read a few pages two or three times a day you'll soon know what I mean. Not that simply reading the dictionary will make you more educated, but your biceps will grow.
     
  8. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Norwegian
    The vocabulary of a language is not determined by the thickness of its dictionaries. Only a fraction of the possible compound words in Swedish (or German, for that matter) are listed. It is a complete myth that English "has more words" than other languages
     
  9. myšlenka Senior Member

    Norwegian
    I don't very much about this topic, but from what I can read from the Oxford English Dictionary's own website, a word that enters the OED is never removed, even if the word in question hasn't been in use for a century or two. If you just keep accumulating words in dictionaries without taking out obsolete ones, it is no wonder that English has the world record as far as vocabulary is concerned. I suspect that Swedish (or even German, French etc) lexicographers tend to kick out obsolete words more frequently.

    A second point is related to the average vocabulary of adult native speakers and from what I have read, this does not vary significantly from language to language. I assume that the cultural and technical development level of the respective language communities may have an effect, but Swedish and English are definitely comparable.

    A third point is related to how we count words. How different should two words be with respect to syntax/phonology and semantics in order to be counted as separate words? Is bank (financial institution) and bank (river bank) two different words? What about make in 1) make the bed or 2) make coffee? Swedish att veta and att känna can both mean "to know". Does that mean they are the same word?
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2014
  10. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish

    If you have your dicitionary on your Kindle the thickness is really unimportant. But it is true, it is really difficult to determine how to count it. Counting how many words are considered "words" in a generally accepted dictionary is one way. With Webster's we exceed 600,000 I think, with the "Wahrig" about 300,000. The equivalents in Scandinavian languages, a lot less.

    However, the claim "it is a complete myth" needs some argumentation, in my view. If it were a complete myth, why do we need this backflow of words from the Germanic language that actually evolved from the languages we exported? And we do need them - there are lots of loan words that we never bothered or had time to find generally accepted translations of, when we needed them.
     
  11. myšlenka Senior Member

    Norwegian
    Actually, the project Norsk ordbok which is meant to be finished this year, will contain more than 300,000 entries.
     
  12. Ogago Junior Member

    Swedish
    Counting words is rather meaningless.
    I mean, give me a thousand Swedish nouns, and I can deliver one million and more by just combining them. They are mostly meaningless, but more of them than we can imagine can be usede intelligently even if they don't belong to SAOL.

    I can easily teach a student one million words in a week. I start with ett, två, tree etc. Later hundraett, hundratvå, hundratre etc. Later tusenett tusentvå tusentre etc. When they grasp the system, there is no limit of how many words they can learn in no time at all.

    So if the number of words is the only measure of superiority of a language, then English is definitely inferior. Luckily counting words is not the way to use.
     
  13. myšlenka Senior Member

    Norwegian
    Is Germanic compounding really making a new word? The meaning of most compounds is transparent, i.e. it's possible to deduce the meaning of a compound based on the meaning of the individual morphemes. A relatively small number of the commonly used compounds has a meaning which cannot be inferred directly. I don't have any Swedish examples of this but Norwegian skolelys (School + light) does not refer to a light. Do transparent compounds and non-transparent compounds have the same status?

    Besides, English does display Germanic style compounding but it is not reflected in the spelling. If English spelling conventions were changed so that compounds were written in one word, the number of English words (according to your way of counting) would increase infinitely.
     
  14. Ogago Junior Member

    Swedish
    Exactly. It all depends of the structure of the language and how a unique word is defined.

    As Chinese is a monosyllabic structure, they don't have that many words. But if you combined them you get as many words as any other language. (Can anyone with knowledge in chinese confirm this, or am I perhaps wrong with this statement? Just want to know...)

    Sometimes I invent a new words, just because I need to do it. The Swedish structure allow me to do that. The context alone makes it clearly understandable. I am pretty sure that it cannot be found in SAOL. And two seconds later the word can be safely forgotten without any grief. is it a proper word? Of course, it does its task perfectly well, it makes my message crisp clear. Does it count as a word? My answer is definitely - yes.

    Is it really that interesting which language has the most number of words in its vocabulary? I agree with Svenska Språknämnden to which the link and a quote is given earlier.
     
  15. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    What's SAOL? It's been mentioned a few times so far, thought I should ask.
     
  16. Ogago Junior Member

    Swedish
    Oh, sorry. SAOL is the "Svenska Akademiens OrdLista"
    If you find the word in that list it is definitely a Swedish word. If you don't find it there, then it is still an open question if it is a Swedish word.
     
  17. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    Sure, but that is not the way we arrive at 600,000+ words in the old Webster's - I don't even know if that is the number today. That was the one we had laid out on a special table in the school library 30 years ago.
     
  18. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    Once again, how many singular words, and how many compound words. If you take four singular words of one group and four of another you can make 16 compound words. In this way you can create millions of words.
    Most compound words don't count, they are only singular words with additional information (narrowing the concept).
     
  19. myšlenka Senior Member

    Norwegian
    I am very well aware of this, thank you. My comment was to contradict Sepia's claim that the Scandinavian equivalents of the generally accepted dictionaries Webster's and Wahrig (I am sure these two contain a whole lot of compounds) are a lot smaller.
     
  20. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Norwegian
    Compounds are words in their own right. There can be no question about it. We are not talking about morpheme dictionaries (which would be interesting for the sake of comparison).

    English have the longer/thicker dictionaries, but the notion that English ipso facto has more words than e.g. Swedish, is simply nonsensical.
     
  21. myšlenka Senior Member

    Norwegian
    Compounds and simple words behave in different ways with respect to certain phonological factors, so the morpheme boundaries does make a difference, i.e. compounds are different from simple words.
     
  22. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Norwegian
    Yes, they do - absolutely. But compounds are still words, or terms, in their own right. Understand is a word that describes a concept in English that is different from the elements of the compound under and stand.
     
  23. myšlenka Senior Member

    Norwegian
    That's what I am talking about in #13. There are compounds that are compounds diachronically speaking (non-transparent and non-productive) and there is synchronic compounding which is transparent and highly productive. An example of the former could be understand where, as you say, the meaning cannot be inferred from its building blocks, i.e. it is a word in its own right. All these are listed in dictionaries and they would be stored in a speaker's mental lexicon.

    An example of transparent compounding could be weekend where the meaning can be inferred. This kind of compounding is recursive and with almost no rules governing the order of the individual words in the chain and the semantic relationship between, the number of possible permutations is infinite. Just an infinitesimal amount of these compounds are listed in dictionaries but are they words in their own right like understand? My answer to this is no because it's possible to deduce their meaning. Moreover, they would not be stored in a speaker's mental lexicon.
     
  24. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Norwegian
    The problem, as I see it, is where does one draw the line? I can successfully argue that week+end is only similar, but not identical to the term weekend. By all means - I agree with you and your line of reasoning, and this is not to quibble over semantics. However, dictionaries do not only allow diachronic compounds, but a fair amount of transparent ones as well. This goes for any language. If we look at Sw. tandläkare, it is fairly transparent, but still warrants an entry in a dictionary. Tandläkarmottagning is again transparent, and maybe still dictionary material. Beyond that is a different story. One might argue that tandläkarmottagningsväntrum is a real concept, for that matter tandläkarmottagningsväntrumsstolben, but now we have entered the realm of the unreasonable (although perfectly sound and logical as far as 'words' go) and almost ludicrous.

    My point is: Fish, fishery, fish-hook, fisher, fisherman, fishwife, fishtail, fishmonger are all entries in the mentioned English dictionaries. Swedish is capable of constructing many more compounds based on fisk-. Should all of them be entries? No. Are they words? Yes.
     
  25. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    We ave a word lbilulykke in Norwegian which is listetd as an entry in for instance Kunnskapsforlags dictionary, but Merriam Webster has no entry for "car accident". The status of those two lexemes is identical both in Norwegian and English, only the spelling is different.
    I am not quite familiar with the situation in Sweden, but in Norway there is a growing tendency to write compound words separately. Sooner or later will this usage prevail, and dictionaries will no longer list these words as compund words with own entries.
     
  26. Ogago Junior Member

    Swedish
    There is the same discussion in Sweden. We call it "särskrivning". Some särskrivningar changes the meaning of the sentence completely and are made much fun of: www.avigsidan.com/avigsidan/avigt008.html

    Some say that it has to do with the impact from the English language. Not so, the tendency to särskriva started before English became à la mode. And some words are särskrivna despite the fact that they are not särskrivna in the english language.

    A friend of mine särskriver often, and she says that the Word's spell checker doesn't accept the words if combined, but separately written Word doesn't mind. So she thinks it is okay.

    I see it as a trend that we cannot do anything about. It's a part of the language progression. I don't like it, but I can't do anything about it, so why bother.
     
  27. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    We don't need to bother, even if it often leeds to ridiculuous effects in Norwegian (Kyllinglever på tilbud -> Kylling lever på tilbud), but my point was to envisage what impact on number of dictionary entries the trend will have.
     
  28. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Norwegian
    Ogago - I agree. I do not think it is a tendency that has come about recently. I think it has always been there, but we find so much more in print and written communication today than we did a few decades ago, so it is more visible. The rule in Norwegian and Swedish is pretty clear: If it is one item or concept, it is one word. The rules for compounding in English are much more ambivalent. Summertime is a compound today, but has not always been one. The same is the case with lifestyle, and the more recent healthcare. In English it tends to be a gradual process, such as in life style > life-style > lifestyle. English also distinguishes between compound concepts (e.g. gold ring) and compound words (e.g. goldfish), and semi-compounds (e.g. gold-plated).
     
  29. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Norway
    Polish
    What do you think will happen with the number of dictionary entries in the Scandinavian languages if the separate spelling of compound words disappears in a large degree?
     
  30. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Norwegian
    First, I do not think they will disappear. They are too ingrained in the fabric of the language. All Germanic languages are producing compound all the time – English as well, although it happens at a slower rate. I do not see any trend in Scandinavian that it is moving towards a more analytic word structure.

    Second (and you did indeed say “if”) – to compare lexicon is an almost impossible task. English “stores” a lot terms in its dictionaries that highly technical, obsolete or very rare. Items like chemical compounds can be found, which is rarely found in other dictionaries. Archaisms and constructed Latinism are also encountered. The upcoming Norwegian dictionary is meant to contain words that are actually used in current Norwegian, although they might be rare and technical, and weed out obsolete terms.

    Again – the claim that English has more words than Swedish is a myth. The size of a dictionary cannot be used to measure the lexicon of a language, since there are no general standards for entries.
     

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