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.

Definition and usage

Vocabulary is commonly defined as "all the words known and used by a particular person".[1] 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.

Productive and receptive knowledge

The first major change 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 usually 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 they are 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.

Degree of 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:

  1. Never encountered the word.
  2. Heard the word, but cannot define it.
  3. Recognize the word due to context or tone of voice.
  4. Able to use the word and understand the general and/or intended meaning, but cannot clearly explain it.
  5. Fluent with the word – its use and definition.

Depth of knowledge

The differing degrees of word knowledge imply a greater depth of knowledge, but the process is more complex than that. There are many facets to knowing a word, some of which are not hierarchical so their acquisition does not necessarily follow a linear progression suggested by degree of knowledge. Several frameworks of word knowledge have been proposed to better operationalise this concept. One such framework includes nine facets:

  1. orthography – written form
  2. phonology – spoken form
  3. reference – meaning
  4. semantics – concept and reference
  5. register – appropriacy of use or register
  6. collocation – lexical neighbours
  7. word associations
  8. syntax – grammatical function
  9. morphology – word parts

Definition of word

Words can be defined in various ways, and estimates of vocabulary size differ depending on the definition used. The most common definition is that of a lemma (the uninflected or dictionary form; this includes walk, but not walks, walked or walking). Most of the time lemmas do not include proper nouns (names of people, places, companies, etc). Another definition often used in research of vocabulary size is that of word family. These are all the words that can be derived from a ground word (e.g., the words effortless, effortlessly, effortful, effortfully are all part of the word family effort). Estimates of vocabulary size range from as high as 200 thousand to as low as 10 thousand, depending on the definition used. [2]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Woordeskat
العربية: مفردات
català: Vocabulari
čeština: Slovní zásoba
dansk: Ordforråd
Deutsch: Wortschatz
eesti: Sõnavara
español: Vocabulario
Esperanto: Vortprovizo
euskara: Berbategi
galego: Vocabulario
한국어: 어휘
Bahasa Indonesia: Kosakata
íslenska: Orðaforði
қазақша: Сөз байлығы
latviešu: Leksika
Bahasa Melayu: Perbendaharaan kata
Nederlands: Woordenschat
日本語: 語彙
norsk: Ordforråd
norsk nynorsk: Ordforråd
polski: Słownictwo
Ποντιακά: Λεχτικόν
português: Vocabulário
Runa Simi: Rimay taqi
Seeltersk: Woudskät
Simple English: Vocabulary
slovenčina: Slovná zásoba
Basa Sunda: Kandaga Kecap
svenska: Ordförråd
Tagalog: Talasalitaan
தமிழ்: சொற்கோவை
తెలుగు: పదజాలం
українська: Словниковий запас
Tiếng Việt: Từ vựng
ייִדיש: וואקאבולאר
粵語: 詞彙
中文: 词汇