Witty, P., & LaBrant, L. (1930, February 22). Educational research and statistics. School and Society, 31(791), 268-272.
Witty and LaBrant challenge “that the recognition and understanding of many words are essential if one is to read rapidly with a high degree of comprehension” (p. 268). They analyzed twelve books in order to identify vocabulary use, concluding “over 90 per cent. of all the words appearing in any one of the books analyzed come from the five thousand most commonly used words” (p. 272).
Quoting Witty and LaBrant:
The so-called classics apparently present no more difficulties from this vocabulary standpoint than do the popular modern novels. (p. 272)
…It seems, therefore, that elements other than vocabulary—social context, sentence structure, style—determine the choice of reading materials for persons above fourteen years of age.
It appears that the problem of vocabulary development may have received too much emphasis; that it is the way in which words are used (not the number alone) that determines “how we think.” (p. 272)