Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It gets better, er, more propitious, over time?

After reproducing a list of obscure vocabulary words, Steve Sailer wonders:
Do vocabularies continue to grow over a lifetime of reading? The 10 word vocab test on the GSS could of course be used for this, but most of my growth has evidently been at the high end of the range, which probably wouldn't show up on the GSS.
No one attempted to formulate a response in the post's comments, so here it goes. While Steve's reservations about the GSS' Wordsum are duly noted, what constitutes "high end" is relative. For the left half of the bell curve, "allusion" and "emanate" are indeed high end.

The following graph shows the mean Wordsum score for white respondents born in three separate decades by year of survey participation (because at present the survey 'only' spans 35 years, there's no simple way to track the entire adult lifespan of respondents born at the same point in time). My presumption was that a steady increase in scores would be evident from early adulthood through the years preceding retirement age, at which point they would peak and then begin declining as senility started wreaking havoc:

The black lines show when the middle of each age cohort hit 55 years old. While it's not as clearly the case as I'd imagined it would be, especially with regards to how marginally time causes scores to increase, the prediction does appear to describe the general pattern.

With the exception of the aberrational year 2006, the twenties cohort bounces around in a gradual descent as they become increasingly elderly. The forties cohort gradually climbs but appears to have started what may well be a continual decline in the present, while the fifties cohort, just now contemplating retirement, demonstrates continuous accretion in scores over time, most pronounced in their early adult years. Like personality, vocabulary probably grows steadily through adolescence and into early adulthood before becoming mostly static with a little shifting here and there over a forty or so year stretch through late adulthood before inevitably changing in unpredictable but generally negative ways in life's gloam.

GSS variables used: YEAR, COHORT(1920-1929)(1940-1949)(1950-1959), WORDSUM, RACE(1)

1 comment:

pat said...

I'll repeat my comment from the Sailer blog. The population of European countries seems capable of handling a normal sized language. So there are about as many words in Spanish as there are in Finnish. But English is a double language because it was formed rather recently (1066) from French and Saxon (German). English is clearly too difficult for many people. It is too big and it has two separate sets of syntax rules.

For example, I live in Oakland. The local school board recognizing the limitations of their students invented Black English or Ebonics.

The English vocabulary of commonly used words is shrinking despite Bill O'Reilly.