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English has largest vocabulary?

English is language with largest vocabulary?Which language has the largest vocabulary?

While it may be a pointless question, it's still fun for language geeks to compare languages and argue about something as un-provable as "largest vocabulary".

It is interesting to note that most English sources say that English has the largest vocabulary but this is probably just self-aggrandizing or wishful thinking.

The Johnson blog over at The Economist dealt with this question yesterday. Counting words: The biggest vocabulary? uses the opportunity of Stephen Fry's proclamation

[English] certainly has the largest vocabulary ... by a long, long, long long, way. Rather as China is to the rest of the world in population, English is in the population of its words.
as a starting point for investigation.

After a thoughtful and detailed look at the question, the blog post comes to the obvious conclusion: Who knows?

It is impossible to compare the size of vocabularies in a way that everybody finds fair. But it makes for fun reading and learning about different languages.

Take a read through the Johnson article, and while you're at it, subscribe to the blog - it's terrific.

For more on the English language, take a look at these past articles:

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5 Comments:

  1. Outsourcing Providers Philippines said...
    Interesting and well-written article. This makes perfect sense. English is the closest thing today to a universal language. Upwards of 350 million people speak it as their first language, with many more than that using it as a second language.
    Call Center Outsource said...
    Nice stuff you have here. English will have the largest vocabulary of any language because it is so dialectally diverse and is spoken natively and near-natively by so many people around the planet.

    Jaiden
    amaxson said...
    @Jaiden: Good point! When you consider the different 'dialects' of English spoken throughout the world, it is no doubt an arguable point that English could have the largest vocabulary. However, when I read this post, I didn't think it possible--perhaps what we define as words in the vocabulary would make a difference. Is slang part of our vocabulary?
    Peter Linton said...
    It rather depends on what you mean by "word". See:
    http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/page/howmanywords
    So: English has approx 250,000 different words, plus 50,000 obsolete words, plus lots of derivative words, plus around 2,000,000 technical words.

    Do you include well-known nonsense words, such as Lewis Carroll's
    ’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

    What about James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake?

    Even given that English has a very large number, what about other languages that permit compound nouns, e.g. German, Swedish etc. Allowing for that, such languages have huge numbers of possible words, far more than English.

    Simple question, difficult answer.
    vocabexperts said...
    I would like to contribute that this is really great that English is almost the universal spoken language worldwide.

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