The “meaning-full” vocabulary of English and German

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It is widely believed that only a small part of the English vocabulary is analyzable into constituents that are both formally and semantically related to the meaning of the complex word. De Saussure (1916) already described English as a <i>langue lexicologique</i>, a phenomenon that Leisi (1955) attributes to the large proportion of Romance words that have become part of the originally Germanic English language. Leisi concludes that, in contrast to German, many words of contemporary English are not integrated into any word family.This paper presents the results of a research project in which the motivatability of the 2,500 most frequent English and German words is investigated. The approach adopted here distinguishes the four categories of &#8216;fully motivatable&#8217;, &#8216;partially motivatable&#8217;, &#8216;unmotivatable but transparent&#8217; and &#8216;fully unmotivatable&#8217; words. The two most important findings of the study are: (i) the German vocabulary is in fact more motivatable than the English vocabulary &#8211; if only marginally so, and (ii) the non-native origin of a word has no negative effect on its motivatability.


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