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Iversen’s Multiconfused Log (see p.1!)

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montmorency
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 Message 3673 of 3959
19 August 2014 at 1:53am | IP Logged 
Josquin wrote:
montmorency wrote:
It's hard to believe there even were 100,000 words in the English
language at that time,
given that printing had only been around for 100-150 years.

What does the one have to do with the other? You underestimate the power of oral tradition.


Perhaps.

But it is said that the invention of printing tended to lead to more standardisation, and this led to
increases in vocabulary.

And it just seems very reasonable to me, to suppose that the advent of printed books would lead to more and
more people being exposed to more and more words, and there would be a natural multiplier effect.

And how do people nowadays increase their vocabulary? Well, one significant way is by reading, and up until
recently, most of the things they read were printed.

When books were produced by hand, there was an obvious limitation on their number and how many people would
have access to them.

And we can only really have any confidence in estimating the total vocabulary by consulting surviving written
records. We can make guesses as to the influence of the oral tradition, but it can't really be proved.

I suppose that those communities that have survived into the 21st century without developing a written
tradition may be looked to, in order to give us clues about how our own language developed. I know such
communities can often have quite complex grammars, but do they also have large vocabularies? Is there any
research to show, either way?


Be that as it may, according to this paper:
link
Shakespeare was writing at a time when the growth in the English language was happening at a pace that had
never been seen before, and has not been matched since.

Now it didn't surprise me that it was growing faster than ever before, but I'd assumed it would have carried
on growing even faster later on, due to advances in communication technology. But maybe not.


Well, although we can never know the size of Shakepeasre's passive vocabulary, it is theoretically possible to
measure the size of the total written vocabulary of English during his lifetime, by analysing all the known
published books in existence up to that time. and maybe this has actually been done.



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montmorency
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 Message 3674 of 3959
19 August 2014 at 2:08am | IP Logged 
OK, further on in that paper, pages 55-56, there is a statement that contradicts my doubt
about English having 100,000 words in Shakepeare's day. It mentions David Crystal's
supposition that English had 150,000 lemmas in those days, and estimates that Shakespeare
knew 40,000 of them, or over a quarter.



Edited by montmorency on 19 August 2014 at 2:09am

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fiolmattias
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 Message 3675 of 3959
19 August 2014 at 6:04am | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
...Shakespeare may not have been as linguistically challenged as it
seems, because "across his entire corpus, he uses 28,829 words, suggesting he knew over
100,000 words and arguably had the largest vocabulary ever."


Svenska Akademien (fairly serious bounch) writes (in Swedish) that "Shakespeare använder
sig av knappt 29 000 ord medan Strindbergs språkomfång är drygt 119 000 ord"
(Shakespeare ca 29 000, Strindberg 119 000 words)

There must be other writers with larger written vocabulary than Shakespeare. Heck,
Dostojevskij uses more than 29 000 names in some of his books... :)
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Iversen
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 Message 3676 of 3959
19 August 2014 at 1:57pm | IP Logged 
I don't know what the people behind these numbers have counted (word forms, headwords or word families), but if Strindberg used four times as many different lexical items as Shakespeare I wouldn't be able to read his works - or at least I would be in big trouble. There are even words in my Swedish dictionaries which I don't know, and the Gyldendal Swedish-Danish is supposed to contain 50.000 words and compounds. If Strindberg had used 2½ times as many different words as this dictionary even the average Swede wouldn't be able to read his stuff - and it is not even my impression that it is particularly hard to read.

The 129.000 items must be word forms plus proper names plus every thing else you conceivably could count, including Strindbergs shoe number and the names of his neighbours. And I would also like to know how somebody found 29.000 different names in one novel by Dostojevskij. Would any non-savant reader even be able to follow the plot under those circumstances? Is there a list somewhere?.. it would be the size of the telephone book for a midsized provincial town!

Edited by Iversen on 25 October 2014 at 7:10pm

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Zireael
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 Message 3677 of 3959
19 August 2014 at 2:44pm | IP Logged 
Quote:
Svenska Akademien (fairly serious bounch) writes (in Swedish) that "Shakespeare använder
sig av knappt 29 000 ord medan Strindbergs språkomfång är drygt 119 000 ord"
(Shakespeare ca 29 000, Strindberg 119 000 words)


I think Svenska Akademien fell into a fairly common trap - counting individual word forms instead of lexemes. Swedish does A LOT of inflection and English doesn't (if we discount Saxon Genitive and 3rd person sg 's').

If every word form is counted, then indeed Strindgberg wins, but I don't think this is what should be counted.

Another thing I just thought of would be slang/dialect words. Maybe Strindgberg uses a lot of them?

Edited by Zireael on 19 August 2014 at 2:45pm

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Josquin
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 Message 3678 of 3959
19 August 2014 at 4:04pm | IP Logged 
montmorency wrote:
But it is said that the invention of printing tended to lead to more standardisation, and this led to increases in vocabulary.

And it just seems very reasonable to me, to suppose that the advent of printed books would lead to more and more people being exposed to more and more words, and there would be a natural multiplier effect.

And how do people nowadays increase their vocabulary? Well, one significant way is by reading, and up until recently, most of the things they read were printed.

When books were produced by hand, there was an obvious limitation on their number and how many people would have access to them.

And we can only really have any confidence in estimating the total vocabulary by consulting surviving written records. We can make guesses as to the influence of the oral tradition, but it can't really be proved.

I suppose that those communities that have survived into the 21st century without developing a written tradition may be looked to, in order to give us clues about how our own language developed. I know such communities can often have quite complex grammars, but do they also have large vocabularies? Is there any research to show, either way?

I fail to see how printing is a way to increase the vocabulary. You mention the standardization of language through printing. Doesn't that per definitionem eliminate non-standard variants of words and reduce vocabulary? I see that effect in my Westphalian home region where dialectal words vanish and are only used by elderly people today.

Of course, you could argue printing allows for better education, so more people learn more words, but that doesn't increase the total number of words existing in a language. It doesn't matter if a word was known to one poet or a million peasants, it still existed.

In ye olden days, people used to tell stories and invent fairy tales, which have only later been written down. You'd be surprised by the elaborate vocabulary. Have you ever dealt with Icelandic sagas, Irish epic poems, or Homer? You can say many things about Homer but certainly not that his vocabulary was very limited.

On the contrary, at that time people had lots of specialized vocabulary for items we don't even know any more. I'm always amazed by how many words I learn from going to the museum and looking at archeological exhibits. My favourite word I learned that way is "Kuttrolf", a special kind of carafe which dispenses the liquid in small drops.

That leads me to the next point, which is that vocabulary depends on the culture people live in. Amazonian tribes have a small vocabulary because they live in a simple environment, which is fundamentally different from today's digital society. The medieval culture of the 15th century when printing was invented, however, was a long shot from being primitive.

Summarizing my thoughts, I would like to point out that although printing might have favoured the standardization of languages and the spread of poetic or scientific vocabulary, that doesn't automatically mean the vocabulary of a language was increased through printing. Last but not least, we should ask ourselves how many people had an access to education and books at that time. Answer: very few!

Oral tradition was still strong in European societies until the 19th century when compulsory schooling was invented and it endured until the middle of the 20th century. However, that does not mean all "uneducated" people had a restricted vocabulary, they just had a different vocabulary from the scientific and literary elite.

Today we have more access to education, texts, and other cultural products than ever before. Does that mean our active vocabulary is multiplying itself? Does it mean more languages develop? No, on the contrary! People don't understand 19th century novels any more, because the vocabulary is way over their head. Words and languages die. Linguistic diversity was a feature of traditional societies, which depended much more on the spoken word than we do today.

Edited by Josquin on 19 August 2014 at 5:32pm

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Iversen
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 Message 3679 of 3959
20 August 2014 at 2:23am | IP Logged 
Let me confuse the discussion a bit by pointing out that the rap artists in the study I linked to earlier actually use a lot of homemade or slangy words, and that writing presumably isn't particular central to their culture. I don't know whether they even write down their fabulations before they start rapping.
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montmorency
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 Message 3680 of 3959
20 August 2014 at 4:56pm | IP Logged 
@Josquin:

Lots of good points there which I won't argue with, well not much :-) except to say
that my point about printing leading to standardisation leading to vocabulary growth
was supported by the Wikipedia article (yes, I know it's hardly infallible) on William
Caxton , who as well as introducing printing to England, translated and published a lot
of books of foreign origin, and thus probably directly introduced a lot of new words
into the language. (His translation skills weren't the best apparently, but that didn't
stop him..).

Quote:

Caxton is credited with standardising the English language (that is, homogenising
regional dialects) through printing. This facilitated the expansion of English
vocabulary, the regularisation of inflection and syntax, and a widening gap between the
spoken and the written word. However, Richard Pynson, who started printing in London in
1491 or 1492, and who favoured Chancery Standard, was a more accomplished stylist and
consequently pushed the English language further toward standardisation.[9]
It is asserted that the spelling of "ghost" with the silent letter h was adopted by
Caxton due to the influence of Flemish spelling habits.[10]


And while words fall out of active use, they are still technically part of the corpus
of the language, and will be still understood by at least some people. I don't have any
trouble reading Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, even if I wouldn't dream of speaking or
writing like like them. Others may not bother because they don't find them interesting
or relevant or because they are having too much fun on their iphones...only a slightly
tongue in cheek comment since , most people I see in public spaces are glued to their
phone, and I suspect do most of their reading on social media rather than e-books (or
real books). Maybe the e-book won't kill the real book, but the iphone might.




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