American English Discussion -- Page 2

Shakespeare's Complete Works Shakespeare's complete works consists of 884,647 words of text containing a total of 29,066 different words, including proper names. In order to understand the meaning of this we have to be certain what we mean by a word. Just what are we to count? We could decide that a word is a string of letters bounded on each side by space or punctuation. We need to decide whether inflected forms, such as those formed from the verb play (plays, playing, played) are to be words in their own right or simply members of a single class represented by the stem form play. Is this four words or one word, comprising of a set of words linguists call a lemma? If we count lemmas, Shakespeare's 29,066 different words are reduced to about 18,000.

Shakespeare's Vocabulary Given the rules of above, counting lemmas, how does Shakespeare's vocabulary compare to that of present-day English usage? Linguists compiled a database of 1-million words selected from 500 different sources ranging from newspapers to scientific writing to general fiction. This database contains 61,805 word forms, which belong to 37,851 lemmas. This 37,851 is more than twice Shakespeare's 18,000. This could infer that either Shakespeare's vocabulary was modest or that over the last few hundred years the English language has evolved into a much richer language lexically.

William Shakespeare