Which languages have the least vocabulary?

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by Roel~, Mar 9, 2013.

  1. Roel~ Member

    Nederlands - Nederland
    I 'm a polyglot and I want to learn as much languages as possible. I have learned that vocabulary is one of the most important aspects and that it is the key to understanding a language besides grammar. I wonder actually which languages have the smallest vocabulary and are easiest to learn because of this reason. I know for instance that English has a very big vocabulary, almost the biggest in the world and that Arabic also has a very big vocabulary, because for a lot of meanings you have different words.

    Are Hebrew and Turkish languages with small vocabulary? A Turk told me that Turkish has a small vocabulary and I can already read some Turkish and wonder if she is right, because I can read quite some Turkish already. I also heard that Hebrew doesn't have a big vocabulary, which is due to the limited vocabulary in the Hebrew Bible and that Ben Yehuda artificially created new words.

    Besides these 2 the question is just which languages have a small vocabulary. With this I mean natural languages by the way.
  2. arielipi Senior Member

    Hebrew is dense, though from helping a native US person i know its still hard for one to grasp the idea for words in hebrew...
  3. Roel~ Member

    Nederlands - Nederland
    So learning Hebrew is much easier than Arabic because the vocabulary is smaller and the grammar is simpler? The only problem though is that although I want to learn both languages I can find more books for Arabic.
  4. bibax Senior Member

    IMHO Classical Latin has quite a small vocabulary (certainly much less than 50.000 entries) due to the obvious fact that we know only limited number of Classical texts. There are, of course, many "Latin" words like assistentia, falsificatio, confessarius, campanula, simultaneus, secundogenitus, respective, pungitivus, etc., however they are not attested in the Classical texts.
  5. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Esperanto, you just have to memorize a small number of roots (about 1000!!!)...I think that's the real language for you... ;)
  6. arielipi Senior Member


    No, hebrew is dense in words meanings, but not in number of words in total; also it does have a large amount of irregulars.
  7. Tamar

    Tamar Senior Member

    Israel, Hebrew
    I agree with arielipi, Hebrew has many irregulars.
    Also, when it comes to learning, the writing is very difficult to learn.
    The grammar and writing are not so easy, so I think it makes up for the vocabulary.
    I think that pronunciation though is quite easy if you're a Dutch speaker :)
    Btw, A flemish guy once told me: "if you can speak your language, you can speak any language..." :D

    I don't know if Turkish has a small or big vocabulary, but reading is easy since it's written in Latin characters and is quite phonetic, as you already know....
    I did noticed that the word order is different than it is in Dutch (and Hebrew) (The subject does not always come in the beginning of the sentence etc.)

    I think grammar and pronunciation are also important criteria.
  8. DenisBiH

    DenisBiH Senior Member

    I'd personally like to see more examples of this kind. I think it would be a nice thing to be able to learn two or three (or even one) poorly attested dead languages in a short time. How extensively attested is Sumerian?
  9. Rallino Moderatoúrkos

    In the current Turkish dictionary (TDK), there are around 112,000 words and 616,700 entries.
    I'm not saying this in defense of Turkish or anything, but we can discuss better with physical numbers, rather than speculations of individuals such as your friend.
    I heard the amount of words in the L'Académie française is also about the same. I might be wrong on this, though.

    Your friend might have referred to the fact that we have a lot of technological words from English such as login, online, authentication, guitar stand, violin case etc. (these are not in the dictionary by the way). Many people translate them, on the Internet and such, but in spoken language it feels easier to sometimes just go with the English word. I'm having a hard time remembering the Turkish word for authentication for instance, which is not exactly a technological word but is mainly used in computers, and so I tend to use the English word when I speak sometimes ~ which is sad, I agree. I can also agree that Turkish copes absolutely horribly when it comes to computers. But it's not our topic.
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2013
  10. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    Hi, Roel.I think Scandinavian languages may not haves such a big vocabulary, compared to English at least. However, I think you should really learn the language you love, and not one that has fewer words. It may take you three times as long, and least to learn a language you have no particular interest in, or you may never be able to learn it, in fact. There is no such a thing as an express method of learning languages -- it is all bogus -- some ads like that.I think you need at least three years to learn a language to a reasonable level.
  11. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

  12. Roel~ Member

    Nederlands - Nederland
    This is relative actually, because at the start I didn't like French, but because I thought it was cool to be able to speak to native speakers in their own language I was motived to learn their language although I didn't like it at first and I started to like French after that I could understand it. I think that this is with any language, because I also like to listen to English, French or German, because I can understand these languages. So I think that a language with a small vocabulary could be a language which you aren't motivated for at the start, but once you know it you could really get interest into it. The functionality is a thing too, because I notice how much more of the world I can understand now that I speak French, because I can understand people at tv speaking French now, but also 1/3 of the world population who speak French. This is one of the reasons why I want to learn Arabic in the future too.
  13. Roel~ Member

    Nederlands - Nederland
    Well, if Turkish vocabulary is similary to the French ones, it has relatively few words, because the English vocabulary is very big and this makes English a language which is quite hard to learn to master at a good level. Actually I didn't start long ago with Turkish and although the grammar is very different I can already understand small texts because certain words are very prevalent.
  14. Saluton Banned

    Moscow, Russia
    As far as I know, Chinese is very polysemic: every hieroglyph has many meanings, so the number of lexemes should be limited. That doesn't mean it'll be the easiest to learn, though. In fact it's quite the opposite :)
  15. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Many words in Chinese are formed combining more than one ideogram. Some words are formed with the phonetic transcription of foreign words, and thus the ideograms used for it don't carry their meaning.
    Some people includes acronyms of English letters as Chinese words, such as GDP, SARS, WTO, etc.

    Among constructed languages: Basic English and Toki Pona.

    I guess many dialects or regional languages, especially those without a literary tradition and are not used as education medium, have fewer vocabulary.
    When I talk about "higher" subjects in my native language (Qingtian dialect) I have to borrow many Mandarin words, and if the audiences understands it, Italian words.
  16. dense-swagger New Member

    Arabic- Lebanese Levantine & formal
    I would say C++ fits your question the most.
  17. bearded man

    bearded man Senior Member

    I completely agree with Saluton. The fewer words a language possesses, the larger is the number of meanings for each word. Therefore the memory effort, in order to learn the language, is bigger than with a 'richer' language.
  18. Okamidog Member

    English-United States
    Are there any phonetic elements to Chinese characters (like hirigana in Japanese) or is Chinese all about memorizing characters?
  19. GranMaestro

    GranMaestro Member

    English - United States
    Chinese has multiple systems of romanization for written characters, the official and most popular being Pinyin. That is the only phonetic aspect to it, and therefore you can not learn the characters by memorization other than certain "building block" smaller characters that are found in many other characters that hints at a certain meaning. Even with this it has nothing to do with the pronunciation of the character itself.
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2014
  20. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Even when adapting phonetics loans, Chinese characters (hanzi) are used, according to how these characters are pronounced.
  21. Okamidog Member

    English-United States
    What about Malay? Doesnt that also have very few words? I remember reading that somewhere.
  22. AutumnOwl

    AutumnOwl Senior Member

    Swedish - Sweden, Finnish
    The Swedish Academy dictionary, SAOL, have about 125 000 words, compared to the Oxford English dictionary with 600 000 words. Not all Swedish words are in the SAOL, and Swedish is one of the languages where you can make/create compound words, so the number of words in SAOL doesn't really say anything. Take for example trattkantarellsopptallrikshög :D That word will never end up in SAOL.

Share This Page