Thursday, April 06, 2006

One Million English Words?

In the US there's a debate taking place about how many words there are in English, and about how quickly the English language is growing, following a claim that are about to have reach the one million English words landmark. I find it exhilarating to think of the variety of potential meaning locked up in those words, just waiting to be used and to know that human ingenuity is still finding more ways to express different emotions and concepts. It made me recall the scene in B. Traven's novel The Treasure of the Sierre Madre, when the would-be gold prospectors developed their own language while they were working together, and also Bruce Chatwin's discourse on the language of the indigenous inhabitants of Patagonia, and how their daily experiences such as hunting shaped the structure of their language, and the shades of meaning given to words.
Here a useful summary of the debate in the US: