Web 2.0 crowned one millionth English word

  • miguel89

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    It can probably count up to a million words, given that it is the language used by the whole world. Now, I don't know if we should grant this fact more importance than it deserves as a mere reflection of the historical circumstances in which we live. The English speaker should be no more proud of this than sad the speaker of the language with a hundred thousand words, half of which were last uttered two hundred years ago.
     

    Athaulf

    Senior Member
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    To cut the story short, this whole "millionth word" business is a complete fraud. Language Log has had a series of postings about it. This one probably gives the best expose:
    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=972


    I'm a physics major student and I'm curious what sort of math formula the Global Language Monitor does use.
    Making them up out of whole cloth, evidently. Be sure to look at the graph on the above page if you have any doubts.
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Hi,
    Does English really contain more words than any other language in the world?
    I think English has the most lexicographers... :D

    By the way, I don't know why the amount of words was scaled down from the previously claimed one billion to a meagre one millon... (Maybe it's Thee Crisis...).
    Anyway, this kind of nonsense, which is regularly aired by the general press without any critical considerations, needs to be filed under the same category as:
    - "Inuit has (20/100/200/pick any number larger than the number of the latest claim) words for snow" and
    - "Chinese has (multiply 10.000 at random) characters".

    These and similar language myths seem to suggest that linguistics is all a mater of having the biggest, the largest, the most... Sadly, these myths tend to persist and need to be debunked every month or so on almost every general language board I know.

    Groetjes,

    Frank
     
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    Schrodinger's_Cat

    Senior Member
    American English
    Frank, Athaulf and miguel, thank you for the clarifications.

    Hi,

    I think English has the most lexicographers... :D
    That could be true!

    These and similar language myths seem to suggest that linguistics is all a mater of having the biggest, the largest, the most...
    Sorry for my ignorance, but don't linguistics analyze and track trends in language usage worldwide?

    The math formula is bizarre!

    English does indeed have lots of words ... probably more than any other tongue. True or false? I'm asking you, because I don't know, and I'm not a language expert. I'm only interested in the significance of this.

    What does it prove? Does it prove that the English language is evolving much faster than any other language?
    First of all, who is the "Global Language Monitor"? Is it a legitimate "monitor"? who gave them the authority?
     
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    watercanyon

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    Really it's all a trend started by McDonald's Hamburgers. When I was a kid, they put up a sign under their double arches announcing they (as a chain) had sold a million hamburgers. Then everyone watched to see when each subsequent million was sold. Then they went to billions, and sometime thereafter the trend and interest trickled off...
     

    Athaulf

    Senior Member
    Croatian/Bosnia, Croatia
    English does indeed have lots of words ... probably more than any other tongue. True or false?
    The problem is that "the number of words in a language" is not a well-defined quantity. "Word" is obviously a useful concept for many purposes, but when it comes to precise counting of words, it turns out to be hopelessly vague. I recommend the essay "What is a Word?" by the late renowned linguist Larry Trask:
    http://www.sussex.ac.uk/linguistics/documents/essay_-_what_is_a_word.pdf

    Obviously, English is the predominant language of science, technology, commerce, and popular culture nowadays, so it would likely come ahead of others by some reasonable measures of vocabulary creation and accumulation. However, the exact number of words in a language is not a meaningful question, and the claims peddled by this "Language Monitor" are complete tripe.

    What does it prove? Does it prove that the English language is evolving much faster than any other language?
    First of all, who is the "Global Language Monitor"? Is it a legitimate "monitor"? who gave them the authority?
    It's just someone who realized that sensationalist stories about language are often trumpeted by the media with enthusiasm regardless of their truth or scientific merits (you can find many examples discussed in the archives of this forum), and figured out a way to contrive one such story that will generate lots of publicity. Of course, in today's world, publicity is easily converted into cash (he's already got a book deal).

    There was another post about this topic on Language Log about this the other day:
    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1497


    This blog, by the way, is written by some of the most preeminent linguists in the English-speaking world, so it represents the expert opinion on the subject.
     

    ireney

    Modistra
    Greek Greece Mod of Greek, CC and CD
    I for example know of a claim that Greek is the richest language in the world. Can't remember if we've discussed it here and I don't seem able to find an article on the matter in English but I'm positive I remember correctly (from some Greek articles) what trick they use in this case: They count the cases of each word as separate words. So since modern Greek has 4 cases, that's 8 words total count for a single word (singular and plural). I don't remember if they do extra tricks (like counting ancient Greek words which are obsolete by now or counting both the ancient Greek forms and their modern Greek ones (like ανήρ/άνδρας) plus, maybe, the in-between stages of a word or throw in the now obsolete Dative etc) but you see how a simple trick can multiply the number of words in a language. True, they can't use this one in English, but there are plenty around.
    I am not saying that English is not the richest language around. It could very well be. I'm just saying that the exact number of words is a bit tricky to pinpoint and, for me, a moot point. As long as a language has the means for its speakers to communicate all they feel the need to communicate to each other that language is as rich as it needs be. And as far as I know, whenever languages (well, their speakers) find themselves short of a word or two, they unabashedly borrow from each other :D Since, again, as far as I know, no language has asked for its word back if you please you had it for ages and instead just pays the other language back with the same coin, both languages become as rich as they need till they next term is needed in which case they either coin a new word altogether, go and rummage through the attic for bits and pieces they can use in coining a new word or just go and borrow from a third language.
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    It's a pattern. When Paul JJ Payack has been absent from headlines for a couple of months, he regularily announces the millionth word in English.

    I second Athaulf's Languagelog link. There's as hinted at much more in their archives on PJJP.

    On a more serious angle (I hope), defining a "word" is a beast. In most European languages, we have a rather intuitive feeling for what might earn that label. Any count of English words will easily be dwarved by the possibility in languages like German or Swedish to make compounds on the fly. An Italian camisa nera or English black shirt will make no new words. Swedish svartskjorta was a new word in those days, and could easily spawn dozens of new words through [colour+'shirt']. And it did; 'brunskjorta' "brown shirt" for the Nazi variety, and if orange shirts become a fashion in Anglophone countries, you still won't create new words for "orange shirts", but we would happily increase our count with "orangeskjorta". Or French "virage en épingle à cheveux", English "hairpin bend", no new words, Swedish "hårnålskurva" +1!!!

    Those are the easy aspects to define and research. Now try Chinese.

    The concept "word" didn't even exist in China until Chinese linguists in the rather early 1900's began interacting with "Western" linguists.

    Written Chinese has no word separators like our spaces. Youoftenencountermonsterstringsofcharcterssowheredoyousegmentthem? Abstracting, in a sequence of four characters 'ABCD', should you deal with it as four "words", or the "words" A and BCD, etc.? (In most cases, your best bet will be one word AB and one CD.) At my humble level, segmenting sentences to find the most probable words sorry dictionary entries is the major pain.

    I'm so embarrassed by the painful fact that (at least) the three leading Swedish morning papers swallowed the "million" hoax.
     

    ericmonteux

    Member
    french
    English have tendency to accumulate vocabulary even a large fraction are not or hardly used.
    French for exemple have a different strategy : French academy elimate regularly since 3 centuries the obsoletes' words or for others reasons. It's why French could seem poor by the number of his word (120 000)
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    English have tendency to accumulate vocabulary even a large fraction are not or hardly used.
    As any other lexicon of any other language.
    I really start to wonder about your ongoing grudge against anything English.
    French for exemple have a different strategy : French academy elimate regularly since 3 centuries the obsoletes' words or for others reasons.
    So what? I can't imagine that a centralised instance is able to dictate which words belong or do not belong to the lexicon of a language, no matter what they think themselves. It's not up to a Jacobin instance to declare which word belongs to the vocabulary or not. Mind you, making an list of 'official French words' is not the same as describing the actual lexicon of a langage.
    It's why French could seem poor by the number of his word (120 000)
    None of the figures quoted so far (one million, one billion, 120,000) make any sense without an attempt to define 'word', as pointed out by Lugubert and Athaulf.
    Any conclusion based upon this kind of figures is an exercise in futility. Equally futile is deriving from all this that French "could seem poor" or English "rich".

    Frank
     

    ericmonteux

    Member
    french
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    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    ericmonteux said:
    I 'm just explained something
    Yes, you have just been explained something. You have been explained that, when talking about the lexicon of a language and in your particular case, French, it doesn't matter what the French Academy does or says.
    English have tendency to accumulate vocabulary even a large fraction are not or hardly used. French for exemple have a different strategy : French academy elimate regularly since 3 centuries the obsoletes' words or for others reasons.
    This is a false comparison. Well, it's not even a comparison and it has hardly anything to do with what this tread is about.
    You mistake the output of the French Academy for the French lexicon.
    Academies don't delete obsolete words from the lexicon, academies don't regulate the lexicon of a language. At best, they regulate the lexicon of their limited, official version of the language. I hope you spot the difference.

    Frank
     
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    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    English have tendency to accumulate vocabulary even a large fraction are not or hardly used.
    French for exemple have a different strategy : French academy elimate regularly since 3 centuries the obsoletes' words or for others reasons. It's why French could seem poor by the number of his word (120 000)
    Toutes les langues sont évidemment différentes cependant, peu importe la langue, le nombre de mots existants est quasiment impossible à vérifier. L'Académie française ne contrôle pas le français. Elle impose un "standard officiel", c'est tout. La langue française est heureusement beaucoup plus riche et variée que celle de l'Académie.
     
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    ericmonteux

    Member
    french
    Je suis parfaitement d'accord l'académie français ne contrôle pas la langue français car c'est impossible. Néanmoins elle tente de limiter l'adoption de mots anglais. Par exemple, elle a imposé le mot courriel pour remplacer le e-mail utilisé par tous. Je doute du succés. Autre exemple, l'angliscisme walkman a pratiquement disparu et a été remplaçé par le mot plus joli de baladeur.
    Cette politique est assez discutable car tous les anglicismes ne dénaturent pas la langue française, loin de là ! qui fait encore attention aux mots : partenaire, challenge et budget qui sont des beaux "retour à l'envoyeur".
    Dans mon post plus haut je ne voulait pas dire que l'anglais est plus riche et le français plus pauvre. Je disais que le français semble plus pauvre car les dictionnaires retirent régulièrement les mots considérés comme obsolétes ou peu fréquents. De plus, les mots catalogués comme vulgaires ou trop provinciaux n'y rentrent pas.
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Je suis parfaitement d'accord l'académie français ne contrôle pas la langue français car c'est impossible ...
    Merci pour votre explication en français. C'est plus clair maintenant. Il me semble que notres opinions ne sont pas tellement différentes.

    Frank
     
    Anyone who has lived with a human being who has no word-based language will understand that richness of expression does not equate in any way to number of words. Linguists with mother-tongue English will frequently use expressions from other languages which fill a gap in the English lexicon. Frequently these words or expressions are co-opted by English speakers and eventually appear in a standard dictionary. Proving what? That English is a creole, or a magpie. Nothing more. There can be no 'better/worse', 'richer/poorer' when talking about languages, of that we can be sure.
     

    Meyer Wolfsheim

    Senior Member
    English
    I know this is a late response but this is an interesting topic. The trouble is, as everyone has pointed out, how exactly does one define a word? If languages like German and to an extent English can use compound words to form new ones on demand, then they have a potential for limitless words, because then the new compound words could be compounded together to make new ones, etc. (recursion).

    What I think should constitute a word is the lemma form/root uninflected/uncompounded but obviously this will favor more analytical languages in terms of 'word' count.

    ex:
    be=1 word, including all of its derived forms (am, is, are, etc.)

    run=1 word, including all of its derived forms (so the noun 'a run' would not count as a word because it is derived from the root 'run')

    (the derived forms would not count towards word count).

    But until a 'word' is defined, this question cannot be answered and I see no value in whether a language has ten thousand words or one billion; 'word count' might be an indicator of the nature of the language (analytic vs synthetic), but beyond that scope this matter appears trivial to me.
     
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