Core Words

This material is still in its very early stages, but I wanted to have something in place, so…

Executive Brief: The development of expressive language should not be constrained by the frequency with which words are used in writing, particularly not when the curricular set of “core words” has been restricted by the dominant paradigm’s multifarious control over which books are measured for that frequency.



I feel like it shouldn’t be necessary to emphasize that reading and speaking/signing are not the same thing.

When you are learning to receive the messages that are conveyed through the written expression of other people (i.e., reading), it makes some sense (and is supported by the research) to focus on learning the words that those writers use most often.

BUT… (and yeah, that’s a big but)

When you are learning to express yourself (in any modality), it does not make sense (nor is it supported by the research) to focus on the words that people write most often, much less to confine yourself to that deliberately impoverished vocabulary that is presented in the classroom. What’s worse is when your expression is muzzled by people who ignorantly (and/or abusively) turn your expressive AAC system into their teaching tool.

What if you were only allowed to speak if you agreed to recite Fun with Dick and Jane?

See Jane riot.

Riot, Jane, riot!

Many classroom core word lists are ultimately sourced from children’s books that are 100 years old (i.e., the Dolch list, which feeds Edmark). That is why ‘horse’ is still high on the list, along with the types of words that adults write into children’s books with the intent of training them to be obedient and polite. Those adults were trying to force children to express themselves in a manner that was consistent with the language that those adults wrote directly into those instruction books. 

So Dolch is not a list of the words that are used most frequently by children, but rather it is openly a list of words that turn-of-the-previous-century (privileged) adults most wanted children to learn in the culture of privileged book writers. That is why ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ are on the list instead of ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’.

And evidently children don’t need the word for ‘nine’.

Another common source is the 1971 American Heritage corpus, on which the Fry list is based. The word ‘the’ appeared 373,123 times and ranked #1. ‘Butt’ appeared a mere 24 times (probably never to refer to a human butt), ranking between ‘adaptation’ and ‘destiny’ in their estimated frequency-per-million tokens. Next one down in is ‘robots’.  These are all and only books drawn from school curricular programs, so they are knowingly sacrificing the data to save the theory. Taboo vocabulary — as determined by the dominant paradigm — is nowhere to be found, other than of course in the contributions of Mark Twain… but the DP is fine with the n-word, just so long as you don’t say something as horrible as “shit.” Yes, you guessed it: the American heritage corpus is scared shitless.

So the DP only allows certain books to be used in schools, then those sets define the corpus that is measured for word frequency counts, which influences the types of materials that are fed to the DP for vetting in schools. 

Everything else aside, the vocabulary that motivates people to express themselves is their individual fringe, not the core.


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