A language fluency scale for use in this subforum

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Fraggle Rocker, Feb 21, 2011.

  1. adoucette Caca Occurs Valued Senior Member

    The intent of that test was to give words across many different subjects to use it as an indication of your total vocabulary.

    But it is no longer indicative of your total vocabulary since so many modern subjects are left out entirely.

    No words in the list deal with aviation, automobiles, computers, internet, Television, movies, satellites, astronomy, modern medicine, robotics, space exploration, nuclear power, global warming, evolution, relativity etc etc, while they had 3 out of a hundred sample words that pertained to horses.

    So no, I don't think an almost century old list of words can do what it purports to do.

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  3. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    To "suss" out something means to figure it out...rather with an air of piecing together clues.
    I think my West Pennsylvania Scots-Irish people use that still...some of my ancestry came over on a boat with sails...:shrug:
    They also redd up. It means "to clean up."

    And I appear to be the only US person I know who is aware that the past tense of the verb "shit" is "shat". This I got from reading "The Plague Dogs," written by...erm...that guy who wrote "Watership Down."

    I think I read it when I was about 14 or so. I read Lord of the Rings in entirety around 12...the first time.

    I'm bright, but not a genius. I just have a history as an extremely fast omnivore of a book reader.

    I read (oh crap, google is my friend) "The River" by Hooper in one weekend at work...oh, the Wiki on it says he's been discredited. Well, that's got to be a relief for those involved. But that was 900 pages, and not fiction. I also read "Collapse" by Diamond, in two and a half days.

    I've just been given internet access @ this job (Ooh shiny!). If I go back to boring overnight shifts without internet, I will probably be inhaling books again. Keeps me from thinking depressing thoughts.

    No joke. Who here knows what a hackamore or a fetlock is? I do, but I briefly owned a horse who injured her fetlocks and I rode using a hackamore, when her fetlocks had healed up.
    We used diapers as bandages.

    For that matter, who here knows what an air plenum is? A universal joint? or an A.E.D. device?

    The xiphoid I knew because if you try to give (a) chest compressions in CPR too low(b)the heimlich maneuver incorrectly or (c) gut punch too high, you can break off the xiphoid process-the little bony nubbin on the end of the sternum. This is bad-as in surgery bad-I believe...
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2011
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  5. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    I'm skeptical.

    I simply do not believe that Dywyddyr knew 96 out of the 100 words on test C. And I don't believe chimpkin knew 94 out of 100 either. Or 90 for parmalee. Or above 90 for Spud Emperor's wife. Or 88 for GeoffP. By "know" here, I mean being able to use those words correctly in the context of a conversation. I just don't believe it.

    I know about 68 of the 100 words in list C. I looked up all of the ones that I didn't know or thought I knew but wasn't sure. In a few cases, it turned out that I had different meanings for words I thought I knew. In other cases, I simply had no idea.

    The fact that this test was from the 1920s is clear when I look through some of the words I didn't know. There are a number of what are now archaicisms - today the vast majority of people would express the same concept using a different word. Two of the words relate specifically to horse-drawn carriages, so unless you have experience with those or have a particular fondness for 19th-century-early 20th-century fiction, you're unlikely to have come across them. I'd be surprised if anybody today used a word like "valetudinarian", though admittedly it strikes me as quite a useful and specific term, akin to but not the same as "hypochondriac". Speaking of health, maybe "ague" was more common back in the 1920s. A word like "weazen" would be much more readily rendered today as "wizened", and "nostrum" would be much more likely to be rendered as "panacea".

    Now maybe Dywyddyr and chimpkin really do commonly use such terms in conversation or writing. But I doubt it.

    Other words I didn't know include some rather specific biologically-oriented scientific terms relating to plants, flowers, birds, mucus membranes and the way that mammals walk. Admittedly, I am not highly educated in biology, so perhaps its understandable that I didn't know those words. Dywyddyr and chimpkin must be a polymaths - far superior to myself. And there I was thinking I had a reasonably broad understanding of a a lot of stuff.

    I have about as much formal education as you can get, so I ought to be up there in the 24,000s like Dywyddyr, chimpkin and those smarty-pants lawyers that the test mentions. Instead, I apparently have only a few thousand more words than leopold99, if we are to believe (a) the test and (b) the self-reporting of results. But maybe it's not about formal qualifications. Maybe it depends on reading a lot of Jane Austen novels, or something.

    Other thoughts:

    • The test strikes me as having a slight American bias. Some of the spellings are a little odd. Also, for "foreland", I'd personally use the term "headland" (but maybe I'm wrong and they're not the same thing).
    • Who uses the word "bissextile"? Really?
    • Probably a lot of people know a word like "dire", but how many can correctly use "direful"? How many people looked that word in the list and thought to themselves "I think I know what that means. It must be reated to 'dire', so probably those two words have similar meanings. I'll mark that down as one I know"?
    • Along the same lines, if I challenged you to use a word like "plantigrade" in a sentence, such that I would give you $1 million if you did it correctly and shoot you if you got it wrong, how many of you would readily accept that challenge (before having done the test and looked it up)? And I mean, use it in a sentence such that its meaning is clear - not just recognise that it's some sort of adjective.
    • How many bad fantasy novels does one have to read to be conversant with words like "trow", "springe", "xiphoid" and "amain"?

    To Dywyddyr, GeoffP, parmalee and chimpkin:

    It may boost your egos to think that you really knew all those words, but I'm just not buying it guys. Sorry. Either there's some strutting and puffery going on here, or else there's quite a bit of self-delusion. Or both. Of course, there's no real obloquy in this, is there?

    All in all, I trow that we've seen a fair amount of folderol in this thread.
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  7. birch Valued Senior Member

    i knew 44 words on part c. part a and b were rather easy with some exceptions.

    unfortunately, people rarely use words that are that specific or detailed in nuance because most people consider that being haughty or just being pedantic.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2011
  8. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

    Briefly: one's self-reported results are entirely contingent upon what one takes to "know" to mean in this context ("How many words in the list do you know?"). Considering James' criterion--"being able to use those words correctly in the context of a conversation"--I am inclined to agree with James: I seriously doubt that I could use each of the 91 words I claimed to "know" correctly, without conveying some serious awkwardness.

    Obviously, I treated "know" in a far more casual manner--you know, like, I know Uma Thurman but I don't really know Uma Thurman (but I do know J Mascis). In fact, a few of the terms I claimed to "know" I do not recall ever having seen before, but I was able to--again--suss out the meaning from what I do really know (and subsequently confirmed my hunches with google).

    Incidentally, the bulk of my reading in fiction is works written prior to 1960.
  9. birch Valued Senior Member

    to know is to understand the definition and use it in a sentence.
  10. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Is that what the test ascertained?*
    No it simply asked:
    Or maybe a childhood being dragged round local transport museums...

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    And yet, within arm's length of where I'm sitting I have the book Forgotten English by Jeffrey Kacirk, described as "A Merry Guide to Antiquated Words..." and includes such gems as mocteroof, bladderskate, rattoner and the like.
    Don't you think that the fact that I enjoy reading such books (and buy them whenever I can) would give me a wider range of words that I recognise?

    * While I personally "enjoy" words I also realise that there's little point in using, say, yclept in a conversation or even in most posts. The idea, surely, is say what one thinks needs to be said and not send people scurrying off to google/ a dictionary so often that they lose track of what (as opposed to how) is being said.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2011
  11. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    I was under the impression that you have to know it's meaning as well, not just simply remember having seen them once :shrug:
    Maybe I should take the test again

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  12. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Actually that would be Milton.

    And I found your post #40 particularly hilarious.
    Thanks for that.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2011
  13. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Well I have bunch of childhood experiences too, some of which may be similar to yours and some different. Those ought to average out so that I know a few words you do not, all things being equal. Right?

    Wider than my range? You're assuming that I do not buy similar books, or enjoy language, or go out of my way to learn some obscure words and their origins, etc. It is possible, of course, that you spend inordinately more time pursuing such interests than I do, or that you retain more of what you read. Or maybe you just got lucky with that test (although your scores on three tests now are all higher than mine).

    The purpose of writing anything is to communicate to somebody. Otherwise why bother? I deliberately try to write clearly. Or, more to the point, I tailor what I write for my intended audience of the moment. Even my level of expression on sciforums varies depending with whom I'm debating. If I'm explaining relativity to Motor Daddy, chances are I'm not going to use the same words that I would if I was having a conversation on the topic with AlphaNumeric.

    I see people who claim to have theories of everything turn up here regularly spouting a page full of text with impressive-sounding words (to a layman), but no paragraphs, bad punctuation, spelling errors, TOO MUCH UPPER CASE, overemphasis!!!!, misuse of words, poor capitalisation and sentence structure, and a myriad of other errors, and I think "Why would anybody even bother to start trying to read this for its content?"
  14. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Absolutely, I'd be surprised if it were otherwise. As was said earlier: it's an internet test. I haven't claimed anywhere that my vocabulary is anything special: all I did was report the results given in that test. :shrug:

    No, I'm not assuming that I have a wider range than you - simply that such books do add to one's vocabulary. All I was doing was offering a possible explanation. And "getting lucky" is another.

    Which (at least partially) invalidates NCDane's contention, no?

    That, I suspect, is a different problem altogether.
  15. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Forget the estimate of your total vocabulary. Knowing 96 out of 100 of those words would be extremely unusual. And from the evidence of this thread alone we apparently have, on sciforums, at least 4 people who know more than 90 of the words on that list. Like I said, I can't help being skeptical. But maybe my estimation of my own abilities is too high and/or my estimation of yours and others' here is too low.

    Yes, but only if you work at it. Coming across a new word once doesn't tend to lodge it in your memory (or, at least, it doesn't for me). You have to see it a few times, and preferably see it in context.

    Which one?
  16. adoucette Caca Occurs Valued Senior Member

    Claiming you know 96 out of those 100 words is indeed special.
  17. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    As an example that particular book I listed gives definitions and etymology. I've read it a couple of times - usually just before I settle down to sleep. When I come across a new word I do tend to make an effort (if I consider it interesting or particularly useful), and some just "stick" without effort.

    That a large vocabulary automatically equates to making "fascinating posts".

    How so? It happened to be a list of words that I mostly recognised. It's hardly my fault the compiler of the test considers them "difficult" or "unusually obscure".
    Maybe my reading tastes coincide with his.

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  18. adoucette Caca Occurs Valued Senior Member

    It has nothing to do with reading choices.
    The words were purposely chosen to represent different areas of knowledge, which is why you were given credit for knowing 250 other words for each of those you knew. To score well you needed to know obscure words from different sciences and trades.
    And that was in 1920.
    I did well, but I'd add that there are about 20+ words on that test that are very obscure/archaic, yet you knew all but 4 of them even though word usage has changed and a number of these words are no longer used at all (Amain, Trow, Gibe, Bole, Tyro) so there is that aspect as well.
    You also claim to have scored higher than anyone else taking the test and significantly higher than most and so I, like others, are skeptical that you really KNEW the words, but what can I say maybe you do, or maybe you didn't score yourself as hard.
    For instance I guessed a few correctly but didn't give myself credit because I didn't know if I was right without looking up the word and so I didn't score a word correct unless I was sure of the word, so for instance I didn't score myself correct for Kail even though I am quite familiar with Kale, because I'd never seen Kale spelled that way, nor Incog, because though I suspected it was the same as Incognito I'd never seen that slang version of the word used.

  19. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Some authors (Stephen R. Donaldson, for example) take great delight in using "less-well-known" words. He is the only writer I have ever seen use the word roynish. And my earlier word, yclept, I discovered, in my late teens, in a science fiction novel by Roger Zelazny.

    Really? Where?
    Bole is common, tyro occurs in a number of current* books/ magazines I read, gibe not so much. Trow occurs in Shakespeare reasonably often (and I happen to have read Will, and seen several of his plays performed at Stratford). Amain, I think, is used in Conan Doyle's The White Company, or if not that particular book then one of similar setting: i.e. archaic language to suit the period of the story.**

    And, if you'd read my earlier post you'd have seen that I HAVE seen that word used in "real life".

    This whole thing smacks to me of "How come you speak French when I don't? I don't believe you."

    * E.g. published in my lifetime and discussing contemporary issues.

    ** It's used in Gawain and the Green Knight, for example. Published in 1999. That just happened to be one of the books (not that particular version, of course) we had for English lessons when I was younger, and a fascination for "Arthurian" stories has remained with me ever since.
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2011
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I know the meaning of the word. What’s your problem this time? Much of what I knew on Graduation Day in 1967 is gone, or perhaps only accessible by hypnosis. Perhaps I should have said “attrited,” a word I admit to having dug up in the dictionary a moment ago, since the cause of the decrease was lack of reinforcement by use. That’s not to say that I have less knowledge than I did then. I have continued learning and less of what I’ve learned on my own has been lost since my self-study is directed toward knowledge I’m more likely to use.
    We proofread each other’s writing when it’s for publication, or in her case 25 years ago, for having a thesis accepted. She never argues about my wording, merely slaps her forehead as she reduces my word count by 2/3.
    Most of us War Babies knew that word. The fact that it’s a strong verb is evidence that it is a venerable old word passed down from Proto-Germanic, rather than slang or a foreign borrowing. Indeed it has cognates throughout the Germanic subbranch, from German Scheiß to Danish skid.
    Richard Adams. I liked that book better. They’re both better than Shardik, and all three are better than Girl on a Swing.
    As has been pointed out, we did not all agree on the interpretation of the instructions. “A barely satisfactory grasp of the word’s meaning in context if you stumble across it while reading a 19th century textbook on phrenology” was how a lot of us responded. Nonetheless, even with that generous interpretation, the professional writer and editor who moderates this board and has actively loved language for six decades got a lower score than many of you. You must all be younger than I.

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    Only some mammals are plantigrade (“sole-walkers”). Many, like dogs and cats, are digitigrades (“toe-walkers”), as are all birds, reptiles (with legs) and amphibians. Many others are ungulate (“toenail walkers,” an inconsistent coinage, why not unguigrade?).
    Amusing. I thought it had a British bias. I guess this shows that linguists are correct when they insist that there’s a substantive difference between Australian English and British English.
    Foreland can also merely refer to land that lies in front of the vantage of the conversation.
    It refers not just to a leap year, but to the extra day that makes it a leap year. February 29th is a bissextile day.
    I’ll send you my account information for the wire transfer. If you’ve ever looked closely at your dog’s leg and realized that what you’ve been calling his “knee” is really his ankle, then you’ll eventually figure out that what you’ve been calling his “ankle” is really the sole of his foot (the metatarsals/metacarpals), and what you’ve been calling the sole of his foot is really the first joints of his toes (phalanges). The article you found that explains all that will tell you that this is plantigrade walking. And no, the obvious noun “plantigradism” means something else!
    I guess that’s one way of putting it.
    You need to recognize that spoken language is a technology that’s at least 15,000, probably 60,000, and perhaps more than 200,000 years old. We have a brain center dedicated to it. We learn it without being taught, starting when our brains and musculature haven’t even been developed fully enough to do it right. Written language, on the other hand, is a Bronze Age technology, something like 5,000 years old. It does not come naturally to us and we have to be taught formally. The correspondence between spoken and written language is somewhat tenuous; there are elements in each that have no analogs in the other. Capital letters and punctuation marks are recent developments and their use varies arbitrarily between languages: clearly there is no inherent logic to them. Our so-called "phonetic alphabet" has about half as many symbols as our language has phonemes, and in any case our spelling hasn't been reformed since long A and I were pronounced AH and EE.

    My point is that skill in speaking does not imply skill in writing. It’s not entirely fair to accuse a person who can’t write well of not having mastered his native language. He may have a vision problem such as dyslexia, or he may simply have gone to an American school where children are allowed to skip two weeks of classes without punishment, and where “no child is left behind” no matter how much he prevents the others from moving forward.
  21. NCDane Registered Senior Member

    Glad you liked post #40.

    Unfortunately you missed something important in post #37:

    #1 Shakespeare- neologisms

    #2 Shakespeare- neologisms

    #3 Shakespeare- neologisms

    (from link #1, emphasis added)
    I have read elsewhere that Milton coined some excellent words
    notably "iconoclastic" and "pand(a)emonium". No doubt we have
    both him and Johnson to thank for many important additions to
    our language.

    However, the number 1,700 attributed to Shakespeare, if accurate
    represents a class of its own, even if a significant number are seldom
    or never used (a fate suffered by several of Milton’s efforts, according
    to your link). I have seen the number 1,700 in print for over 30 years
    now. I hope someday to locate the primary source.

    Here are only the unique words beginning with "a" from the first two
    links I cite:

    (link #1)

    (link #2)

    This site adds "aggravate", among others:
    #4Shakespeare- Neologisms, making me wonder if there are not more
    coinages beginning with "a" omitted by sites 1-2-3 above.

    There should somewhere be some complete list other than the OED.
    If I ever find it I will post it here.
  22. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    I see you failed to realise why I found it humorous.

    No, I didn't.

    Unsourced and undated. My Milton link is a recent finding.

    Maybe you missed this part:
    And hardly reliable. After all, (as one example) how did Shakespeare (1564-1616) manage to coin the word "admirable" in the mid-15[sup]th[/sup] Century? Just asking...

    And again an old source.
  23. NCDane Registered Senior Member

    According to the following source Shakespeare had a vocabulary
    of 27,352 distinctly spelled words, excluding names:

    #1 Shakespeare Vocabulary Size

    Here is an online concordance listing 28,827 distinctly spelled words
    including names:

    #2 Shakespeare Vocabulary Size

    It would be nice if these clowns could agree exactly with each other.

    I copied the numbers from link #2 to an Excel spreadsheet and added
    them, so I can vouch for the number 28,827. I do not intend to plow
    through and subtract the names. Maybe someone else here can volunteer
    for that job.

    Anyway, I really doubt too many commonly used words are left out
    of both lists, and…

    …and 28,827 total vocabulary size minus ~1700 new words invented
    = ~27,000 words already in use, which sounds ample to me.

    Excluding words arising from advances in science I wonder if there
    is all that much difference in the number of words in general use
    a modern college student should know- maybe about 1000. Add
    another 1000 technical words or so from the student’s major field
    of studyyielding an average of apprx 10-12k words, counting such
    constructions as “walk” “walks” “walked” (v) as one word.

    No, I am not joking. I was a technician in manufacturing Quality Control/Assurance
    and Process engineering for 17 years, and the new terms introduced
    was surely 1000 tops, and possibly much less.

    I would not be too sure that the number of Norse-Danish words
    “pales” compared to recent Latin-Greek derivations. We are in an
    area where we really need help from a PhD level specialist.

    I am glad to see schadenfreude enter the language since there
    was not already another word with the same meaning. I wonder,
    however, how many college students know what it means.

    You do not need to be a chef to tell if an egg is rotten.

    I am sure your wife is a lovely and highly intelligent woman,
    but anyone can make a mistake, and sometimes entire faculties
    can make the same mistake. Entire professions even. For example
    in the less subjective realm of science consider the “lumineferous
    ether” of ca. 1865-1905.

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