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ERIC Number: ED024032
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 1968-Aug
Pages: 19
Abstractor: N/A
Reference Count: N/A
The Fallacy of Word-Counts.
Engels, L.K.
International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, v6 n3 Aug 1968
The greatest fallacy of word counts, the author maintains, lies in the fact that advocates of frequency lists stress the high percentage without telling the whole truth. It has become common to pretend that a frequency list of 3,000 words covers 95 percent of the language, that it enables a person to speak and understand a foreign language by assimilating those words. Even if one were to understand 95 percent of a language by learning 3,000 words, the remaining 497,000 words of the English language would have to be dealt with in the remaining five percent. In the investigation described here (carried out at the Institute of Applied Linguistics at the University of Louvain in Belgium), the author focuses his attention not only on the frequent words, but also on the "outsiders." Ten texts of 1,000 running words each were chosen from actual English prose. Each word of West's General Service List (3,372 words) was read in on an electronic tape together with the frequency numbers; each of the chosen texts was successively read in on the memory of an IBM 360, for comparison. All the frequency words from the chosen texts were alphabetically ordered and specially listed for comparison and counting. The author draws no general conclusions --"ten texts do not suffice to prove anything"--but feels that these texts may have been useful for illustrating the method to use in new frequency lists. (AMM)
Chilton Books, 401 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Penna. 19106 (Single copy $3.00).
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Education Level: N/A
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