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Vocabulary


A vocabulary is a set of familiar words within a person's language. A vocabulary, usually developed with age, serves as a useful and fundamental tool for communication and acquiring knowledge. Acquiring an extensive vocabulary is one of the largest challenges in learning a second language.

Vocabulary is commonly defined as "all the words known and used by a particular person".Knowing a word, however, is not as simple as merely being able to recognize or use it. There are several aspects of word knowledge that are used to measure word knowledge.

Variability:is how spread out a group or set of numbers are

The first major distinction that must be made when evaluating word knowledge is whether the knowledge is productive (also called achieve) or receptive (also called receive); even within those opposing categories, there is often no clear distinction. Words that are generally understood when heard or read or seen constitute a person's receptive vocabulary. These words may range from well-known to barely known (see degree of knowledge below). A person's receptive vocabulary is the larger of the two. For example, although a young child may not yet be able to speak, write, or sign, he or she may be able to follow simple commands and appear to understand a good portion of the language to which he or she is exposed. In this case, the child's receptive vocabulary is likely tens, if not hundreds of words, but his or her active vocabulary is zero. When that child learns to speak or sign, however, the child's active vocabulary begins to increase. It is also possible for the productive vocabulary to be larger than the receptive vocabulary, for example in a second-language learner who has learned words through study rather than exposure, and can produce them, but has difficulty recognizing them in conversation.

Productive vocabulary, therefore, generally refers to words that can be produced within an appropriate context and match the intended meaning of the speaker or signer. As with receptive vocabulary, however, there are many degrees at which a particular word may be considered part of an active vocabulary. Knowing how to pronounce, sign, or write a word does not necessarily mean that the word that has been used correctly or accurately reflects the intended message; but it does reflect a minimal amount of productive knowledge.

Within the receptive–productive distinction lies a range of abilities that are often referred to as degree of knowledge. This simply indicates that a word gradually enters a person's vocabulary over a period of time as more aspects of word knowledge are learnt. Roughly, these stages could be described as:



  • if there are a number of synonyms, a writer will have his own preference as to which of them to use.
  • he is unlikely to use technical vocabulary relating to a subject in which he has no knowledge or interest.
  • An extensive vocabulary aids expression and communication.
  • Vocabulary size has been directly linked to reading comprehension.
  • Linguistic vocabulary is synonymous with thinking vocabulary.
  • A person may be judged by others based on his or her vocabulary.
  • Wilkins (1972) once said, "Without grammar, very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed."
  • Barnhart, Clarence Lewis (ed.) (1968). The World Book Dictionary. Chicago: Thorndike-Barnhart, OCLC 437494
  • Brysbaert M, Stevens M, Mandera P and Keuleers E (2016) How Many Words Do We Know? Practical Estimates of Vocabulary Size Dependent on Word Definition, the Degree of Language Input and the Participant’s Age. Front. Psychol. 7:1116. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01116.
  • Flynn, James Robert (2008). Where have all the liberals gone? : race, class, and ideals in America. Cambridge University Press; 1st edition. OCLC 231580885
  • Lenkeit, Roberta Edwards (2007) Introducing cultural anthropology Boston: McGraw-Hill (3rd. ed.) OCLC 64230435
  • Liu, Na and I. S. P. Nation. "Factors affecting guessing vocabulary in context", RELC Journal, 1985,16 1, pp. 33–42. doi:10.1177/003368828501600103
  • Miller, Barbara D. (1999). Cultural Anthropology(4th ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon, p. 315 OCLC 39101950
  • Schonell, Sir Fred Joyce, Ivor G. Meddleton and B. A. Shaw, A study of the oral vocabulary of adults : an investigation into the spoken vocabulary of the Australian worker, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1956. OCLC 606593777
  • West, Michael (1953). A general service list of English words, with semantic frequencies and a supplementary word-list for the writing of popular science and technology London, New York: Longman, Green OCLC 318957
  • Open Dictionary of English (ODE) Multi-media dictionary developed for learning vocabulary. Offers audio from around the world, images, video clips, usage samples, multiple definitions, correlations, idioms and much more. ODE is also part of LearnThatWord's vocabulary quizzes.
  • Bibliography on vocabulary I.S.P. Nation's extensive collection of research on vocabulary.
  • Vocabulary Acquisition Research Group Archive An extensive bibliographic database on vocabulary acquisition maintained by Paul Meara and the Vocabulary Acquisition Research Group at Swansea University.
  • VocabularySize.com – a free web-based service that implements the I.S.P. Nation's English Vocabulary Size Test in an online format.
  • Vocabulary test – a free four-minute English vocabulary size test, accurate within 10%, on which Brysbaert et al.'s (2016) estimates of vocabulary size are based.
  • TestYourVocab.com – a free five-minute English vocabulary size test, accurate within 10%
  • WordsinaSentence.com – a free online dictionary that defines vocabulary words with contextual sentences.
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