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 Language Monitor.


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.

那么,英语的词汇将在预测的明年4月份达到1百万的事实是真的吗?当然不是。首先,"全球语言监测公司"解释说,实际的日期可能会在2009年4月29日前后5天之内。然后,他们说英语词汇早已经超过1百万了,如果你接受韦氏词典前言中的说法的话,韦氏词典的前言提到,英语所包含的词汇比其所列的45万个单词要多" 很多倍"。然而,牛津字典所列的单词只是韦氏词典的一半那么多。

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?

谁是对的呢?英语有多少个单词呢?这取决于单词的计算方法。比如"write"一词,有该词的原形的"write"、第三人称单数的"writes"、过去式的 "wrote"以及过去分词的"written"。是把它们算为4个单词呢,还是算为1个单词?如果算一个单词的话,那么"be"、"am"、 "are"、"is"、"was"、"were"又该怎样计算呢? 一词多义的单词数不胜数,它们又该如何计算呢?另外,"set" 和"stock"的意思相重,是应该各算一个单词吗?而winespeak、computer drivel以及其它术语又该如何计算呢?

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?

Och aye, and whit aboot Scots?(译注:英语中一些地方口音的读写)是的,英语在往外传播的同时也聚合了各种变异,天啊,英语传播的范围可大了呢。苏格兰人说的"thrapple"跟英国人说的 "thropple"(喉咙)意思完全一样吗?澳大利亚人说的"donkasaurus" (汽车引擎)是英语呢,还是澳大利亚语,或者是希腊语?

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 where?

谈到这点,英语从外国语言中捡来的那些单词又该怎么算?1886年出版的"Hobson-Jobson词典"列举了2000多个英国--印度词义。可以肯定地说,"Shampoo"(洗发水)和"bungalow"(平房)已经在英语词典里拥有它们自己的位置了,但是印度语的"dam"又如何呢?这个印度硬币曾经被用于英语短语中,如:"I don't give a dam"。但是,现在人们认为这是过去人们对"damn"这个单词的错误拼写,或者是误解。roue(放荡者)一词在英语中是一个非常普通的"法语"单词,但是这个单词现在法语中几乎已经是不被人知了,那又该怎么算呢?你也许会说,把它们全部列进去,与jihad(圣战)、tsunami(海啸)、 schadenfreude(幸灾乐祸)以及béarnaise sauce(贝亚恩酱汁)一起列进去。但是,标准线必须划在某个地方,那么是哪个地方呢?

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.

全球语言监测公司"会让世人相信他们的划线是科学的:取大部分着名的词典,挑出所有出现在莎士比亚、乔叟和圣经中的单词,然后采用它们的专有算法,从报刊、互联网以及其它各种媒体搜索新词。当然,在这之后,所有的单词都必须符合在印刷物和演讲中出现的使用频率标准以及它们接受时间考验的能力的标准。有新增加的单词,就有不再使用的单词--牛津词典列出了其认为已经不使用的 47,156个单词--那些从说唱歌手、山谷女郎或博客作者嘴里说出的新词,大部分一离开他们的嘴就死亡了

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.

  • coinage [´kɔinidʒ] 移动到这儿单词发声 n.造币;货币;新造词语 四级词汇
  • vitality [vai´tæliti] 移动到这儿单词发声 n.活力;生命力;效力 四级词汇
  • numberless [´nʌmbələs] 移动到这儿单词发声 a.无号码的;数不清的 六级词汇
  • manifold [´mænifəuld] 移动到这儿单词发声 a.多样的;多种特征的 四级词汇
  • frequency [´fri:kwənsi] 移动到这儿单词发声 n.频繁;周率 六级词汇
  • evolution [,i:və´lu:ʃən] 移动到这儿单词发声 n.进化;发展;发育 四级词汇
  • medieval [,medi´i:vəl] 移动到这儿单词发声 a.中古的;中世纪的 四级词汇
  • clergy [´klə:dʒi] 移动到这儿单词发声 n.牧师;教士 四级词汇
  • recompense [´rekəmpens] 移动到这儿单词发声 n.&vt.回报;补偿 四级词汇

文章标签:词汇  英语词汇