大概是学习英文的一篇不错的文章 From 《The Economist》。没有排版，有时间再排。
English marks a million
Nov 19th 2008
Or does it? John Grimond has some infrequently offered answers
Some events in 2009 may be more momentous, but surely not many:
on April 29th the number of words in the English language will pass
1m. This astonishing fact prompts a host of frequently asked questions
or, as wordsmiths call them, FAQs.
First, who says—or, in tabloid (this meaning coined in 1902)
journalese (1882), who sez? The answer is the Global Language
Monitor, a company based in Austin, Texas. It keeps an eye on the
use of language, especially English, and tracks changes.
And by what authority does the Global Language Monitor say a new
coinage is a genuine new word? None. Some countries, such as France
and Spain, have academies that claim the right to regulate their
national languages, and to repel invasive terms, usually from English.
Neither England nor the United States attempts such an exercise in
futility. English is a mongrel language that keeps its vitality by
absorbing new words, uses and expressions. It promiscuously plunders
other languages and delights in neologisms. It is the language of free
traders and inventive entrepreneurs such as the staff of the Global
Stick to the FAQs
So is it really a fact that English will have 1m words on the predicted
date in April? Of course not. For a start, the global monitors explain that the actual date could be five days
either side of April 29th. Then they say that English already has well over 1m words, if you accept the
statement in the introduction to the Merriam-Webster dictionary that the language contains “many times” the
450,000 words it lists. Yet the Oxford dictionary lists only half as many.
Who’s right? How many words are there? That depends on what counts as a word. Should “write”, “writes”,
“wrote”, “written” count as four words or one? If one, what about “be”, “am”, “are”, “is”, “was”, “were”? What
about the numberless words with different meanings? Should “set” and “stock”, for instance, each count as
one, though their meanings are manifold? And what of winespeak, computer drivel and other jargon?
Och aye, and whit aboot Scots? Yes, English gathers variants as it travels and, my, how it has travelled. Is
the Scots “thrapple” just the same as the English “thropple” (throat)? Is the Australian “donkasaurus” (car
engine) English or Australian or Greek?
Come to that, what about all the words that English picks up abroad? “Hobson-Jobson”, written in 1886, lists
over 2,000 Anglo-Indian expressions. “Shampoo” and “bungalow” have certainly earned their place in the
English dictionary, but what of the Hindi “dam”, the Indian coin once used in English phrases like “I don’t give
a dam” but now consigned to history or misspelt, and so misunderstood, as “damn”? Or what of “roué”, a
“French” word common enough in English but now almost unknown in French? List them all, you may say,
along with jihad, tsunami, schadenfreude and béarnaise sauce. But the line must be drawn somewhere, so
The global monitors would have the world believe that their lines are drawn
scientifically: take the bulk of the best-known dictionaries, chuck in all the words in
Shakespeare, Chaucer and the Bible, and then apply their proprietary algorithm,
which trawls through the press, the internet and every other medium for new words.
After that, apparently, the words must meet criteria about frequency of use in print
and speech and their ability to stand the test of time. Words drop out of use as well
as into it—Oxford lists 47,156 it considers obsolete—and most neologisms die almost
as soon as they leave the lips of the rapper, valley girl or blogobore who utters
them.Copyright ? 2008 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.
So, last question, is the 1m-word claim meaningless? Yes, largely. But English does indeed have lots of words,
almost certainly more than any other tongue. That is the consequence of its evolution. Basically Germanic, it
was expanded by the conquering Normans, who introduced French, and the medieval scholars and clergy, who
used Latin. As the global language of the modern world, it now has lots of local variants—some recompense
perhaps for the words it helps to obliterate as more and more languages become extinct