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Poll ResultsPoll 427: (a) Are you a native English speaker; (b) how many words are in: "I don't know"?
Total votes: 4408
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.