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natural semantic metalanguage and Glosa

William T. Branch ("William T. Branch" <bill@...>) on August 17, 2006

I’ve been studying the NSM or natural semantic metalanguage developed by Anna Wierzbicka and Cliff Goddard. I was pointed this direction by my need to define Glosa words on the wiki. The idea is that words can be defined in terms of simpler words which in turn themselves get defined by even simpler words. At some point, the remaining words are so basic that you can no longer use more atomic words to describe them. The claim of NSM is that not only every language has a semantic core, but that every language shares a small number of words that although are lexically different, are semantically the same and can be used to build up the rest of the language. In other words, every language shares the same semantic core. So far sixty three primitives have been discovered and tested by various scholars.

If this claim holds up, (and so far it seems sound to me) then the implications are profound for all languages and especially constructed languages. It means a simple word list won’t and can’t cut it for an artificial language since several words don’t really translate across very well. It suggests that a language is best taught by starting with these primes and working out from there. This could be a shot in the arm for any constructed language.

What is noteworthy here also is how expressive and natural sounding these primes are. I suspect that carefully choosing a beginner vocabulary from the primes and adding a small group of general words is enough to be very expressive in any language.

I’ve had some success with this so far in learning Chinese and starting only with the primes of Chinese with the extremely limited time I have.

For anyone interested visit .

Regards, Bill

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natural semantic metalanguage and Glosa - Committee on language planning, FIAS. Coordination: Vergara & Hardy, PhDs.