German in Numbers

How many words has the German vocabulary? The Wortschatz (vocabulary; Wort = word; Schatz = treasure) changes constantly because ever-changing science, technology, media, and the influence of other cultures etc. bring us new words every day. 

The editors of the Duden, the official German dictionary, estimate a Wortschatz between 300.000 and 500.000 words. A Muttersprachler (native speaker) uses around 12.000 to 16.000 words, among them 3.500 Fremdwörter (foreign words). The passive vocabulary, meaning words a person understands but does not use, is much higher: 50.000. However, Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749 – 1832), our great poet and provider of lyrics for many Lieder, had a Wortschatz of 90.000 words, according to the Goethe-Wörterbuch, a project of four German universities.

The most recent entries in the Duden are Klubkultur (feminine) and the verb vertwittern. The noun Klubkultur describes all cultural phenomena associated with techno clubs, like the music itself, the influence the clubs have on the life of a city and its young generation, dance, certain clothing, etc. The word came up during the covid pandemic when all clubs had to be closed for many months which threatened this important part of cultural life in Germany The verb vertwittern stems from the name of the Twitter service and has two meanings:

vertwittern = to spread a message through Twitter; to tweed. And reflexive: sich vertwittern = to send erroneously flase information through Twitter.

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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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