How many words does an average native speaker know?

Guest   Fri Jun 06, 2008 4:50 pm GMT
How many words does an average native English speaker know in English- speaking countries?
Skippy   Fri Jun 06, 2008 4:59 pm GMT
David Crystal estimated something like 60,000 active (actually used) and 75,000 passive (understood).

What is it for other languages? I'm almost positive it's less.
guest2   Fri Jun 06, 2008 9:46 pm GMT
Average native speakers (and even unaverage) know nowhere near 60,000 words in English or any other language. The most careful studies show that even university-educated speakers top out at about 20,000 base words--and that's receptive, not active. For example, see the following study, which shows the average for university-educated speakers at about 17,000 base words:

Please note: "Base words" are "word families": "A word family consists of a base word and its inflected forms and derivations." (e.g., 'time' includes 'timely,' 'timed,' 'timing,' etc.) Using the 1.6 factor of word families to total words (by Paul Nation, the world expert mentioned in the article), you're looking at about 30,000 words, tops, for the better native speakers receptive vocabulary.
Damian in Edinburgh   Sat Jun 07, 2008 7:59 am GMT
If some of the people appearing on some of the less salubrious TV chat shows here in the UK (such as the vile Jeremy Kyle Show) are any sort of guideline, I would think the average number of words used and understood, and constituting the speakers' total vocabulary, I would say the average would be about a hundred at most.....and of those one of the most frequently used begins with the letter F, including variations of the word.....but as it's daytime TV (the watershed here in the UK is 9pm) they are bleeped out but you don't have to be an expert lip reader to know what word was was being spat out in venom.

Thankfully these chavs are the minority being given far more exposure on national TV than they deserve and which they would never get elsewhere in society at large.

What I do find interesting is that on similar shows from American TV which I have watched (like with Jermey Kyle only rarely in the past) the same kind of people appear to be more articulate and expressive than their British counterparts. The only problem is when it's black Americans talking - I find it difficult to understand them a lot of the is almost a different Language altogether.