How many words does the English language have? |

How many words does the English language have?

Trying to square the circle - counting English vocabulary items

The English language in its totality can undoubtedly be considered to be the ultimate language of global communication, while at the same time it fulfils perfectly its equally essential purpose, that of cognitive function. Understanding and learning this particular language comes so naturally due to the fact that its structure is extremely logical. As a consequence, communicative effectiveness and mutual intelligibility are based on how well words are organised in meaningful syntax, which controls the flow of information.

The English Language is strikingly different, apart from having a more complicated spelling. It has often been claimed that, in regard to its size, it is overwhelmingly bigger than many other languages. Those who count words mention numbers ranging from anywhere between 130,000 to well above 1,000,000 words, depending on whether its lexical stock should consider the huge variety of homographs as different vocabulary items. For example, should the verb "shape" and its corresponding noun form "shape" be counted only once or separately? The same could be said for a sheer endless list of verb-noun pairs, such as "weather/weather", "gain/gain", "offer/offer", "desire/desire", etc.

And what about the many open compound words like "home page", "life jacket" or "child care"? Are they to be counted as one or two words? And do we have to count all obsolete vocabulary items? Why should anyone get into the trouble of counting the ever changing vocabulary system of modern English, that is limitlessly taking up elements from other languages or coining new expressions in order to serve its purpose even more effectively? After all, the assimilation of foreign words is an integral process as part of the natural growth of English, one of the liveliest and most dynamic languages there are.

In the course of its historical development, the English language, by origin a Germanic language, has repeatedly shown its great capacity to expand. In the past, many foreign influences affected it, such as the Norman conquest in 1066, which injected a superimposition of French and Latin. This, in turn, led to the formation of double vocabulary items for one meaning in English. For example, words such as "wedding/marriage", "wish/desire", "harbour/port", "begin/commence" or "holiday/vacation", reveal exactly this development, which has never actually ceased.

Another aspect that constitutes an additional factor in the analysis of the lexical structure of the language is the extremely simple inflectional system. Except for the simplification of the grammatical structure, the great flexibility of English words within a sentence is an additional phenomenon, as they may be put to a variety of uses within a context, The accelerating advances in science and innovations in the field of technology impose an incessant need for the creation of whole new vocabulary structures. So whether or not to count words is obviously a matter of challenging the unfeasible. However, a language that is in the position to constantly reinvent itself so swiftly within an ever changing linguistic framework is indeed a very practical and adaptable one, a precise, smart, trendy and logical language, well liked for its capability to function with great vitality as the unique instrument of international communication.

Published: 03 May 2017