On Mon, Mar 18, 2013 at 9:21 PM, Daniel Bowman <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
> Hey all,
> I was talking to someone today, and he stated that English has the most
> words of any language. I'm pretty suspicious when I hear such claims, and
> he did not have direct evidence to back up his assertion. However, he is
> one of the smartest and most knowledgeable people I know, and his father
> happened to be chair of the department of linguistics at one point. It's
> hard to chalk his claim up to ignorance or misinformation, so I started
> wondering: is this in fact true?
Number one: being intelligent does not prevent you from believing false
things. In fact, in some cases intelligent people will hold on to false
beliefs longer simply because they devote their mental resources to
On to the actual question -- there's no real way to put a solid number on
the number of "words" in a language. First of all, you need to define
"word", and that is not an easy task. Assuming that you mean a lexemes --
there is a lot of debate over what words are actually stored in the
lexicon, given that people productively coin words all the time, but not
all of those are necessarily stored. Then you have to somehow catalog all
the words in the mental lexica of all native speakers.
I really don't think that there are any good solutions to "How many words
does English have?". At the very least, an absolute number is not
possible. Going further and claiming that English has "the most words" is
even more problematic, considering the number of languages that aren't even
documented or are under documented.