Thursday, 16 July 2015

Which language has the most words?

Comparing the number of words used in different languages is difficult - particularly if you include non-alphabetic languages (Chinese, for example).
We can, however, use dictionary size when it comes to the principal European languages.

And the winner is?

The Oxford English Dictionary is by far the largest dictionary. It has 23 volumes and defines 615,100 words.

❏ A similar German dictionary offers around 180,000 words. 
❏ A Russian language dictionary has around 160,000 words 
❏ A French edition has less than 150,000 words. 

However there is another problems in making this comparison ….

What is a word?

One issue is how what we define as a word. For example, the OED
distinguishes 430 senses for the verb set. Should we consider each of these as a separate word? 

Linguists make the distinction between words and lexemes. The lexeme ‘run’, for example, includes all its forms: run, running, ran etc.

And what about numbers? If you count to a million, do you have a
million words?

Are all the words in OED in common use?

41,700 OED words are obsolete. This means that you are very unlikely to use them in a standard conversation or piece of writing.

240 are ghost words. A ghost word has never existed outside dictionaries.

An version of this post with comprehension questions is included in the English FAQ Teaching Pack  Download for only £1.99

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