10 June 2009
It is being claimed that the millionth word in the English language is about to be created. A US company which follows the use of language on the internet has made the prediction. However traditional dictionary makers aren't so sure.... .
Click to hear the report
The idea of the millionth word entering the English language is a brilliant bit of public relations for Texas-based Global Language Monitor. GLM runs a powerful search service which monitors web traffic. They make their money telling organisations how often their name is mentioned in new media, such as the internet.
What they can also do is search for newly coined words. Once a word has been used 25,000 times on social networking sites and such like, GLM declares it to be a new word. By their calculations a new word is created in English every 98 minutes, hence the estimate that the millionth word is about to be created.
If you talk to lexicographers, however, dictionary professionals, they tell a slightly different story. Dictionaries have tighter criteria about what constitutes a new word, for example, it has to be used over a certain period of time. Lexicographers will tell you that the exact size of English vocabulary is impossible to quantify, but if you accept every technical term or obscure specialist word then we're already way beyond a million. And if you restrict inclusion of specialist slang, then there are possibly three quarters of a million words in English. All of which is way beyond the 20 - 40,000 words that a fluent speaker would use, or the few thousand you could get by with in English. Basically, with 1.5 billion people speaking some version of the language, it's small wonder English is the fastest growing tongue in the world.
Lawrence Pollard, Arts Correspondent, London
Click to hear the vocabulary
- public relations
- the activity of keeping good relationships between an organisation and the people outside it - sometimes abbreviated to 'PR'
- monitors web traffic
- checks and keeps records of which websites people are visiting
- newly coined
- (refers to language only) recently invented or used for the first time
- tighter criteria
- stricter standards by which something is judged or decided
- is considered as
- measure or count
- not widely known
- restrict inclusion of specialist slang
- limit the addition of informal language
- small wonder
- not surprising