Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login

We Have a New Site!

With the help of your donations we have been making good progress on designing and launching our new website! Check it out at https://new.linguistlist.org/!
***We are still in our beta stages for the new site--if you have any feedback, be sure to let us know at webdevlinguistlist.org***

Ask a linguist - Message details


Subject: The vocabulary of 14-year-olds
Question:
From: Frank Horstman

On February 14, Time magazine (p. 25) reported the following
statistics:
''25,000 Number of words in the vocabulary of the average 14-year-old in
the U.S. in 1950''
''10,000 Number of words in the vocabulary of the average 14-year-old in
the U.S. in 1999''
I would like to know the following:
1. Are these statistics statistics?
2. Were the data collected and analyzed in a systematic way?
3. If the statistics are valid, what should educators make of this
phenomenon?
Thank you!




Reply:
>From: Frank Horstman
>
>On February 14, Time magazine (p. 25) reported the following
>statistics:
>"25,000 Number of words in the vocabulary of the average 14-year-old in
>the U.S. in 1950"
>"10,000 Number of words in the vocabulary of the average 14-year-old in
>the U.S. in 1999"
>I would like to know the following:
>1. Are these statistics statistics?
>2. Were the data collected and analyzed in a systematic way?
>3. If the statistics are valid, what should educators make of this
> phenomenon?

Dear Frank:
Well, since there are lots of ways to count how many words
someone has in their vocabulary, giving differences up to an order of
magnitude (ie, 10 times), I would doubt these statistics unless, as
you imply, they were gotten by exactly the same way of counting, and
on populations in all ways equivalent. Also, since the figure of
10,000 is well below what I would consider a minimum total vocabulary
for anyone, including poorly educated people, I would be very dubious
about these 'statistics'. In any case, at least the latter figure is
no doubt arrived at without taking slang words and the like into
account. Never mind the fact that the frequency of 'like' has jumped
in teenagers' language by a significant amount; they still know lots
of other words: They may use them less, and in fact have a somewhat
smaller total vocabulary, but I would have to have such a large
difference proven to me before I would believe it.
If someone can show me I'm wrong or misguided, go get 'em!
As far as your last question, if it does turn out that these
figures are anything near a reflection of the respective realities of
the two periods, it would indicate a severe drop in the average amount
of reading that the kids are doing, with obvious implications for
educators (though not necessarily indicating easy solutions).
Jim

James L. Fidelholtz e-mail: [email protected]
Posgrado en Ciencias del Lenguaje tel.: +(52-2)229-5500 x5705
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades fax: +(01-2) 229-5681
Beneme'rita Universidad Auto'noma de Puebla, ME'XICO





Reply From: James L. Fidelholtz     click here to access email
Date: Apr-10-2000

Back to Recent Message