Corpora: Summary: Swedish vocabulary size

Alice Carlberger (
Tue, 21 Oct 1997 11:23:39 +0200

Dear Corpora List Members,

Here is a summary of responses to my query regarding mainly Swedish
elementary vocabulary size. Thank you, Ela Dura, Rosie Jones, and
Jeremy Ellman.

Alice Carlberger


>Could anyone tell me what is considered to be the number of words a
>speaker of a new language needs to know to "get by" in that language?
>Or how many words a person needs to be able to read a newspaper? I'm
>mostly interested in Swedish.


From: Ela Dura <>
There are about 10000 so called morphs in Swedish,=20
i.e. nondecomposable basic units of the lexicon=20
of which new words can be formed.=20
These are lexicalized in derivations and compounds,
up to 40000 basic lexes, i.e. basic units of which
sentences can be formed.=20

These numbers do not encompass homography or=20
polysemy of the distinguished segments, i.e. their
senses. According to those who have worked with
a full size lexicon with senses, about 1 mln have
to be distinguished, this is I.Melcuk's opinion.

From: Rosie.Jones@NL.CS.CMU.EDU
I have heard the figure 1000 words bandied about, though my impression
is that is more for basic communication of the human needs than
for newspaper-reading, which can rquire a great deal of fairly
complex vocabulary. A Hebrew course that I am taking claims that
I wil know 500 words by the end of 30 days, and that this will
satisfy "basic needs". I think this means that I will be able to
procure food and transport, but not that I will be able to discuss

From: (Jeremy.Ellman)
The US Government radio station used to broadcast in what it called
"Special English". I believe this had 800 words, the intention being
to make thier broadcasts accessible to listeners who were less
familiar with English. Of course, "getting by" is harder since you not
only need to bable to say "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?", you also
need to understand the reply.

Alice Carlberger E-mail:
KTH (Royal Institute of Technology) Phone: +46 8 790 75 62
TMH (Dept. of Speech, Music and Hearing) Fax: +46 8 790 78 54
Drottning Kristinas v=E4g 31
S-100 44 Stockholm