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What is the minimal size of vocabulary that could enable two persons to communicate more or less sensibly about matters of everyday life in English? Would 3000 words (8000 words, if different grammatical forms are taken into account) be a reasonable estimate?

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closed as not constructive by Jason Bourne, FumbleFingers, Robusto, MετάEd, Bill Franke Jan 22 '13 at 23:06

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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The answer to the question "How long should my legs be?" is "Long enough to reach the ground". The answer to your question is "Big enough to give you the words you need to 'talk sensibly about matters of [your] everyday life in English'". Everyone will need a different vocabulary because everyone's everyday life differs. If you don't know the words to express your ideas, no matter how large your vocabulary is, it isn't big enough. –  user21497 Jan 22 '13 at 23:06
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xkcd.com/1133 –  Jim Jan 22 '13 at 23:06
    
the question is fine. voting to reopen. –  jlovegren Jan 22 '13 at 23:36
    
    
Voting to leave closed. Define "sensibly", define "everyday life", define "more or less". Voice of America is happy with 1514 words. Simple-English Wikipedia uses 2626. Swadesh makes do with around 200. The people who frequent our chat to actually communicate with one another, more or less sensibly, on a daily basis, took the test at testyourvocab.com and the results ranged between 14,400 and 42,300 words for native speakers, and between 25,000 and 34,400 words for non-native ones. –  RegDwigнt Jan 23 '13 at 11:38

2 Answers 2

Charles Ogdon reckoned it could be done with 850 words. See here

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When was that list put together? I notice that it includes canvas and porter (words I doubt I use or hear from one month to the next), but not plastic or call, for example. –  FumbleFingers Jan 22 '13 at 22:27
    
@FumbleFingers 1930. Also the Ogdon word list is 850 but the grammar rules allow for compounding so arguably the total vocabulary might be much bigger than 850. –  MετάEd Jan 22 '13 at 22:34
    
@FumbleFingers. Ogdon lived from 1889 to 1957, so, yes, he would have included words little used today, and missed those that we do use frequently. That’s just one of the hazards of trying to answer a question like this. The vocabulary list was just one of the elements of Basic English, which he devised as possible international language. –  Barrie England Jan 23 '13 at 7:35
    
@Barrie: I guess. It still seems rather odd that he should have thought canvas and porter were necessary in such a restricted vocabulary. I don't suppose he was a painter with a drink problem! –  FumbleFingers Jan 23 '13 at 13:42

This link here gives some interesting figures on words needed for comprehension and coverage. It's mostly related to written text, but it does give a nice comparison of "regular" reading versus something like a teen novel, and about 1/3 of the way down the page it suggests a vocabulary of ~ 2,000-3,000.

It also gives breakdowns for newspapers, texts, novels, etc.

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