Swadesh List

Sep 9th, 2015 by Geckat in Conlangs, Linguistics, Minor

So here’s the deal: I haven’t been working on languages as of late because I’ve been working on natural ones.  Very gradually learning French, trying to pick Swedish back up, picking up German a little too to amuse some new friends I’ve made.  But I’ve also still been hard at work on what I’m doing here.

Anyone perusing my projects will notice that while I’m fairly good at getting the grammatical stuff that I need down and all that good stuff, I’m absolutely terrible at actually coming up with words.  Indeed, there are some projects where I’ve formulated the phonology, got some solid phonotactic rules down, figured out how the syntax and morphology work, what grammatical systems are in place, churned out numbers and particles and then…wait, you need words to have a language?  Dang.  Eh, I’ll do it later.

I do this in language learning, too; ask me anything about Japanese grammar and I’m your textbook, but hell if I can remember more than fifty words in it.  So I’m trying a different route in my art: I looked around for a while for a list of words that essentially every language should have in some form.

Of course there are the Swadesh lists, but those tend to be rather short, contain a lot of grammatical terms like pronouns, and generally be unsuited to the purposes where the language in question is of, say, a race of bipedal lizards with no teeth.  And then there are frequency lists, which can be much longer, but again, lots of grammatical words, and also lots and lots of culturally, geographically, and technologically specific terms, which also makes them unsuitable.  In both cases, they tend to be culturally biased.

So I’ve gone out and painstakingly created (see: still creating) my own big long Swadesh list.  At the moment it has 754 words, and is made up of me taking the 1,000 most used words in written English, Chinese, Swahili, and Arabic, omitting all the synonyms, grammatical words, names for animals, technologically specific, geographically specific, and culturally specific terms, armed with my knowledge of Blackfoot, which loves its derivation and compounding, to omit unnecessary words.  So far it’s quite well-appreciated in the conlanging community and should, once filled in, make for a language that is about 60% “complete”.  That is, you can speak it and say whatever it is you want to say about 60% of the time, with most of the rest of the stuff being reliant on the technology, culture, and geography that your conculture may or may not have.

Have a look.

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