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    #1

    Exclamation Which language has more vocabulary?

    My father was asked an interesting question the other day. Which language has more vocabulary or words, English or Spanish?
    What do you think?
    My view was that when translating from Spanish to English, you end up with a higher word count. My reasoning was also based on the number of phrasal verbs in English. Most of the time a verb in Spanish translates to two or more in English.
    I´m open to any other views.
    Gloria
    English teacher in Mexico

  1. rewboss's Avatar

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    #2

    Re: Which language has more vocabulary?

    It is sometimes said that English has more words than any other language. Nobody knows exactly how many words there are in English -- it's impossible to count them -- but it's around a quarter of a million, although some estimates put it at 1 million. Spanish probably has about 100,000 words, although I haven't been able to find a reliable source.

    One reason English has so many words is that over the centuries it has borrowed many words from all sorts of different languages, but often kept the old ones. Thus there are often two or even three words which mean almost exactly the same thing: "sick" and "ill", for example, or "bold" and "courageous".

    Why do estimates vary? Well, it depends partly on whether you count words like "knackatory", which means "a place for buying knick-knacks" but is not used by anybody today. How old-fashioned does a word have to be before you discount it? And what about dialect (e.g. "bairn" means "child" in some eastern parts of England and Scotland)?

    Whether English really does have the largest vocabulary in the world is another controversy. Languages like German, for example, allow you to form new words simply by sticking two or more words together:

    Autobahn = motorway/freeway
    Anschluss = connection
    Stelle = place
    Autobahnanschlussstelle = motorway junction / freeway intersection

    Such languages have, theoretically at least, an infinite number of different words.

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    #3

    Re: Which language has more vocabulary?

    Hello GSC, welcome to Using English!

    To answer the second part of your question:

    <...My reasoning was also based on the number of phrasal verbs in English. Most of the time a verb in Spanish translates to two or more in English...>

    It's true that many verbs in Spanish can translate to phrasal verbs in English, thus increasing the word count; and naturally the greater use of pronouns in English increases it still further.

    However, one-word equivalents of phrasal verbs are often available in English. The phrasal verbs tend to be Germanic; the one-word equivalents, Latinate.

    Thus "put up with" ("aguantar" or "soportar") can often be replaced by "tolerate". Similarly, you can say "connect" for "put through" (in the telephonic sense, i.e. "poner"); or "convey" for "put across" (i.e. "comunicar").

    (Though it's true that the Latinate forms sometimes relate to a higher register than the phrasal forms, and so may not suit every usage.)

    All the best,

    MrP


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    #4

    Smile Re: Which language has more vocabulary?

    MrP,
    Thank you so much for your reply. I guess it is a bit difficult to actually put into numbers.
    I appreciate you taking the time to answer.
    Gloria


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    #5

    Re: Which language has more vocabulary?

    Dear Rewboss,
    I agree with you to some extent. The Spanish language shares the same dynamics English does when it comes to expressing one word in more ways than one.
    When it comes to technical terms, many words are borrowed from Latin, English, French, Greek, Arabic etc. I cannot give you any real number of words in the Spanish dictionary, but I promise to forward it to you once I do.
    Thank you for sending me your views. It is nice to receive a response to a seemingly uninteresting question.
    Sincerely,
    Gloria

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    #6

    Re: Which language has more vocabulary?

    The reason for the size of the vocabulary in English is not just that it, like Spanish, has borrowed many words, but that, unlike Spanish, it is not a pure language, but a mixture resulting from the mixing of four separate languages, all of which added enormously to the vocabulary. However, this is by and large an academic question as most speakers of both languages only use a tiny fraction of the vocabualry in the dictionaries.

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    #7

    Question Re: Which language has more vocabulary?

    Quote Originally Posted by tdol
    The reason for the size of the vocabulary in English is not just that it, like Spanish, has borrowed many words, but that, unlike Spanish, it is not a pure language, but a mixture resulting from the mixing of four separate languages, all of which added enormously to the vocabulary.
    Which languages did you have in mind?

    Nyggus

  2. rewboss's Avatar

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    #8

    Re: Which language has more vocabulary?

    The original inhabitants of Britain spoke various Celtic languages (and some still do: Welsh is very much alive, Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic are still spoken by many, and there have been some attempts to revive Kernewek, a language related to Welsh and spoken in Cornwall). There came from Europe the Anglo-Saxons, speaking Germanic languages which also gave rise to German and Dutch (the further north you travel in Germany and the Netherlands, the more the local dialects resemble English -- and if you want to study Old English, it helps to study the dialects of the West Fresian islands).

    Britain was also invaded by the Vikings from Scandinavia, and you'll find many words of Scandanavian origin in English, especially in the east of England and Scotland). We also had the Normans, speaking a language that was also the ancestor of French -- ironically, the Normans originally came from Scandinavia.

    It's worth noting that while most English speakers are very proud of the "mongrel" nature of the English language, in fact most languages have influences from a range of different languages -- Spanish, for example, was influenced by Arabic, Celtiberian (a now extinct Celtic language) and Basque. However, it is true that English has roughly double the vocabulary of most European languages.

    It seems that while, in most languages, new vocabulary and grammar structures tended to replace the old, in English the old forms continued.

    An example of this is the English practice of giving one name to an animal, but a completely different name to the meat from that animal. When the Normans arrived in England, they didn't just invade, they ruled the country and owned the land. While the Anglo-Saxon peasant farmer raised his oxen and swine, the Norman lord of the manor dined on beef and pork.


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    #9

    Smile Re: Which language has more vocabulary?

    Dear tdol,
    I agree. All languages have been influenced throughout history and will continue to do so. I consider Spanish a very rich language and some tenses in Spanish cannot be easily translated to English due to their complexity.
    I guess it is one thing to speak English and another to speak the Queen's English. In Spanish, the country that speaks the 'best' Spanish is Spain which has continued using almost all structures and conjugations.
    Thank you for replying. I was happy to read more opinons on the subject.
    Gloria

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    #10

    Re: Which language has more vocabulary?

    Gloria -

    Excuse my late arrival! I attach some resources I created based on the 700 Classroom Activities book. Chop the page up (colour source and word cards differently, if you're feeling strong) and use it as a matching activity (groups or pairs).

    A point that's worth remembering is that English is grammatically creative with its borrowings: e.g. it borrowed the noun "boomerang" (Aborigine), but now uses it (perhaps more commonly) as a verb.

    b
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Last edited by BobK; 28-Sep-2006 at 10:18. Reason: Fix errors

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