How many words do we really use?

The lead in to this story caused quite a stir at circle today.  How many common words do you think the average American has in his working vocabulary?  Are you an abecedarian?

The Globe and Mail, a Canadian paper, issued an article back in 2007 with different numbers but the same sentiment.

“If Little Princess is an average child, she’ll know 6,000 root-word meanings by the end of Grade 2. That’s okay, but nothing special: At that point, the top 25 per cent of children already know twice as many words as the lowest 25 per cent, and the gap grows exponentially. Roughly 35,000 more words get stuffed into Little Princess’s average head by the time she leaves high school.

But by then the foundation of her so-called mind has hardened. Limited by early lexical laxity, the average North American adult knows only 30,000 to 60,000 words, out of a potential “working vocabulary” of 700,000. If only Little Princess had learned more words earlier! If only you were a better parent!”



Filed under English Language, Writing

2 responses to “How many words do we really use?

  1. I have been reading my 4 and 6 year old boys the complete collected Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit, etc.,). The level of vocabulary is shocking! It really is night and day from modern children’s stories. It is exacerbated by being in “English English” rather than “American English” of course. I knew about this “working vocabulary” issue and have resisted the temptation to translate all the sentences into simpler English. The rich vocabulary is part of why I chose it. I think parents tend to do that, think the vocab is too tricky and simplify it into that “3000” word base he refers to. I laughed pretty hard the other day because I heard my oldest say “Presently, my brother upended the jam.”

  2. EV

    As always, it comes back to expectations. I believe that my parent’s insistence on reading King James Version lit and NPR are responsible for my vocabulary.

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