English is (to her credit) widely considered a language of .. mixed breeding, seeing as to how she accepts favours from just about anybody and everybody. What I'd like to know is how and by how much has the vocabulary grown since the late Middle Ages (~15th century Middle English)? This was before Shakespeare, the Renaissance, colonialism, and well, science & technology. Are there any related statistics available on this subject, and perhaps also on the number of loanwords in modern English?

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    Can you give a more precise definition of "the vocabulary of English"? A precise definition should serve as a clear test to establish whether or not a word belongs to this vocabulary. A few examples: "every word ever uttered by a native speaker of English in a conversation with a fellow native speaker that was not wholly in a foreign language", or "all entries in the Oxford English Dictionary combined", or "any word that is currently understood by at least 1 % of all native speakers of English". Then you need a criterion for "native speaker" too: are Indians included? Singaporeans? Americans? – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jul 17 '12 at 10:35
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    Scope too broad for Q&A on englishSE. Suggest limiting the Q. to say, 'any useful references/ pointers to relevant information?' So one could go from there and carry out one's own research. – Kris Jul 17 '12 at 11:52
  • @Cerberus: I've now scoped the question to the OED & Webster. Thanks :) – coleopterist Jul 17 '12 at 12:41
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    Of course, it all depends what you mean by a 'word'. – Barrie England Jul 17 '12 at 13:00
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    Have you tried googling 'growth of Engish vocabulary'? – Barrie England Jul 17 '12 at 14:43

Regarding your questions, chapter 6 (by John Algeo) of The Cambridge History of the English Language: 1776-1997 (ISBN 0521264774) provides a few statistics as well as extensive background information about English vocabulary. See particularly section 2.2, "The growth of the vocabulary", and subsections 2.2.1, "The size of the vocabulary" and 2.2.3, "Gauging changes in the size of the vocabulary". As noted in the middle paragraph of the following snippet, about 3/4 of the 80000+ words listed in Finkenstaedt et al's Chronological English Dictionary are post-Middle English (M.E. is the English language as written and spoken c.1100-c.1500.) I've left portions of adjacent paragraphs visible to reinforce Algeo's warnings that these statistics are subject to systematic bias.

page 63 of ISBN 0521264774

  • Thank you, I'll look this up further :) I'm additionally also hoping to find a resource that tabulates the list of loanwords in English based on source language, country and date. – coleopterist Jul 17 '12 at 18:01

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