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language of precision: english?

updated wed 11 sep 02


Janet Kaiser on wed 11 sep 02

I am afraid it is not! Too many colloquialisms, slang, different
definitions and usages per word regionally, nationally and
internationally... And it is continually changing at far too fast a pace!
An example just today... Earl refers to "gang bangers". Well that would be
a group of several males raping one female here in the UK, but he
apparently does not mean that from the context of his sad mail.

English may have the greatest number of words (approaching a million and
growing daily as we invent new words and appropriate others from other
languages around the world) but it is like that old song... "It ain't what
you do, it's the way that you do it" (or words to that effect). And most
people only have an active vocabulary of between 300 and 500 words.
Slightly more counting a passive vocabulary (i.e. understand the meaning,
but never using the words themselves) and maybe double if they have a
specialist vocabulary.

That is an important point to make when teaching English as a foreign
language... "Only 500 words maximum to learn folks, so don't despair,
because you will never need the other several hundred thousand..." They can
learn the vocabulary of the average user in a year easy... It is the usage
which is the difficult part. "Ain't what you say, it's the way that you say

No disrespect, but I am not sure French is the most efficient "language of
precision" either Edouard! May well be for diplomacy, philosophy, the Arts,
especially literature, poetry, etc. but not for technical matters... Not
when compared to German, where you can make a complicated concept or phrase
into one single word. That must surely beat all the Romantic languages by a
mile (or kilometre :-). Even when they adopt English words, they are much
more efficient and succinct... Just take the mobile telephone: it is known
as a "Handy" in German. They are understandably bemused to find English
speakers often do not understand the expression when taken out of context!


Janet Kaiser

The Chapel of Art =95 Capel Celfyddyd
8 Marine Crescent, Criccieth LL52 0EA, Wales, UK
Tel: 01766-523570 URL: