OK. I finally typed up a list of all the B words, i.e. Basic vocabulary. They are from 3 books, one, a grammar meant for practical service interactions with people from a low-literacy, rural background, another aimed at literary goals, and the last general but expansive with a broad vocabulary. The lexical items were compiled roughly for printing out and there were a number of duplicates b/c a “word” in English could have several meanings expressed by dfferent words in the other languages. Special and idiomatic usages were penciled in at the top of the page on the handwritten initial lists. I’ll go back over those later and put them in my idiomata binder and my boiler plate binder. Right now I just wanted a list of words 3 different authors, all well-known in their field for producing high-level introductory grammars, thought important to know.
However, many words in all 3 grammars were deemed by me to be advanced and I have a large list of advanced words to work on in the future, incl a large number taken from the books in Spanish read for my book club.
The total, incl duplicates, was 2626, which fits perfectly I.S.P. Nation’s finding that the 1st 1000 most frequent words gives about 75% comprehension of normal text (less for novels, about right for newspapers, etc. see my earlier blog entry on Nation), and the 2nd 1000 most frequent words gives and addition 8% or so, reaching 85% + when cognates and contextual aids are taken into account. That still leave 15 words on any given page of 100 words that will be unknown. In my experience reading quite a few novels in Spanish, where I underline 2-4 words per page I either do not know or don’t remember despite “knowing” them (aggravating), that seldom presents a comprehension problem in connected text. By comparison, my Urdu Newspaper Reader articles can be quite puzzling if one or two keys words go uncomprehended due to the brevity of the articles about 20 lines. One example was what I took to be two separate expressions: to beat someone and a raid, so I interpreted as someone getting beaten during a raid (by the police), but I had failed to notice a collocation note in the glossary which stated the raid plus beat means to make a raid.
So what now? I take this list of 2626 words and write them out (!!!) in each notebook for each Einzelsprache = individual language (I like the German word). That is a lot of work, but it’s mindless and I can watch TV with my wife while I do it. As I put words in the notebook, I will write the TL equivalent and make notes if needed re collocation, cultural idiosyncrasies, gender, other grammatical peculiarities, etc. That will leave gaps that I will eventually fill through my reading in the TL when I will make notes in the books as I read and then transfer those notes to the appropriate notebook or binder.
Yesterday, I was explaining this to my friend, Brian and he said, “Yes, it’s a kind of accounting for the vocabulary.” Wow! That was perfect. I couldn’t come up with a word to label this practice and process other than saying I was looking to reveal gaps in my vocabulary for the basic vocab in each Einzelsprache and accounting fits perfectly. In addition, it makes for a fascinating cross-linguistic inventory of words and usages, e.g. Urdu will have lots of honorifics, other languages fewer; Norwegian will have 36 words for snow……… just kidding. One of my favorite Russian words is duplo, the hole in the trunk of a tree created by a rotting knot. I asked a friend which degrees in biology and with a family background in forestry and he did not know an English word for it. Brian suggested knothole, but on looking it up found it to refer specifically to a hole in a board, not the one in a tree in which animals make their home. I had gone to sleep the night before thinking of the word and I struggled briefly before remembering it and determining to look it up the next morning. When I did, I found only the definition â€˜muzzle of a gun’. I checked 3 different dictionaries, one very good E-R/R-E, another much larger one, also E-R/R-E, and then one for Russians (Ozhegov), and all had only the gun muzzle definition. I began to doubt myself when my eye lit upon a children’s book titled The Forest Newspaper, a wonderfully illustrated book on the natural history of the forest. I paged all the way to page 105 where I saw the perfect picture, an owl (sova) sitting in just such a hole in the trunk of a tree. Avidly I read the text and, sure enough, there it was (in the prepositional plural reminds me of that old Boston joke told in Pinker’s The Language Instinct where the woman tourist asks the cabby if he can tell her where to “get scrod” and he replies, “Sure, lady, but I just ain’t never heard in the pluperfect before.” a list of animals that makes their homes in the “duplakh”.
But that raised a terribly interesting question: why did none of these dictionaries list that meaning for the word? I’ll check my Dal’ and other sources I have on my shelf, and if those fail, I’ll look in the massive Russian collection at ASU library. But those are the kinds of things that interest me and these notebooks will reveal a lot of those. But what else? How else can I use these notebooks that require so much effort? The basic purpose of them, beyond accounting for words I come across and don’t want to lose (this is where the advanced list will be esp useful) and revealing gaps in my knowledge, is simple review. This is where I.S.P. Nation comes in again his research indicates some usefulness for such lists. My personal experience is that they are more useful than the pure CI people might think and much less useful than the legacy teachers think.
More on this as I pursue and peruse.