Vocabulary  

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This page Vocabulary is part of the linguistics series. Illustration: a close-up of a mouth in the film The Big Swallow (1901)
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This page Vocabulary is part of the linguistics series.
Illustration: a close-up of a mouth in the film The Big Swallow (1901)

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A person's vocabulary is the set of words within a language that are familiar to that person. A vocabulary usually develops with age, and serves as a useful and fundamental tool for communication and acquiring knowledge.

Contents

Depth of knowledge

The differing degrees of word knowledge imply a greater depth of knowledge, but the process is more complex than that. There are many facets to knowing a word, some of which are not hierarchical so their acquisition does not necessarily follow a linear progression suggested by degree of knowledge. Several frameworks of word knowledge have been proposed to better operationalise this concept. One such framework includes nine facets:

  1. orthography - written form
  2. phonology - spoken form
  3. reference - meaning
  4. semantics - concept and reference
  5. register - appropriacy of use
  6. collocation - lexical neighbours
  7. word associations
  8. syntax - grammatical function
  9. morphology - word parts

Final vocabulary

The American philosopher Richard Rorty characterized a person's "final vocabulary" as follows:

All human beings carry about a set of words which they employ to justify their actions, their beliefs, and their lives. These are the words in which we formulate praise of our friends and contempt for our enemies, our long-term projects, our deepest self-doubts and our highest hopes… I shall call these words a person's “final vocabulary”. Those words are as far as he can go with language; beyond them is only helpless passivity or a resort to force. (Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity p. 73)

Focal vocabulary

Focal vocabulary is a specialized set of terms and distinctions that is particularly important to a certain group: those with a particular focus of experience or activity. A lexicon, or vocabulary, is a language's dictionary: its set of names for things, events, and ideas. Some linguists believe that lexicon influences people's perception of things, the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. For example, the Nuer of Sudan have an elaborate vocabulary to describe cattle. The Nuer have dozens of names for cattle because of the cattle's particular histories, economies, and environments. This kind of comparison has elicited some linguistic controversy, as with the number of "Eskimo words for snow". English speakers with relevant specialised knowledge can also display elaborate and precise vocabularies for snow and cattle when the need arises.

Word lists

Several word lists have been developed to provide people with a limited vocabulary either for the purpose of rapid language proficiency or for effective communication. These include Basic English (850 words), Special English (1,500 words), General Service List (2,000 words), and Academic Word List. Some learner's dictionaries have developed defining vocabularies which contain only most common and basic words. As a result word definitions in such dictionaries can be understood even by learners with a limited vocabulary.


The Swadesh list was made for investigation in linguistics.


See also

definition, dictionary, glossary, language, SIPs, taxonomy, thesaurus, term, word




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Vocabulary" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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