Percentage of coverage of various text types by vocabulary list

I posted figures on the percentage of words in English borrowed from major sources, with the percentage changing depending on the size of the frequency list. I got only a tiny response. I thought that teachers would be interested in that based on the questions I used to get from students about “how many words….?” etc.
So here is another one, this one from I.S.P. Nation’s Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, a bit of a doorstop but interesting. The last time I sent a table out, it got screwed up, so forgive the spread out format of this as I try to make it make sense.
The most frequent 2000 words in English (one assumes a similar breakdown for any other language), from the General Service List, allow text coverage in the following percentages depending on type of text. I can’t make it come out right on this blog, so I’ll do it narrative style.
The first 1000 most frequent words cover 84.3% of conversational text, 82.3% of fiction, 75.6% of newspaper text, and 73.5% of academic text.
The second 1000 most frequent words cover 6% of conversation, 5.1% of ficton, 4.7% of newspaper, and 4.6% of academic texts.
The academic vocabulary covers 1.9% of conversation, 1.7% of fiction, 3.9% of newspapers, and 8.5% of academic.
Other covers 7.8% of conversation, 10.9% of fiction, 15.7% of newspapers, and 13.3% of academic texts
“Academic” comes from The Academic Word List (Coxhead, 1998). “Other” refers to items like names of trees, technical terms, etc. “Academic” words would be ‘sustained’, ‘policy’, etc. Besides The Academic Word List, there is also University Word List (Xue and Nation, 1984).
Bear in mind there are ‘most frequent’ words that occur many times, like ‘the’, and others that occur just barely over the number of times a word not appearing on the list may occur. Some low-frequency words would be ‘zoned’, ‘pioneering’, pastoral’, etc.
I find this fascinating and am enjoying playing with vocabulary lists in various languages. I love those words that seem peculiar to a language. I’m going to start a new category on my blog of these, similar to books like They Have a Word For It and In Other Words.
Sitting at a soccer game yesterday, I mused on how ‘they are tied’ might be a low-frequency word in a classroom but not at a soccer game, especially a soccer game. Smile
Patrick Barrett

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