NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 11, 2005

The growth of the English language is dependent on trade, wealth, population and the size of the government, according to economists writing in the Southern Economic Journal.

Using data from the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1969, researchers determined how trade, wealth, population and government relate to the growth in words of the English language:

  • One word is added to the English language for every $4.3-$8.5 million increase in real exports.
  • One fewer word is added for every $3.3-$10.8 million increase in real imports.
  • Similarly, a 160,000 increase in population or a $18.6 million increase in gross national product (GNP) caused one fewer word to be added to the language base.

Researchers also found that the size of government, as measured by total revenues or total expenditures, had a negative impact on the growth of the English language. The authors suggest that government puts pressure on markets to standardize their usage of words and to normalize the process of contracting.

Exports increase the incentives of traders, who must familiarizes themselves with the language, currency, and customs of the countries with which they trade, to incorporate additional words into the English language. The authors say these "loan words" -- borrowed from foreign tongues -- eventually become legitimated by usage.

Source: Michael Reksulak et al., "Economics and English: Language Growth in Economic Perspective," Southern Economic Journal, October 2004.


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