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Poll Results

Poll 427: (a) Are you a native English speaker; (b) how many words are in: "I don't know"?

Total votes: 4408

(a) I am a native English speaker; (b) 3 words: 1956 (44.4%)
(a) I am a native English speaker; (b) 4 words: 1360 (30.9%)
(a) I am not a native English speaker; (b) 4 words: 784 (17.8%)  
(a) I am not a native English speaker; (b) 3 words: 308 (7.0%)

I was prompted to ask this question by a discussion in the forums about the annotation to strip #2196, in which I state that three of the most powerful words in the English language are "I don't know". Several people commented that "I don't know" is actually 4 words, not 3. Other people, of course, countered that it was indeed three words.

The interesting thing about this discussion was that every single one of the people arguing for 4 words was not a native speaker of English, while every single one of the people arguing for 3 words was a native English speaker. The sample was of course too small to make a general conclusion (there were only 8 or 9 people involved at that point), so I decided to broaden the sampling to several thousand people.

Interestingly the results do seem to confirm that there is a systematic bias here. Native speakers of English are more likely to consider a contraction such as "don't" as one word, while non-native speakers are more likely to consider it as two words.


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This work is copyright and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence by David Morgan-Mar. dmm@irregularwebcomic.net