2. Academic vocabulary 15
2. Academic vocabulary Not all languages have a distinct, substantial and specialised academic vocabulary. In a case study, the 2,000 most commonly used words in French (the general service words) provided 84% coverage of popular tests and 81% coverage of medical texts. The case in English was different, where the 2,000 most commonly used words covered 81% of popular texts but only 70% of medical texts (Cobb/Horst 2004). The lower coverage of general service words in English medical texts is due to the significant presence of academic words in the language. Researchers have focused on ways to help learners of academic English cope with the vocabulary demands of reading in English, leading to the development of lists of academic words. 2.1. Identifying a distinct vocabulary The presence of an academic vocabulary is noted by Dresher (1934) in his division of academic texts into three levels: general service, technical, and sub-technical (academic). It is given close attention in Barber’s (1962) investigation of the grammatical structures and vocabulary in three academic texts. Barber seeks in his study to provide “a list of words which would generally be useful to the science and technology student trying to read specialist textbooks in English” (1962: 36). The list was intended to be applicable for non- English speaking students studying in a range of countries. Barber assumed that his target student population would be fa- miliar with the 2,000 words appearing in West’s (1953) General Service List of English Words and thus excluded...
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