The Swadesh list for aliens

A forum for all topics related to constructed languages
Post Reply
User avatar
lurker
greek
greek
Posts: 712
Joined: 28 Jul 2023 14:08
Location: The City of Eternal Noon

The Swadesh list for aliens

Post by lurker »

The Swadesh list makes several perfectly reasonable assumptions about the people who speak a particular language and the environment they live in, namely: they're human and live on Earth. They have human body parts, a human reproductive strategy resulting in human kinship terms, live under a single sun and a single moon, are exposed to a broad set of similar flora, fauna, meteorological processes, etc etc.

All this has to be yeeted out the window when we're dealing with aliens. If you're making an alien conlang, have you developed a Swadesh list for it? Here's a tentative one for the yinrih. I haven't translated it into Commonthroat yet. More comments at the bottom.
not
all
many
some
few
other
one
two
three
four
five
big
long
wide
thick
heavy
small
short
narrow
thin
female (replaces “woman”)
male (replaces “man”)
conspecific (replaces “man/human”)
child
dam replaces (“mother”. Culturally somewhere between mother, aunt, and female teacher)
sire replaces (“fatehr”. Culturally somewhere between father, uncle, and male teacher)
animal
tree
forest
stick
fruit
seed
leaf
root
bark
grass (Herbaceous ground cover analogous to grass)
rope
skin
meat
ink (musky secretion from the second digit of either forepaw, used for writing)
blood
bone
fat
egg/spermatophore (Both males and females lay eggs, though the male egg is more properly termed a spermatophore)
tail (prehensile and used for both grasping and balance)
pelage (replaces “hair”. Refers to the coat of fur as a whole)
head
ear
eye
rhinarium (split from “nose”. Refers to the wet portion of the nose)
muzzle (split from “nose”. Refers to the projecting part of the face with the nose and mouth)
mouth
tooth
tongue
throat (the "organ of language" by analogy with "tongue")
claw (Replaces “fingernail”)
paw (Replaces “foot” and “hand”)
leg (also covers “arm”)
joint (Replaces “knee”)
digit (Replaces “finger”. Refers to any of the six digits on each front and back paw)
belly
guts/viscera
neck
back
lactation patches (Replaces “breast”. Located on the palms of the forepaws on females.)
heart (analogous organ)
liver (analogous organ)
lap (Replaces “drink”. The act of drawing up a liquid using a rapid motion of the tongue)
lick (replaces “suck”. The act of drawing the tongue across a surface, as a kit licking milk from a dam’s forepaws)
eat
bite
vomit
exhale through the nose (Replaces “blow”. Yinrih don’t have muscular lips like a human. Also a gesture analogous to a kiss in some cultures)
breathe
pant (thermoregulatory function)
laugh (similar to panting, but slower and deeper)
see
hear
know
think
smell
fear
sleep (closer to “torpor”. Yinrih may not actually lose consciousness during torppor and only enter this state for about 24 hours every two weeks.)
live
die
kill
fight
hunt
hit
cut
split
stab
scratch
dig
swim
fly (float in a direction in microgravity)
walk
climb (Yinrih are arboreal critters, so they do this a lot)
come
lie down (flat on the ground, belly down)
lie on the back (flat on the ground, belly up)
perch (Replaces “sit”. lie on the belly straddling a branch or similar object with the limbs hanging)
squat (with the palms of the forepaws flat on the ground, with the rear paws also facing down or slid off to the side and the thigh bearing the weight)
stand (With the legs vertical and the palms of all four paws facing down)
rear up (Stand on the hind feet with the forelimbs free. The tail is usually wrapped around an object for balance)
turn
fall (as in “collapse”)
give
hold
squeeze
rub
wash
wipe
pull (usually by dragging along using the tail)
push (Light objects may be nudged along with the nose. Heavier objects may be pushed with the hips while walking backwards)
throw
tie
sew
count
say
write (the yinrih naturally evolved a written langauge. See “ink” above)
sing (somewhere between a howl and a chant. They can’t sing words because pitch, rhythm, and volume are very phonetically contrastive)
play
float
flow
freeze
swell
sun (also “hearth”)
ring (Their homeworld has no large satellites but it does have a ring)
star
water
rain
river
lake
sea
salt
stone
sand
dust
earth (Meaning “ground” or “soil”, the root of “yinrih”)
cloud
fog
sky
wind
snow
ice
smoke
fire
ashes
burn
road
mountain
red
green
yellow
white
black
night
day
year
warm
cold
full
new
old
good
bad
rotten
dirty
straight
round
sharp
dull
smooth
wet
dry
correct
near
far
right
left
at
in
with
and
if
because
name
The big things I think you have to tweak are terms related to environment, kinship, and anatomy. Yih has no large moons, so the yinrih lack a stable term for just "moon". It does have a ring system, though, and that word should be pretty stable.

The trickiest part for me is kinship terms. I use "sire" and "dam" instead of "father" and "mother". Children can be a genetic combination of up to twelve parents. You need an equal number of males and females to form a viable womb-nest. Since the reproductive process doesn't involve physical contact, there's no sex drive, and thus no marriage, so "husband' and "wife" are absent from the list. The exact form the family takes is heavily dependent on culture. The only constant is that you're expected to help raise (and ideally love) the children you beget, hence the idiom "You put your egg in this nest" meaning to make a long-term commitment.

Anatomy is another tricky one, especially regarding locomotion and posture. The yinrih can stand on all fours, sit like a dog, lie on the back or belly, rear up on their hind feet, and straddle a branch with the limbs hanging (which is the closest thing to "sitting" like a human at a table.)

Note the lack of pronouns. Commonthroat, and possibly all yinrih languages, associates spatial and personal deixis with nouns. The same is true for interrogatives. "who" is "what person", "where" is "what place" etc.

The yinrih have been a spacefaring species for long enough (95 thousand earth-years) that they probably have very stable terms for spaceflight-related stuff.
Post Reply