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Dec 25, 2006

like duh

There is a recent article bemoaning the decline of English among British youth. The study mentioned in the article seems to be good research, and it's most important conclusion is that

The top 20 words used, including yeah, no, but and like, account for around a third of all words, the study says. Teenagers had a vocabulary of just over 12,600 words compared with the nearly 21,400 words that the average person aged 25 to 34 uses.
Now on the first point, I'd have to say it's relatively meaningless. Larger studies of speech and writing in Britain show that 20 words make up about 1/3 of all our words anyway. In speech, the "Top 20" make up just under 1/3 of the total words (32%) and the written Top 20 makes up a similar 28% of all our written text. Nothing new or unusual here, move along.

According to the WordCount website, which says it bases its lists on the same research cited above (though if you click the links you'll see the lists are slightly different), the top 20 English words are: the, of, and, to, a, in, that, it, is, was, I, for, on, you, he, be, with, as, by & at.
That's 6 prepositions, 5 conjunctions, 4 pronouns, 3 be-verbs, and 2 determiners.

Now the second point about a reduced vocabulary I believe. This is because I think our exposure to written and spoken material is increasingly colloquial and entertainment rather than information driven. People also just read less now than they used to, and they are reading material that isn't particularly challenging or rich in language.

I don't know how I feel about it though. One one hand, I always dislike the tendency to artificially inflate language by using a lot of Latin/French words rather than Anglo-Saxon words, so maybe it's quite OK. On the other hand, a major advantage that English has is the richness and depth of its corpus.

I guess they should follow up in five or 10 years to see if the kids will know more words when they're older. Maybe these older adults learned a bunch of these words later on in life, at work or in their leisure and newspaper reading.

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