Monday, April 10, 2006

Number of Words in the English Language

Which fits this painting the best?

One of the EQ competencies is emotional expression -- being able to say in words how you are feeling. One of things we use words for is to get what we want. We use words to persuade, influence, motivate, manipulate, and negotiate. If we did not have words, we would have to use tooth and claw.


The Global Language Monitor keeps track of some interesting things about language. Here are some thoughts on the English language from Paul JJ Payack. President, Global Language Monitor. They've been attempting to count the words in the English language. Now, I must confess that's a question I've never asked, but to each his or her own.

We do, of course, like to measure things, even when difficult. Here are some of the counts that we know:

--There are 7,000 human languages and dialects, (6,912 to be precise);

--About 50,000 ideograms in the various Chinese dialects (though countless more words);

--About 100,000,000,000 stars in the Milky Way galaxy, (and some 100,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe);

--Over 35,500,000 residents of California;

--And then there are 10 raised to the power of 72 atomic particles in the universe; that is, precisely: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atomic particles;

--There are fewer than 100,000 words in the French language; [that's amazing ... I woner why)

--There are some some 6.5 billion folks on the planet; (and about 20 billion that have ever walked upon the Earth);

--Fewer than 20,000 different words in the Bible, (actually, 12,143 in the English, 783,137 total in the King James Version, 8,674 in the Hebrew Old Testament, and 5,624 in the Greek New Testament);

--24,000 differing words to be found in the complete works of Shakespeare, about 1,700 of which he invented.

"The central idea of writing is, of course, the idea," says Payack. "Ideas by their very nature are wispy sorts of things. This being so, you can't grab an idea and do with it what you will. Rather the best for which one can hope is to encapsulate the idea and preserve it for time immemorial in some sort of ethereal amber. We call this amber, language; the basic building block of which is, of course, the word. (We are speaking now as poets and not as linguists.)

"As such, writers of English have the good fortune of having hundreds of thousands of words from which to choose. When you think of it, the English language writer always has at least three words for any idea, each rooted in the Latin, the Germanic or Saxon tongues, and the Greek."

I think of "good-hearted" v. "magnanimous." It sounds so much better to say "He was magnanimous."

For places of human habitation we have city, town, metropolis.

We have words from many different languages, happily snapping up what words from wherever. The Malays gave us ketchup. We have appropriated from the Algonquin, Hebrew, Maori, and Zulu and Hmong among a multitude of others.

Then there's jargon -- the specialized patois used in fields. Internet words, for instance, which are evolving and being invented rapidly.

Now, how about this:

"[N]eurologists estimate that there are some 10 billion neurons in a typical human brain... Each of these neurons can theoretically interconnect with all the rest. This being so, the number of interconnects within a single human brain is greater than the entire number of atomic particles in the universe. If you equate these interconnects to ideas, or even thoughts, the number of potential words needed to express them is, indeed, staggering on the order of billions of trillions."

Finally he tells us how many there are. As of 21 March 2006, 988,968 words in the English Language, plus or minus a handful.

Do we need that many? Does it help to have such a choice? I think so, if you've ever watched someone with poor ability with words trying to express something meaningful and/or difficult. We all have to learn words at some point, and before that time there is frustration -- the frustration of a 2 year old pointing, grunting, screaming, hitting, turning or running away, pushing, biting ... because that's the only way to manipulate your world (or to attempt to), when you cannot use words.

One of life's great events is the acquisition of what may be the most powerful word in our language: NO. With this word a baby can begin to control his world. It's a magnificent moment, and not surprising that it is used over and over again. It stops the mom from putting beets in his mouth, can curtail a nap, end a trip to the grocery store, keep a sister from absconding with a toy, prevent having to wear that jacket with the hood, limit the number of hugs from Aunt Betty ... all sorts of wonerful things.

That's just one word. You have 988,967 others to choose from.

"Choose well among them," writes Payack, in his beautiful English.

Check out the top 10 languages used on the Internet HERE.

Here's an example of what they do --

"The Grade Level Data of Selected Oscar Acceptance Speeches"

Russell Crowe, Gladiator, 2000, Leading Actor, Grade Level: 9.

Tom Hanks, Philadelphia 1993 Actor, Grade Level: 8.9

Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump 1994 Actor, Grade Level: 8.9

Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump 1994 Director, Grade Level: 7.4

Sam Mendes, American Beauty 1999 Directing, Grade Level: 7.3

Emma Thompson, Howard's End 1992 Actress, Grade Level: 7.0

Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas 1992 Actor, Grade Level: 6.5

Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven 1992 Director, Grade Level: 6.4

Holly Hunter, The Piano 1993 Actress, Grade Level: 6.3

Jessica Lange, Blue Sky 1994 Actress, Grade Level: 6.3

Peter Jackson, LOTR 2003 Director, Grade Level: 5.6

Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman 1992 Actor, Grade Level: 5.2

Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking 1995 Actress, Grade Level: 5.1

Mel Gibson, Braveheart 1995 Directing, Grade Level: 5.1

Charlize Theron, Monster 2003 Actress, Grade Level: 4.7

Steven Spielberg, Schindler's List 1993 Director, Grade Level: 4.5

Anthony Minghella, English Patient 1996 Directing, Grade Level: 4.4

Adrien Brody, The Pianist 2002 Actor, Grade Level: 3.9

Halle Berry, Monster's Ball 2001 Actress, Grade Level: 3.4

Nicole Kidman, The Hours 2002 Actress, Grade Level: 3.3

Jamie Foxx, Ray 2004 Actor, Grade Level: 2.

Read the full article HERE. He gives examples from each speech.

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