Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

English language nears the one million-word milestone

By Aussiegirl

Once again I imagine that the French are pea-green with envy.

Independent Online Edition > Americas

It will not be of much comfort to President George Bush and others who, on occasion, struggle to make themselves understood. But some time soon the English language, according to at least one reasonably authoritative source, will create its one-millionth word.

The Global Language Monitor (GLM), a San Diego-based linguistic consultancy, reckoned that on 21 March (the vernal equinox) this year, there were about 988,968 words in the language, "plus or minus a handful". At the current rate of progress, the one-million mark will be reached this summer.

[...] No one argues about the huge richness of the English language - fed by Germanic, Scandinavian and Latin streams, unrivalled in its readiness to borrow from every language, and mercifully free of tiresome bodies like the Academié Française to decide what counts and what does not.

The process is only reinforced by the universality of English. True, more people (more than a billion) may be native speakers of Mandarin Chinese than of English (an estimated 500 million or so, roughly the same as Hindi). French, incidentally, only limps into the top 10 with 130 million native speakers.

But if there is such a thing as a world language, it is English, spread first by the British Empire, then by the economic, cultural and military juggernaut of the US, and now by the internet. And, at every stop on the way, new words are coined, or scooped up from other languages.

[...] But no one should feel intimidated. The average vocabulary of an educated native English speaker is about 24,000 to 30,000. Shakespeare used 24,000 words - 1,700 of which he is claimed to have invented.

Nonetheless, with an active vocabulary of just 3,000 or so, you can get along pretty well. And if you are stumped for a word, just make one up. It seems to have worked in the past for the most powerful man in the world, so it could work for you as well. The chances are, it will soon be swept up in the boundless net of the Global Language Monitor. You never know, it might even be the coveted number 1,000,000.


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