The English Lexicon Project

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, you will learn about the English Lexicon Project, including what it is, who helped put it together, and what kind of information is included in it.

The English Lexicon Project

Have you ever wondered how many words there are in the English language? The truth is, there are too many to count, and new ones are being created all the time! However, a team of researchers across universities wanted to create a database, or computer-based collection, of as many English words as possible. The result was the English Lexicon Project. A lexicon is the collection of words that make up a language, or a person's vocabulary.

This database is made up of more than 40,000 English words, as well as over 40,000 nonwords (words that are not real words, but that follow English language rules). It's constantly growing as new words are added. The project was started in 2000 by a team of six universities all across the country: Morehead State University, SUNY Albany, the University of Kansas, the University of South Florida, Washington University, and Wayne State University. It is an open and ongoing project.

The database is open to the public, though the search portion is fairly technical. It is mainly aimed at researchers, especially in the fields of language and linguistics. This is why it includes nonwords, which are often useful in language research.

The English Lexicon Project contains more than 40,000 English words
Digital Word Cloud

Lexical Characteristics

The database doesn't just have a huge list of words. Each word is organized by its lexical characteristics. Lexical characteristics are the specific features of each word. This includes things like spelling and pronunciation. The English Lexicon Project database has 22 search options for the lexical characteristics of a word. However, these can be grouped into a few major categories.

1. Length: The number of letters in a word

2. Frequency: How often a word is used. For example, the would have a higher frequency than xylophone.

3. Orthographic characteristics: How something is spelled. This would, for instance, allow you to search for any words that have ph in them.

4. Phonological characteristics: How a word is pronounced. Each word in the database has been written phonetically, so that it is written the way it sounds.

5. Parts of Speech: You can search specifically for verbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, etc.

When searching for words in the database, you can choose one or combine any number of these to see which words fit the characteristics you are looking for.


So what is the purpose behind this project? The goal of most databases is to collect and organize large amounts of data to make future research easier and faster, and the English Lexicon Project shares that goal. The idea is that it will help researchers create lists of words for their projects without having to create brand new lists every time. It saves a lot of time and energy, and allows for more actual research time.

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