Vocabulary; Twenty Definitions 3600 Words

PROCEDURE. Use the list of words given in the record booklet. Say to the

child: "_I want to find out how many words you know. Listen; and when I

say a word you tell me what it means._" If the child can read, give him

a printed copy of the word list and let him look at each word as you

pronounce it.

The words are arranged approximately (though not exactly) in the order

of their difficulty, and it is best t
begin with the easier words and

proceed to the harder. With children under 9 or 10 years, begin with the

first. Apparently normal children of 10 years may safely be credited

with the first ten words without being asked to define them. Apparently

normal children of 12 may begin with word 16, and 15-year-olds with

word 21. Except with subjects of almost adult intelligence there is no

need to give the last ten or fifteen words, as these are almost never

correctly defined by school children. A safe rule to follow is to

continue until eight or ten successive words have been missed and to

score the remainder _minus_ without giving them.

The formula is as follows: "What is an _orange_?" "What is a _bonfire_?"

"_Roar_; what does _roar_ mean?" "_Gown_; what is a _gown_?" "What does

_tap_ mean?" "What does _scorch_ mean?" "What is a _puddle_?" etc.

Some children at first show a little hesitation about answering,

thinking that a strictly formal definition is expected. In such cases a

little encouragement is necessary; as: "_You know what a bonfire is. You

have seen a bonfire. Now, what is a bonfire?_" If the child still

hesitates, say: "_Just tell me in your own words; say it any way you

please. All I want is to find out whether you know what a bonfire is._"

Do not torture the child, however, by undue insistence. If he persists

in his refusal to define a word which he would ordinarily be expected to

know, it is better to pass on to the next one and to return to the

troublesome word later. Above all, avoid helping the child by

illustrating the use of a word in a sentence. Adhere strictly to the

formula given above. If the definition as given does not make it clear

whether the child has the correct idea, say: "_Explain_," or, "_I don't

understand; explain what you mean._"

Encourage the child frequently by saying: "That's fine. You are doing

beautifully. You know lots of words," etc. Never tell the child his

definition is not correct, and never ask for a different definition.

Avoid saying anything which would suggest a model form of definition, as

the type of definition which the child spontaneously chooses throws

interesting light on the degree of maturity of the apperceptive

processes. Record all definitions _verbatim_ if possible, or at least

those which are exceptionally good, poor, or doubtful.

SCORING. Credit a response in full if it gives one correct meaning for

the word, regardless of whether that meaning is the most common one, and

regardless of whether it is the original or a derived meaning.

Occasionally half credit may be given, but this should be avoided as far

as possible.

To find the entire vocabulary, multiply the number of words known by

180. (This list is made up of 100 words selected by rule from a

dictionary containing 18,000 words.) Thus, the child who defines

20 words correctly has a vocabulary of 20 x 180 = 3600 words; 50 correct

definitions would mean a vocabulary of 9000 words, etc. The following

are the standards for different years, as determined by the vocabulary

reached by 60 to 65 per cent of the subjects of the various mental


8 years 20 words vocabulary 3,600

10 years 30 words vocabulary 5,400

12 years 40 words vocabulary 7,200

14 years 50 words vocabulary 9,000

Average adult 65 words vocabulary 11,700

Superior adult 75 words vocabulary 13,500

Although the form of the definition is significant, it is not taken into

consideration in scoring. The test is intended to explore the range of

ideas rather than the evolution of thought forms. When it is evident

that the child has one fairly correct meaning for a word, he is given

full credit for it, however poorly the definition may have been stated.

While there is naturally some difficulty now and then in deciding

whether a given definition is correct, this happens much less frequently

than one would expect. In order to get a definite idea of the extent of

error due to the individual differences among examiners, we have had the

definitions of 25 subjects graded independently by 10 different persons.

The result showed an average difference below 3 in the number of

definitions scored _plus_. Since these subjects attempted on an average

about 60 words, the average number of doubtful definitions per subject

was below 5 per cent of the number attempted.

An idea of the degree of leniency to be exercised may be had from the

following examples of definitions, which are mostly of low grade, but

acceptable unless otherwise indicated:--

1. _Orange._ "An orange is to eat." "It is yellow and grows on a

tree." (Both full credit.)

2. _Bonfire._ "You burn it outdoors." "You burn some leaves or

things." "It's a big fire." (All full credit.)

3. _Roar._ "A lion roars." "You holler loud." (Full credit.)

4. _Gown._ "To sleep in." "It's a nightie." "It's a nice gown that

ladies wear." (All full credit.)

7. _Puddle._ "You splash in it." "It's just a puddle of water."

(Both full credit.)

9. _Straw._ "It grows in the field." "It means wheat-straw." "The

horses eat it." (All full credit.)

10. _Rule._ "The teacher makes rules." "It means you can't do

something." "You make marks with it," i.e., a ruler, often

called a _rule_ by school children. (All full credit.)

11. _Afloat._ "To float on the water." "A ship floats." (Both full


12. _Eyelash._ If the child says, "It's over the eye," tell him to

point to it, as often the word is confused with _eyebrow_.

14. _Copper._ "It's a penny." "It means some copper wire." (Both

full credit.)

15. _Health._ "It means good health or bad health." "It means

strong." (Both full credit.)

17. _Guitar._ "You play on it." (Full credit.)

18. _Mellow._ If the child says, "It means a mellow apple," ask

what kind of apple that would be. For full credit the answer

must be "soft," "mushy," etc.

19. _Pork._ If the answer is "meat," ask what animal it comes

from. Half credit if wrong animal is named.

21. _Plumbing._ "You fix pipes." (Full credit.)

25. _Southern._ If the answer is "Southern States," or

"Southern California," say: "_Yes; but what does 'southern'

mean?_" Do not credit unless explanation is forthcoming.

26. _Noticeable._ "You notice a thing." (Full credit.)

29. _Civil._ "Civil War." (Failure unless explained.) "It means to

be nice." (Full credit.)

30. _Treasury._ Give half credit for definitions like "Valuables,"

"Lots of money," etc.; i.e., if the word is confused with


32. _Ramble._ "To go about fast." (Half credit.)

38. _Nerve._ Half credit if the slang use is defined, "You've got

nerve," etc.

41. _Majesty._ "What you say to a king." (Full credit.)

45. _Sportive._ "To like sports." (Half credit.) "Playful" or

"happy." (Full credit.)

46. _Hysterics._ "You laugh and cry at the same time." "A kind of

sickness." "A kind of fit." (All full credit.)

48. _Repose._ "You pose again." (Failure.)

52. _Coinage._ "A place where they make money." (Half credit.)

56. _Dilapidated._ "Something that's very old." (Half credit.)

58. _Conscientious._ "You're careful how you do your work." (Full


60. _Artless._ "No art." (Failure unless correctly explained.)

61. _Priceless._ "It has no price." (Failure.)

66. _Promontory._ "Something prominent." (Failure unless child can

explain what it refers to.)

68. _Milksop._ "You sop up milk." (Failure.)

73. _Harpy._ "A kind of bird." (Full credit.)

80. _Exaltation._ "You feel good." (Full credit.)

85. _Retroactive._ "Acting backward." (Full credit.)

92. _Theosophy._ "A religion." (Full credit.)

It is seen from the above examples that a very liberal standard has been

used. Leniency in judging definitions is necessary because the child's

power of expression lags farther behind his understanding than is true

of adults, and also because for the young subject the word has a

relatively less unitary existence.

REMARKS. Our vocabulary test was derived by selecting the last word

of every sixth column in a dictionary containing approximately

18,000 words, presumably the 18,000 most common words in the language.

The test is based on the assumption that 100 words selected according to

some arbitrary rule will be a large enough sampling to afford a fairly

reliable index of a subject's entire vocabulary. Rather extensive

experimentation with this list and others chosen in a similar manner

has proved that the assumption is justified. Tests of the same

75 individuals with five different vocabulary tests of this type showed

that the average difference between two tests of the same person was

less than 5 per cent. This means that any one of the five tests used is

reliable enough for all practical purposes. It is of no special

importance that a given child's vocabulary is 8000 rather than 7600; the

significance lies in the fact that it is approximately 8000 and not

4000, 12,000, or some other widely different number.

It may seem to the reader almost incredible that so small a sampling of

words would give a reliable index of an individual's vocabulary. That it

does so is due to the operation of the ordinary laws of chance. It is

analogous to predicting the results of an election when only a small

proportion of the ballots have been counted. It is known that a ballot

box contains 600 votes, and if when only 30 have been counted it is

found that they are divided between two candidates in the proportion of

20 and 10, it is safe to predict that a complete count will give the two

candidates approximately 400 and 200 respectively.In 1914 about

1,000,000 votes were cast for governor in California, and when only

10,000 votes had been counted, or a hundredth of all, it was announced

and conceded that Governor Johnson had been reelected by the 150,000

plurality. The completed count gave him 188,505 plurality. The error was

less than 4 per cent of the total vote.

The vocabulary test has a far higher value than any other single test of

the scale. Used with children of English-speaking parents (with children

whose home language is not English it is of course unreliable), it

probably has a higher value than any three other tests in the scale. Our

statistics show that in a large majority of cases the vocabulary test

alone will give us an intelligence quotient within 10 per cent of that

secured by the entire scale. Out of hundreds of English-speaking

children we have not found one testing significantly above age who had a

significantly low vocabulary; and correspondingly, those who test much

below age never have a high vocabulary.

Occasionally, however, a subject tests somewhat higher or lower in

vocabulary than the mental age would lead us to expect. This is often

the case with dull children in cultured homes and with very intelligent

children whose home environment has not stimulated language development.

But even in these cases we are not seriously misled, for the dull child

of fortunate home surroundings shows his dullness in the quality of his

definitions if not in their quantity; while the bright child of

illiterate parents shows his intelligence in the aptness and accuracy of

his definitions.

We have not worked out a satisfactory method of scoring the quality of

definitions in our vocabulary test, but these differences will be

readily observed by the trained examiner. Definitions in terms of use

and definitions which are slightly inaccurate or hazy are quite

characteristic of the lower mental ages. Children of the lower mental

age have also a tendency to venture wild guesses at words they do not

know. This is especially characteristic of retarded subjects and is

another example of their weakness of auto-criticism. One feeble-minded

boy of 12 years, with a mental age of 8 years, glibly and confidently

gave definitions for every one of the hundred words. About 70 of the

definitions were pure nonsense.

This vocabulary test was arranged and partially standardized by Mr.

H. G. Childs and the writer in 1911. Many experiments since then have

proved its value as a test of intelligence.