I’ve been tinkering with AntConc, Laurence Anthony’s free concordancer, which has led me down a bit of a rabbit hole of lists generated by corpus linguists over the past 60 years. I’ve listed a few that I’ve used, sometimes within AntConc, to analyze students’ writing. If you’ve taught students to investigate their linguistic hunches via the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), you might also consider teaching them to put their own writing into a tool like AntConc to analyze their own writing as well. By including the lists below a blacklist (do not show) or a whitelist (show only these), students can hone in on a more specific part of their vocabulary. Most of these lists are available for download, which means you can be up and running with your own analysis very quickly.
The lists (in chronological order):
General Service List (GSL) – developed by Michael West in 1953; based on a 2.5 million word corpus. (Can you imagine doing corpus linguistics in 1953? Much of it must have been by hand, which is mind boggling.) Despite criticism that it is out of date (words such as plastic and television are not included, for example), this pioneering list still provides about 80% coverage of English.
Academic Word List (AWL) – developed by Averil Coxhead in 2000; 570 words (word families) selected from a purpose-built academic corpus with the 2000 most frequent GSL words removed; organized into 9 lists of 60 and one of 30, sorted by frequency. Scores of textbooks have been written based on these lists, and for good reason. In fact, we have found that students are so familiar with these materials, they test disproportionately highly on these words versus other advanced vocabulary.
Academic Vocabulary List (AVL) – the 3000 most frequent words in the 120 million words in the academic portion of the 440 million word Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). This word list includes groupings by word families, definitions, and an online interface for browsing or uploading texts to be analyzed according to the list.
New General Service List (NGSL) – developed by Charles Browne, Brent Culligan, and Joseph Phillips in 2013; based on the two-billion-word Cambridge English Corpus (CEC); 2368 words that cover 90.34% of the CEC.
New Academic Word List (NAWL) – based on three components: the CEC Academic Corpus; two oral corpora, the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE) and the British Academic Spoken English (BASE) corpus; and on a corpus of published textbooks for a total of 288 million words. The NAWL is to the NGSL what the AWL is to the GSL in that it contains the 964 most frequent words in the academic corpus after the NGSL words have been removed.