What is the most complete language in the world

Linguistics: English is a millionaire word


This month the millionth word is said to have been added to the English language: «Web 2.0». Why does English have so many more words than German or French?

The "Global Language Monitor»In Texas recorded« Web 2.0 », the millionth English word on June 10, 2009. The term must have been used 25,000 times in a print product or on the Internet. The previous word was "Jai Ho" (a joyous exclamation borrowed from Hindi); the one recorded according to «Web 2.0» was «financial tsunami».

According to the standards of the Global Language Monitor, a new word is added to the already impressive English vocabulary every 98 minutes; that's almost 15 words every day. Most of the new acquisitions, like «Web 2.0», come from the field of new media. But the varieties of English spoken in Asia also diligently supply the language with neologisms: “Jai Ho”, which became popular with the film “Slumdog Millionaire”, is an example of this.

However, no speaker can master the gigantic number of words - regardless of the language. Most native speakers can easily make ends meet with 14,000 words; only people who speak very well have an active vocabulary of 50-70,000 words. And in the extremely wordy English language one should be able to communicate - paradoxically enough - with only 400 words and 40 verbs.

English is - by a long way - the language with the most words. Even the most complete English dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary, contains over 600,000 words. The "German Dictionary" by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm has around 350,000 headwords; the vocabulary of the French language comprises 100,000 to 300,000 words, depending on the counting method.

"Depending on the method of counting" is of course an important restriction here - just as an example, it does not include the specialist chemistry vocabulary, which alone would contribute several million words. In addition, the question arises to what extent, for example, compound words (compound words) are included. French - which is by no means a wordless language - also has a significantly smaller vocabulary because a German word like "Typewriter" is composed of three existing words: "machine à écrire".

For this reason, you get very different results when you search for the range of vocabulary in different languages. So presented a Article held in a confident tone the American newspaper "New York Post" has a list on which English, in terms of the number of words, is by a huge margin at the top; before Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Russian. German, number 6 on the ranking list, should only have 185,000 words.

How many words there are in detail may indeed be controversial. The tendency is clear: English has the most words. Why is that?

“Jai Ho” is an example of this: English is a word vacuum cleaner. In contrast to other languages, English has always unabashedly and carefree got what it needed from other idioms. While in France the «Académie Française» ensures that no foreign-sounding vocabulary spoils Voltaire's language, there is no such institution in the English-speaking world. Also for the xenophobic tendencies of the Nazis, who - and they were by no means the first or the last! - wanted to cleanse the German language of everything foreign, one looks in vain for a counterpart in English history.

This integrative power of English is possibly due to the fact that with the Norman conquest - after his Anglo-Saxon (Old English) childhood - English finally became a mixed language. With the knights of William the Conqueror, countless French words poured into the country in 1066; In addition to the Germanic “swine”, the Romanic “pork” appeared. The Anglo-Saxons had already adopted numerous Latin words from the Romanized Celts, and the Vikings, who pillaged the coasts and monasteries of the British Isles, left behind a great deal of Scandinavian vocabulary. Finally, during the Renaissance, the English imported a special number of Latin terms into their language, so that in modern English the words with Romance roots are more numerous than those with Germanic descent.

"A language is a dialect with an army and navy" ("A language is a dialect with an army and a navy"): With the political and economic strengthening of England, the horizon broadened accordingly. Over the centuries, the British created the largest colonial empire in world history, which eventually comprised a quarter of the global land area. A quarter of the world's population was subject to Her Majesty. And from the corners of the empire not only goods poured into Britain, but also words like «jungle», «boomerang» or «coyote».

English as the language of the past British Empire and the current American Empire is also the official language in several densely populated countries such as India, Pakistan and Nigeria. It is the idiom in which scientists around the world publish their findings. It is the language of managers and now also of diplomats. It is the language of computer technology and the new media. And it is the lingua franca in which - in addition to backpackers all over the world - the French and German-speaking Swiss are increasingly communicating. While Han Chinese is the most widely spoken mother tongue, there is no other language spoken and understood by as many people as English. In the near future - probably for the first time in human history - there will be more English second speakers than native speakers.

Will English fall apart?

All these "owners" of English are feeding the language with new words, some of which are only used regionally. This is one of the sources for the strength of this versatile language, but here is also the danger: the computer expert in Bangalore and the lumberjack in Saskatchewan hardly understand each other anymore. Oscar Wilde is said to have joked: "England and America are two nations separated by a common language" ("England and America are two nations separated by a common language"). Will English one day break up into different languages, as did the Vulgar Latin from which modern Romance languages ​​arose?


It is not at all clear what a word actually is - and what is accordingly entitled to be counted as a word. There is no generally accepted definition in linguistics.

From a semantic point of view, words are the smallest, relatively independent carriers of importance that are listed in the lexicon. In linguistics one speaks of lexemes (from the Greek "lexis" for "word"); Lexical units that combine various word forms in one term. For example, “go”, “went” or “go” form only one lexeme, while “go” and “walk” are two.