What makes languages hard - the kernel lexicon size?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Big_Dog, Feb 6, 2015.

  1. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    I came across this article recently, which states:

    "Ever wonder why some languages are harder for adults to learn than others? The researchers point out that languages contain what linguists call a “kernel lexicon,” meaning a list of words that constitute 75 percent of the written language. If you know those words, you can make out much of the literature. These also are the words least likely to change even as the language morphs.

    The kernel lexicon for English is less than 2,400 words. If you know them you can read 75 percent of the text. The kernel lexicon for Russian is about 24,000 words. So, even though the whole of the English language has about 600,000 words and Russian has considerably less than half of that, without the crucial 21,000 kernel words, most Russian writing would be largely incomprehensible."

    Thoughts?
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2015
  2. Bob

    Bob Active Member VIP member

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    hard to say without knowing how they came up with those numbers. First it appears that they used "baked" and "bake" as two separate leximes. If this is so, of course Russian would come out on top because it's highly inflected.

    Also, being able to understand 75% is pretty horrible :p
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2015
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  3. Elexi

    Elexi New Member

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    The link appears to be dead. Does this add up with ISP Nation's studies that found that 98% coverage in texts are needed for the ability to guess from context and this is roughly provided by 8000-9000 words in Western European languages. I am not sure if there is any reality in my mathematics, but based on a realistic estimate of mastery of 10 words per day, this would take a very dedicated and focused learner about 3 years to get the necessary vocabulary to hit this level in English or French. It is a major work of dedication to really learn 10 new words a day every day for 3 years - especially as Nation also worked out that his study subjects had to learn and forget a word 8-16 times before it stuck. Further, it would appear from your comment, a lot longer is needed in Russian. Maybe we should all give up :)
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  4. Big_Dog

    Big_Dog Administrator Staff Member

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    fixed

    lol - where is your masochistic streak?
  5. pensulo

    pensulo Member VIP member

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    I agree it depends on what they mean by words. If Russian is anything like Serbian, than a single word can be conjugated in like 3o different ways and be thought of as "separate words".

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