An Australian child's vocabulary: it's "I" before "we", both before "you"

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Oxford University Press in Australia has released a list of the most-used words in a study of nearly 4,000 writing samples from children in their first three years of school. After removing names of people, places and brands, the top 307 words were published. "I" topped the list, with "my" in 7th place and "me" at 33rd. By comparison, "we" came in 9th, "he", "they" and "she" were 13th, 16th and 21st respectively, with "you" at 31st. Family also featured highly in the top 100, including "mum" (34th), "dad" (36th), "brother" (78th) and "sister" (99th), with "friends" making it to 91st place.

Some of the other popular topics on the full list include:

Animals Leisure Fantasy Places
87 dog 23 played 166 fairy 65 school
142 fish 74 watched 215 castle 94 park
150 cat 111 party 226 dragon 203 beach
228 rabbit 128 playing 244 magic 212 zoo
266 animals 159 football 255 princess 263 pool
267 horse 162 bike 289 monster 268 movies
273 snake 165 TV 305 playground
280 shark 170 games
300 dogs 173 ball
188 movie
189 soccer
195 swimming
210 computer
240 walk
256 shopping
271 race
297 walked
301 footy

This word list is the first of its kind to be compiled in Australia in 30 years. The previous list, referred to as the "Salisbury Word List", was based on a 1978-79 study undertaken by the Education Department of South Australia and comprised 2,000 words. A research paper, released in conjunction with the Oxford list, looked into similarities and differences of the words used between children of different generation (based on comparisons with the Salisbury list), gender, ethnic background, socio-economic status, and area of residence (i.e. urban or rural). The paper found a drop in the level of formality of children's writing when compared to the previous list, with words such as "mother", "father", "Mr" and "Mrs" falling out of favour, while the less formal "mum" and "dad" retained their popularity.

The study also found that the children tended to share a common core vocabulary, evident particularly in the top 100 words which varied little according to the various factors, but that differences often highlighted similar differences in cultures. For example, children of a non-English speaking background were more likely to write about less active past-times (such as "movie", "garden" and "computer") and family activities (using words such as "family", "ate" and derivatives of "cousin") than their counterparts, who did not use "cousin" or "family" in their top 100 words, and referred to more active pursuits as "soccer" and "swimming".

While comparisons were made between child vocabularies of other nations, particularly the United Kingdom, the researchers pointed out issues in doing so due to the different methodologies involved. According to the researchers, "[t]he Oxford Wordlist [...] has been presented as a resource freely available to all Australian educators".


This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.