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Death of Language -- Writer's Poke #207

The English language contains far more words than necessary. All told, there are between 500,000 and 1 million words in the English language.

How many words does the average college-educated speaker of English know? Perhaps 20,000, or 2-4%.

Now brace yourself: How many words does the average college-educated person use on a regular weekly basis? Maybe 2,000.

Around 7,000 languages are still spoken around the world today, although roughly half are expected to go extinct by century's end.

The Tower of Babel crumbles. But the full potential of English certainly has yet to be realized.

Is the universalization of English a bad thing? Should languages be protected like other "endangered species"?

"Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about." -- Benjamin Lee Whorf


  1. I wonder how you will be affected when your precious daughter uses some of the language that my generation considered crude and not suitable for polite conversation. Will what is called the F word bother you? How about the so called N word? Is one of those more or less objectionable than the other or are both acceptable for children to use? If acceptable for educated adults, then does that make them acceptable for children? I'd like to see you questioning and considering those questions.

  2. Um, I think children quickly learn when using certain words is and isn't appropriate. People often "code shift" depending on the context that they find themselves in. Honestly, if O said certain words in the private, I probably won't care. But at a very young age, it would be difficult for her to know when other people might be offended, or that it might not be "a good idea" for her to say the F-word in preschool...

    As someone that studies and appreciates language, however, I like to think words are just words. Words, of course, are not just words. They have connotations and emotions and "baggage" attached. I understand that, too. But I think a lot of people get overly concerned about things that don't really matter too much. Nothing should empower a word to be "crude" or "objectionable" in and of itself. That's a silly (and quaint) way of thinking... IMHO

  3. I totally agree with your honest opinion. However we live in a silly and quaint world to some extent. Not the least silly is the concept that we must use words for comedy or for shock or something that we know if used on prime time television would be bleeped. (As if those watching would not know what was said)

    I was really more interested in the "N" word, however, than in the "F" word.

    I once told a "Pollack" joke in the presence of a man whom I admired. He quietly said, "I am Polish". I think I never again told a "Pollack" joke. How much does it cost to be sensitive to the sensitivities of others?


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