Word knowledge in the crowd: Measuring vocabulary size and word prevalence in a massive online experiment

Emmanuel Keuleers*, Michael Stevens, Pawel Mandera, Marc Brysbaert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

128 Citations (Scopus)


We use the results of a large online experiment on word knowledge in Dutch to investigate variables influencing vocabulary size in a large population and to examine the effect of word prevalence-the percentage of a population knowing a word-as a measure of word occurrence. Nearly 300,000 participants were presented with about 70 word stimuli (selected from a list of 53,000 words) in an adapted lexical decision task. We identify age, education, and multilingualism as the most important factors influencing vocabulary size. The results suggest that the accumulation of vocabulary throughout life and in multiple languages mirrors the logarithmic growth of number of types with number of tokens observed in text corpora (Herdan's law). Moreover, the vocabulary that multilinguals acquire in related languages seems to increase their first language (L1) vocabulary size and outweighs the loss caused by decreased exposure to L1. In addition, we show that corpus word frequency and prevalence are complementary measures of word occurrence covering a broad range of language experiences. Prevalence is shown to be the strongest independent predictor of word processing times in the Dutch Lexicon Project, making it an important variable for psycholinguistic research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1665-1692
Number of pages28
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Prevalence
  • Herdan's law
  • Bilingualism
  • Frequency
  • Ageing
  • Crowdsourcing


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