“The consequences of reading are reciprocal and exponential,” write Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich in their remarkable essay, “What Reading Does for the Mind” (2001). Reading researchers both, they examine how the volume of reading affects mental capacity, in particular the powerful effect on vocabulary.
It turns out that speech is, in the authors’ words’ “lexically impoverished.” A 1988 study that measured the incidence of rare words found that conversation between college graduates, no less, typically uses only 17 rare words per thousand. Typical preschool books runs at about 16 rare words per thousand.
Prime-time tv shows use about 23 rare words per thousand. less than a typical children’s book at about 31 per thousand. Adult books come in at 53, newspapers at 68.
No wonder people don’t read newspapers! It’s four times easier to hang out out with friends and three times easier to watch tv. Who has the energy to be an intellectual?