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Lexical Density
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Lexicaldensityisdefinedasthenumberoflexicalwords(orcontentwords)dividedbythetotalnumberofwords[1],[2],[3],[4].
Lexicalwordsgiveatextitsmeaningandprovideinformationregardingwhatthetextisabout.Moreprecisely,lexicalwords
aresimplynouns,adjectives,verbs,andadverbs.Nounstellusthesubject,adjectivestellusmoreaboutthesubject,verbs
telluswhattheydo,andadverbstellushowtheydoit.
Otherkindsofwordssuchasarticles(a,the),prepositions(on,at,in),conjunctions(and,or,but),andsofortharemore
grammaticalinnatureand,bythemselves,givelittleornoinformationaboutwhatatextisabout.Thesenonlexicalwords
arealsocalledfunctionwords.Auxiliaryverbs,suchas"tobe"(am,are,is,was,were,being),"do"(did,does,doing),"have"
(had,has,having)andsoforth,arealsoconsiderednonlexicalastheydonotprovideadditionalmeaning.
Withtheaboveinmind,lexicaldensityissimplythepercentageofwordsinwritten(orspoken)languagewhichgiveus
informationaboutwhatisbeingcommunicated.Withregardtowriting,lexicaldensityissimplyameasureofhow
informativeatextis.

Simple Example #1
Weshallfirstdeterminethelexicaldensityofanidealexample.Considerthefollowingsentence:
The quick brown fox jumped swiftly over the lazy dog.
Whenthiswebsitecalculateslexicaldensity,itidentifieseachwordaseitheralexicalwordornot:
Thequickbrownfoxjumpedswiftlyoverthelazydog.
Thelexicalwords(nouns,adjectives,verbs,andadverbs)arecoloredgreen.
Thereareprecisely7lexicalwordsoutof10totalwords.Thelexicaldensityoftheabovepassageistherefore70%.

Simple Example #2
Nowconsideranotherexample:
She told him that she loved him.
Again,coloringthelexicalwordsingreenwehavethefollowing:
Shetoldhimthatshelovedhim.
Thelexicaldensityoftheabovesentenceis2lexicalwordsoutof7totalwords,foralexicaldensityof28.57%.

Comparing Examples #1 and #2


ThemeaningofthesentenceinExample#1isquiteclear.Itisnotdifficulttoimaginewhathappenedwhen"thequick
brownfoxjumpedswiftlyoverthelazydog."
Ontheotherhand,itisnotsoeasytoimaginewhatsentenceinExample#2means.Thereaderissuretoagreethat,dueto
theuseofvaguepersonalpronouns(sheandhim),thesecondsentencehasmultipleinterpretationsandis,therefore,quite
vague.
Noticethatlexicaldensityisareflectionoftheaboveobservations.Thefirstsentencehasaratherhighlexicaldensity(70%),
whereas,thesecondsentencehasalexicaldensitywhichisquitelow(28.57%).
ThereasonthatthesentenceinExample#1hasahighlexicaldensityisthatitexplicitlynamesboththesubject(fox)andthe
object(dog),givesusmoreinformationabouteachone(thefoxbeingquickandbrown,andthedogbeinglazy),andtells

ushowthesubjectperformedtheactionofjumping(swiftly).Thesentenceispackedwithinformationanditshighlexical
densityisareflectionofthat.
ThereasonthatthesentenceinExample#2hassuchlowlexicaldensityisthatitdoesn'tdoanyofthethingsthatthefirst
sentencedoes:wedon'tknowwhothesubject(she)andtheobject(him)reallyare;wedon'tknowhowshetoldhim
(loudly?softly?lazily?)orhowsheloveshim(intensely?passionately?);wedon'tevenknowifthefirst"she"and"him"mean
thesamepeopleasthesecond"she"and"him."Thissentencetellsusalmostnothing,anditslowlexicaldensityisan
indicatorofthat.
Bytheaboveexamples,wecannowseemoreclearlythatlexicaldensityisameasureofhowinformativeatextis.

Lexical Density as a Measure of


How Descriptive a Text Is
Wenowillustratetheaboveideasevenfurtherbystartingwithasentencewhichisnotverydescriptiveandprogressively
changingittomakeitmoreandmoreinformative(inthiscase,descriptive).Sentence1containsavaguepersonal
pronoun.Andwhenwechangethepronountoanactualname,wehavemoreinformationandthelexicaldensity
increasesasseeninSentence2.Continuingthisprocess,weeitheraddorchangeasinglewordatatimetomakethe
sentenceprogressivelymoreandmoredescriptiveasseeninthetablebelow.Thetendencyisforlexicaldensitytoincrease.

Lexical Density by Sentence

Lexical Words in Green

1 he loves going to the cinema .

Lexical
Density

50%

2 john loves going to the cinema .

66.67%

3 john smith loves going to the cinema .

71.43%

4 john smith loves going to the cinema everyday .

5 john smith intensely loves going to the cinema everyday .

6 john smith intensely loves going to the huge cinema everyday .

75%

77.78%

80%

Ourlexicaldensitycalculatoronourhomepagewillseparateyourtextintoindividualsentencesandcalculatethelexical
densityofeachoneasintheabovetable.

Lexical Density as a Measure of


How Meaningful a Text Is
Aslexicalwordsgivemeaningtothelanguagebeingused,readingonlythelexicalwordsinatextcangiveusa"gist"of
whatthetextisabout.Letusconsideranotherexample.Weshallgiveonlythelexicalwordsfromapassageandweaskthe
readertotrytoguessthewhatthetextisaboutfromonlythesewords:
momentgrowingeconomyshrinkingdeficitsbustlingindustryboomingenergyproductionrisenrecessionfreerwriteownfutu
reothernationEarthnowchoosewantnextyearsdecadescome
Usingthebuttonbelow,youmayreadtheentirepassage.
Show/HideNonLexicalWords.
Howdoesthe"gist"ofthepassagecomparewiththefullmeaningofthetext?Certainly,theydonotgiveeverydetail,but
thelexicalwordsbythemselveshelpustoidentifythegeneralidea,whiletheroleofthegrammatical,nonlexicalwordsis
tohelpuspiecethemtogethertoformthewhole [1].
Tocalculatethelexicaldensityoftheabovepassage,wecount26lexicalwordsoutof53totalwordswhichgivesalexical
densityof26/53,or,statedasapercentage,49.06%.

Typical Lexical Densities


Inthecaseofwrittentextsweemphasizethatlexicaldensityisnotameasureofthecomplexityorreadabilityofatext,but
rather,theamountofinformationthetexttriestoconvey.Thus,expositorytexts,suchasnews,journal,technical,and
informativearticles,tendtohavehigherlexicaldensities.Alexicallydensetexttypicallyscoresataround56%oraboveas
measuredbythiswebsite.

AnexampleofaverylexicallydensetextistheWikipediaarticlesummary(excludingtables,captions,citationmarks,and
peripheraltext)oninflationhedgeswhichalexicaldensityof64.19%.Moregenerally,however,Wikipediaarticleson
averagetendtoscorebetween55%and58%asobservedinthisexperimentdescribedunderourideassection.
AninformalsampleofBBCNewsandNewYorkTimesArticlestakenbythiswebsiteyieldssimilarresultsbothpublications
respectivelyscoring56%and58%.
Fictiononaveragetendstoscorebetween49%and51%.Thereadermayverifythisbytryingthisexperiment.
Moregeneralprosetendstohaveslightlylowerlexicaldensitiesnear48%and50%asobservedinthisexperiment.
Lexicaldensityisgenerallyhigherinwrittenlanguagethaninspokenlanguage[2],[3],[4].Thisisnotsurprisingaswrittentextis
generallymoreexpositoryinnatureandwillnaturallycontainmoreinformationbearing,lexicalwords,therebyincreasing
lexicaldensity.Moreover,spokenlanguagereliesuponothernonverbalcuesandcanbehighlycontextdependentwhich
reducesthenumberoflexicalwordsrequiredtocommunicateanidea.Thereaderisinvitedtoverifythisbyanalyzing
celebrityandpoliticalinterviewtranscripts.Theinterviewtranscriptsweanalyzedhadanaveragelexicaldensityofabout
45%.
Belowisatablewhichveryroughlysummarizestheabove(forlexicaldensityascalculatedbythiswebsite):

Text Type

Typical Lexical
Density

Expository Writing (Wikipedia and Newspaper


Articles)

between 55% and 58%

Fiction, General Prose

between 49% and 51%

Interview Transcripts (Spoken Language)

near 45%

Using Our Website


to Estimate Lexical Density
Ourlexicaldensitycalculatoronourhomepagewillseparateyourtextintoindividualsentencesandcalculatethelexical
densityofboththeentiretextandofeachindividualsentence.
Forexample,ifyoucopyandpastethefollowingtextfromOscarWilde's"TheHappyPrince"intothetextbox:
High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two
bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.
youwillgetthefollowingoutput.

Lexical Density for Entire Text

52.38%

Lexical Density by Sentence

Lexical Words in Green

Lexi
cal
Dens

ity

1 high above the city on a tall column stood the statue of the happy prince .

53.33
%

he was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold for eyes he had two brightsapphir 51.85
es and a large red ruby glowed on his swordhilt .
%

Assumptions and Limitations


WefirstnotethatourcalculationoflexicaldensityassumesthatatextiswritteninEnglish.Furthermore,itisassumedthata
textisproperlypunctuatedandapostrophesareusedcorrectly.
Secondly,sinceweuseacomputeralgorithmtomakethedistinctionbetweendifferentpartsofspeech,noteverywordwill
beproperlyclassifiedaslexicalornonlexical.Andsofar,nocomputeralgorithmcandothistaskperfectly.Thus,anyonline
applicationwhichcomputeslexicaldensitycanonlyofferacloseapproximation.Butinmostcasestheapproximationis
generallyagoodone.
Wealsopointoutthathowtoclassifycertainwordscanbeapointofdebate[1],[3].Forexample,anaeroplanetakesoff.Do
weclassify"takeoff"asaverbandaseparatepreposition,orasasinglephrasalverb?Whatismore,dowecountthe
wordhe'sastwowordsheis(apronounandanauxiliaryverb)orasingleword?Theaboveillustratessomeofthe
ambiguitieswhichcanariseandtheresultingassumptionswhichmustbemadeinordertomakeacalculation.The
softwareusedbythissitetreatscontractionsassinglewordsandphrasalverbsastwo.
Despitesuchambiguities,thereaderwillseethat,forthemostpart,computerscandoadecentjobofdistinguishinglexical
wordsfromnonlexicalwords,andweagainencouragethereadertotryourlexicaldensitycalculatortobetterunderstand
howthiswebsitecalculateslexicaldensity.

Applying Lexical Density


to Your Own Writing and Beyond
ThefollowingarticlebyDavidDidau,Blackspace:improvingwritingbyincreasinglexicaldensity,doesafinejobof
illustratinghowtoapplytheconceptoflexicaldensitytoimproveawritingsample.Inparticular,byidentifyinglexicaland
nonlexicalwords,awritercanridtheirtextof"extraneousgrammaticalgarbage"aswellaschangethegrammatical
structuresoastoincreasecontentbearing(lexical)words.Bydoingso,Didaushowswithclearexampleshowatextcan
becomemoreconciseandmeaningful.
Thereadermayalsobeinterestedinaninformalarticlewhichexamineshowthelexicaldensityofsonglyrics[5]ofawell
knownbandvariesfromalbumtoalbum.

Conclusions
Wehavemadeourbestattempttoexplaintheconceptoflexicaldensityandhowthiswebsitecalculateslexicaldensity.
Wehavealsotriedtoillustratehowlexicaldensitycanbeinterpretedas"howinformativeatextis"byusingexamples
rangingfromhightolowlexicaldensity.Moreover,wehaveattemptedtomakethereaderawareofthelimitationsand
assumptionsthatmustbemadeinordertoestimatelexicaldensity.Finally,wehavetriedtopointthereadertoresources
whichcanhelpthemapplytheconceptoflexicaldensitytoanalyzeandimprovetheirownwriting.
Ifquestionsremain,weencouragethereadertodelvedeeperintothetopicthemselvesbyconsultingthereferencesand
linksatthebottomofthepage.There,thereaderwillfindanabundanceofotherlinksandreferencesfromwhichtheycan
begintheirowninvestigationofthetopiciftheyaresoinclined.Andagain,weencouragethereadertoexperimentwith
thesoftwarethemselvesinordertogaininsightsaboutdifferentformsofwritingaswellastheirown.And,ofcourse,ifthe
readerhasanysuggestionsforhowtoimprovethisarticlepleasedosohere.
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Links and References


[1]Didau,David(2013),Blackspace:improvingwritingbyincreasinglexicaldensity,fromTheLearningSpy:BrainFoodfor
theThinkingTeacher
[2]Johansson,V.(2008),Lexicaldiversityandlexicaldensityinspeechandwriting:adevelopmentalperspective,Working
Papers53,6179.
[3]To,Vinh,LexicalDensityandReadability:ACaseStudyofEnglishTextbooks,presentationgivenattheUniversityof
Tasmania.
[4]Ure,J.(1971),Lexicaldensityandregisterdifferentiation.InG.PerrenandJ.L.M.Trim(eds),ApplicationsofLinguistics,
London:CambridgeUniversityPress.443452.
[5]EverythinginItsRightPlace:VisualizationandContentAnalysisofRadioheadLyrics
2016AnalyzeMyWriting