core vocabulary

Core vocabulary: Is it time to think about phrasal verbs

phrasal verb examples with word GET

If English is your second language, my apologies in advance. You likely already know what a phrasal verb is and may even have some strong negative emotions towards this topic of study!  You may have stacks of flash cards and lists of phrasal verbs. You may even occasionally find yourself avoiding these phrases and secretly feeling a bit of a thrill when you nail them. 

If English is your first language, well I suspect that you, like me,  never have heard of this term, unless you studied English or have attempted to teach English as a second language. 

I am beginning to think that they are somethign we should be thinking a lot more about in the AAC world.

Let me give you a quick review:

Core words: botany lessons at the butcher

tulips at the butcherLiving in Italy deepened my understanding of the power of core vocabulary. Here is just one story of when my (very small) Italian core vocabulary opened doors to connection and new knowledge.

The Tulip Story

I was living in Genoa, which is a very old city. Many people in my neighborhood still spoke Genoese and Genoese words were often sprinkled into Italian conversation. Words like ardiciòcca are relatively easy to guess in context (i.e., artichoke), other times the word is both impossible for me to remember let alone pronounce.

One day I was in the local butcher. They had the most beautiful display of tulips.  I asked him in Italian if I could take a photo of the flowers - Certo! (certainly)

 I explained how it is really cold where my parents are and that the flowers areblooming  late this year.  The guy behind me told me in Italian that even here there are few flowers at this time of year, the exception being _____.  I had no idea what the last word was, but from context I knew it was a spring flower.

The butcher then described it to me, using the tulip leaves and stem to help describe the shape of the mystery flower.  Clearly it wasn't crocus or those grape shaped purple flowers I also don't know the name of.

The man behind me in line continued to describe the flowers.  I pointed to some other flowers in the shop and asked if they were these shades of yellow and sometimes white. They nodded.

Ah, I said, "Daffodil!"  They all shrugged.

I asked for the man to repeat the word in Italian for me, and he said, "Boh (classic word  for I don't know or perhaps close to the American beats me or who knows), I was actually using the Genoese word for it. I don't know the word in Italian."

The butcher did however.  He translated the Genoese word into Italian, which I promptly forgot. And that is fine. I can look it up or use the words I already know to ask for it again. English-Italian dictionaries are much easier to find than English to Genoese ones.

That said, I knew that the word "daffodil" wouldn't have been very useful.  Seriously, I can go years without using the word in English. In fact, I had to look up the spelling each time I wrote it here. 

What was amazing was the 10 minute interaction I had with these two men a generation ahead of me in a small narrow street in the heart of Genoa using only my core Italian vocabulary.

We laughed and smiled and I think all remembered the interaction for awhile. I know I do!

These were the words that  I used (loosely translated from Italian):

Core vocabulary: an overview

Toddle core words from Banajee list

When I first started working with children with complex communication needs I had never heard that term "Complex Communication Needs". I am pretty sure it was already starting to be used in Australia by then, but it certainly hadn't arrived to my small town in Oregon at the time.

Nor did I know anything about core vocabulary, which is amazing because it is a pretty simple and powerful idea.

Basically a relatively small number of words (less than 300-500 depending on the researcher) accounts for over 70% (or more depending on the data collected) of what we say.   Bruce Baker used this basic linguist principle as the basis of his Minspeak language system that is used on Prentke Romich Company's devices (PRC).  He has written up nice summary of core vocabulary with some frequency lists from different researchers here.

For the linguistically geeky, there are many linguists with no interest in AAC who also have collected extensive sets of spoken and written language and counted the relative frequency.  Leech, Leyson, and Wilson did one such effort in 2001 and have shared their word frequency lists here.   They, and others, have shown that we use different words more frequently for spoken versus written language.  Further, when we are speaking conversationally different words are used more frequently than during task based communication.

Here are some of the most frequently core words in spoken English from one of Leech et al's 2001 lists of adult British English:

Adjectives: 
good, other, right, little, new, nice, big, old, different, sure, sorry, alright, long, great, able, better, local, bad, important, wrong, whole, bloody, only

Interjection:
eah, oh, no, yes, mm, mhm, ah, ooh, aye, aha, hello, ha, eh, dear, bye, yep, hey

Preposition:
of, in, to, for, on, with, at, about, from, like, by, into, as, through, over, after, off, between, against, within, round, under, without, before, across, down, past, during, up, around, regarding

Pronouns:
I, you, it, we, they, he, she, them, one, me, who, him, something, us, her, anything, somebody, nothing, everything, everybody, anybody, yourself, someone, mine, myself, nobody, lots, themselves, everyone, anyone, ya, itself, yours, himself, none, ourselves, ours, 'em, plenty, nil, nought, herself, his,  whoever, whom, hers, yourselves, theirs

Verbs,
's, is, do, was, have, be, know, got, 've, are, 're, think, get, did, go, had, were, said, 'm, see, mean, going, say, been, want, come, put, has, does,  take, look, like, make, doing, done, went, give, thought, need, says, tell, being, thank, saying, 'd, getting, made, find, coming, remember, goes, came, use, having, keep, talking, looking, gone, work, let's, ask, try, let, seen, start, feel, told, comes, wanted, trying, pay, called, call, leave, took, working, left, suppose, talk, am, buy, started, read

Modal verbs:
can, would, 'll, could, will, can't, 'd, should, might, used, must, won't, may, shall, ought, need, dare

Core vocabulary in my early days: