Vocabulary Words

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by kame, Jun 20, 2007.

  1. kame Registered Member

    I was wondering if other languages besides English have an excess of words with the same meanings but more complex. If someone were to write a book in English, using longer, larger words with more complex and mutilated sentence structures would make it better to most people. Look at how Shakespeare wrote. Old English is like a totally different language. Half of the words he uses are almost never used in the modern day.
    I am studying Japanese and Spanish. So far, I have not come across longer vocabulary words that mean the same thing. In English, you can eat, gorge, scarf, devour, ingest, consume, or feast upon. In Japanese, you taberu. In Spanish, it's comer. I am only a couple years into each, but I have not come across excess, complicated words. Just google "sat vocabulary," and look at those words. Why do we need them? What is the point of having those words that a lot of English speakers don't know. It does make good test material...
    If there are any English as a second language speakers out there, please tell me if your language has these strange words.
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  3. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

    Each of those words you mentioned have slightly different meanings that can be used to advantage in varied types of writings. From what I gather, you seem to think they all mean exactly the same thing. Not correct. And the same applies to many different words in other languages as well. However, those subtle effects are lost on many translators which is exactly why some translations are so awkwardly silly.
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  5. Zephyr Humans are ONE Registered Senior Member

    You've probably only learned simple/common words so far in those languages.

    A quick search on an online Spanish dictionary gives:

    1. (to consume) comer
    2. (to devour) tragar, devorar
    3. (to corrode) corroer
    4. jerga (to annoy) molestar, fastidiar

    I'm sure you'd find many more in a large paper dictionary.
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  7. thecatt Registered Member

    I'm pretty sure all "civilized" languages have them. I think it's great, it gives the language more flavor. Plus they might have minor/major different meanings, although they essentially pretty much means the same. Yeah sure, if you take them out of context they do, but if you put them in sentences or in context they can be very different.

    I only know Danish, English and a bit of German and Spanish, so I'll use my primary language as an example (Danish):

    Eat = spise, fråde, æde, mæske, indtage, slupre.

    Those are just off the top of my head, but I'm positive there's a lot more. Sure, English is bound to have the most, considering it is the language with most words, but my language has these "strange" words, and I'm pretty sure a lot of other languages have them too.
  8. kame Registered Member

    Do other languages make excess words an important matter? In the US, getting into college is partly based on your mastery of our language. Do other languages have complexities like the ones used by Shakespeare and other people of that time? It seems that Hebrew does have them. I can read it, but only understand a little. It seems like the sentence structures are complex, however.

    I know those words did not mean the same thing, but they are similar. You can get the same meaning by stringing more common words together. Do other languages have uncommon words?
  9. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

    The complexities in Shakespeare are more apparent than real:
    he used words that are no longer in vogue (an = if, for instance), he went for double-meanings, in-jokes and general word-play.

    Plus making a lot of stuff rhyme throws off the general feeling of everyday speech.
    But Shakespeare is worth getting into.

    And he invented a good few words and phrases that are still in use...
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Speakers of a language devise new words because they need them. The past five hundred years has been a "paradigm shift" in the Western world, and it ultimately spilled over into most other countries. The Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment added thousands of new concepts to the culture of Europe. This exerts stress on a language and each language dealt with this stress in a different way. German does it by agglutination-- building new words by cramming existing words together. E.g., "hydrogen" is Wasserstoff, literally "water material," the element that is the essence of water. English does it in two ways. We agglutinate like German: doghouse, user-friendly. But we also borrow words from other languages and use them for agglutination: "hydrogen" is from two Greek words, meaning "creator of water." We even mix source languages: "television" is Greek "distance" plus Latin "sight." The size of a language's vocabulary is the measure of the growth and change of its civilization. People who settle into a familiar cultural environment tend to adopt favorite words and let old ones fall into disuse.
    The language of Shakespeare is in fact called "early Modern English," as evidenced by the fact that we can read it. Middle English was the English of Chaucer, which we need special study to be able to understand. This is the English that followed the Norman Invasion in 1066, when our language became overrun with French words, all the way down to everyday staples like "use," "very" and "question." Middle English gave way to Modern English around the 13th century, when the Norman nobility, for reasons only dimly understood, gave up French and adopted the language of the occupied people. "Old English" is a term falling out of use; we now call that language Anglo-Saxon. It was the language of the German people who invaded England when the Romans pulled out their occupying troops, the language in which Beowulf is written. It's ancient German, with no French words, and we can't read it.

    Actually, Shakespeare invented many of the terms that we now consider cliches. His contribution to our language is enormous. As professors say, I'll leave it as an interesting exercise for the reader to Google half a dozen of these. In other words, I gotta run.

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    Shakespeare had a "working" vocabulary of 30,000 words, putting him on a par with Winston Churchill, a solid 9.0 on my powers-of-three language fluency scale. People like me, professional writers and editors with sixty years' mastery of the language, are lucky to hit 8.7 before we die. But Shakespeare used a vocabulary of 80,000 words in his plays. Many of them are words that have fallen into disuse. Others are words that are still in the dictionary but are rarely used, or are more common in England than in America.
    You have a long way to go with Japanese. It has subtly different ways of saying the same thing that will curl your hair.
    The point is that those words are known and used by people outside that group. No one person knows all of them, but philosophers, psychologists, historians, artists, biologists, plumbers, parachutists, dog breeders, and people in sundry professions and avocations need those words. An inquisitive neighbor child recently noticed some plants sprouting and wondered over the fact that on most common plants two leaves immediately sprout from the stalk, but a few have only one. I taught her the words "monocotyledon" and "dicotyledon." Perhaps she'll become a biologist. I suspect that this post may have introduced some of our members to the word "agglutination." Perhaps they will become linguists.

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  11. ntgr Registered Senior Member

    The words mono-cotyledon and di-cotyledon say in Greek exactly what you described. If someone speaks Greek he can understand words in the english language like arachnophobia=phobia(>fear) of spiders,
    archipelago=big sea region with many islands etc.
    and also many terms used in sciences (the same for latin)
    However, some of the Greek words used in the English language don't have the exact same meaning.
  12. charles brough Registered Senior Member

    It seems other languages get by without synonyms because by comparison, they do. After all, English has the by far largest list of words of any language on earth. All other languages have much smaller vocabularies.

    May be someone has a theory as to why that is. :shrug:

  13. charles brough Registered Senior Member

    How Would We Go About Reforming English?

    A spelling reform was initiated in the middle of the last century. The newspaper carried it along for a while, but the academics stuck to their "prestigue usage" and it died out.

    English grammer is even worse than the spelling. I learned to pronounced phonetically, so I tend to spell phonetically and that kills my spelling skill!
    My last name can be pronounced a good five different ways and spelled as many different ways to get the same sound as we in the family give it.

    In Ancient Egypt, the scribes would not allow the civilization to convert to the alphbetic system which the less civilizated fringes of the region were developing and using. They had a vested interest. They did not want new ways to come in and put good scribes out of work.

  14. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    You guys make it sound as if you regard a large vocabulary and the ability to speak with nuance and precision as some kind of handicap, or defect.

    Nobody's putting a gun to your head and making you memorize words you don't need. You can follow the example of the guys I work with, and express yourself with one noun (shit), a few adjectives (good, bad, bull, a couple others) and a half dozen verbs (bring, fuck, is, etc).

    In my experience: among the uneducated I have met, the largest vocabularies are found among the illiterate. Just an observation. Your uneducated, illiterate, oral culture "primitive" guy has no objection to learning and using fancy words upon occasion.
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The reason is expressiveness. English has more range of expressiveness in more areas of discourse than the languages you refer to. It's in a class with French and Chinese. Each language has its own area of specialty in which it may surpass English, but English surpasses most languages in all areas except their own specialty. As noted already, in the vast majority of cases those words are not truly synonyms. And that's the point. There are differences in meaning that may seem subtle to someone who is not personally involved with the subject matter, but are important to those who are. Laymen use "round" and "circular" interchangeably, but to a mathematician, "circular" only applies to two-dimensional objects. There are also connotations that convey meaning beyond the basic definition of the word. If you say you play the fiddle, I won't ask who is your favorite composer of chamber music, and if you say you play the violin, I won't ask which is your favorite bluegrass tune.

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    Attempts to normalize the spelling of English have failed for hundreds of years. The problem is that there are too many dialects. Generally this affects vowels. In another thread someone insists that there is a major dialect in which "cot" and "caught" are homonyms, although I've never encountered it. But consonants are also affected. Americans pronounce "latter" and "ladder" identically (using the flapped R of Spanish and Italian as the consonant) whereas the British distinguish between them. It would take an alphabet of a hundred characters to write English phonetically in a way that every dialect community would actually find it to be phonetic.

    One of the spelling reform initiatives of the 20th century included re-spelling "night" as "nite." I submit that replacing two silent letters with one silent letter is hardly a "reform" and is not worth the effort of teaching children to read both spellings for the next two or three hundred years.

    Now French spelling is far worse than English, for example just count the average number of silent letters in a word. And French doesn't have the wide variances in dialects. It would be much easier to reform French spelling, yet no one has done it in centuries.
    Try French or Japanese and you'll develop a new respect for English.

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    Considering that English has lost all but two or three of its grammatical inflections, I don't understand why you think it's harder than Russian, Spanish, or even German. Even if we have a few irregular plurals and past participles, we don't have any third-person plural present subjunctive verbs or feminine dative case adjectives to memorize.

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