Title

Economics and English: Language Growth in Economic Perspective

Document Type

Article

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Southern Economic Journal

Volume

71

Publication Date

2004

First Page

232

Last Page

259

Abstract

This article examines systematically the growth of the English language from the year 252 ce through 1985. Using a data set collected from the CD-ROM version of the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, we characterize the time series of new words added to the language, by year, calculate rates of growth and obsolescence, and disaggregate the data by parts of speech. Economic models of language growth over a modern period (1830-1969) are then estimated. We report evidence that language is a "network" good (the number of new English words is negatively related to population and to gross national product), that additions to the language are retarded by government growth, that the stock of words in use is strongly influenced by foreign trade, and that causality runs from economics to neology but not the reverse. Some suggestive evidence on the relative "efficiency" of English also is presented.

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