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Subject: Compiling/computing known lexicons by age/education
Question: One of my acquaintances has a PhD in Linguistics; however, he's not available to answer my questions at this time. How do linguists (and others?) find out how many words different groups (distinguished by age and education) know? Thank you! Sincerely and respectfully, Dave Tozier
Reply: This is not a standard problem to which there is a snap cut-and-dried answer, as you perhaps hoped! Various techniques could be used. For instance, one could take a random sample of the entries in a large, comprehensive dictionary and check how many of them could be given reasonable rough definitions by your subjects; then multiply up from the size of the sample to the size of the whole dictionary. That depends, obviously, on subjects being willing to engage in the experiment, and being old enough and bright enough to understand what they are being asked to do – it might not work with small children. Or you could look at their actual usage in a sample of their speech and/or of their writing; given data on frequencies of various words actually observed, there are statistical techniques which allow one to estimate the number of other words which might have been observed but weren't. (A web page of mine,, is one way into this.) And no doubt yet other approaches might be tried. Geoffrey Sampson
Reply From: Geoffrey Richard Sampson      click here to access email
Date: 11-Jan-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Compiling/computing known lexicons by age/education    Madalena Cruz-Ferreira     (11-Jan-2013)
  2. Re: Compiling/computing known lexicons by age/education    Nancy J. Frishberg     (11-Jan-2013)

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