Teacher Education, Educational Leadership & Policy ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 5-20-1968


A comparative study was made of two vocabulary lists, one made up of the English words most frequently used in adult speech and the other made up of the most frequently used English words uses in adult writing within selected groups in the United States. The study was based on A Spoken Word Count by Lyle V. Jones and Joseph M. Wepman and A Basic Writing Vocabulary, 10,000 Words Most Commonly Used in Writing by Ernest Horn. The first 1,000 words of the Jones and Wepman frequency study were compared with a list of 1,000 words derived from the 1926 Horn study. It was necessary to derive a word-frequency list from the latter study because of differences in the structure and form of the two word lists. Various techniques, including the use of IBM, Model 40, computer, were employed in making the comparisons.


1. There is great variation in word selection between spoken and written communication.

2. Even at the highest levels of use-frequency there is no significant correlation between the frequency of use of words in spoken and written expression. All correlation coefficients indicated almost absolute randomness in frequency rank.

3. The is a tendency to use longer words in written communication than i spoken communication.

4. Adults use words of greater length in terms of syllables in written English than in spoken English.

5. Old English derivations, which constitute 87% of the oral and 89% of the written words in the first 100 words or highest frequency of use, occur in higher proportion among high frequency words than among those low frequency; French and Lain derivations are found in greater proportion among words of low frequency than among high frequency words.

6. Some possible parts of speech for words are rarely used in spoken English; the higher use-frequency words are in general used to a greater extent in multiple part-of-speech patterns than are the lesser-used words.

Implications for Education

1. Teachers should realize that because a word is in one of a child's vocabularies it is not necessarily a part of his other vocabularies.

2. Spelling textbook writers might improve their courses of study through a reappraisal of frequently-used poly-syllabic words.

3. Words of the highest use-frequency should be given special attention, since an error of any type would be a frequently repeated error.

4. Words of the highest use-frequency should be introduced to children as early as possible.

5. Studies of word derivation and development might be of great interest to children and help to create a positive attitude toward language study.

6. Teachers should teach as many parts-of-speech uses and meanings of words as is possible. Early recognition of the flexibility and versatility of the language might prove beneficial to pupils.

Recommendations for Further Study

1. An up-to-date comprehensive study of written vocabulary is needed.

2. A comprehensive study of spoken vocabulary should be made for educational purposes.

3. Extensive and sophisticated comparisons of spoken and written vocabulary could reveal highly significant facts, concepts, and relationships which might have important implications for education.

Document Type


Level of Degree


First Committee Member (Chair)

Peter Prouse

Second Committee Member

Alvin H. Howard

Third Committee Member

Ernest W. Baughman