Basic vocabulary

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Basic vocabulary is a concept that is frequently encountered in lexicology and semantics. While human languages may divide semantic space in quite distinct ways, it is postulated that certain concepts are regardless universally known; and that the words denoting these concepts are resilient to change.

Semantic areas commonly posited as basic

Lists for historical comparison

Swadesh-50 list

Distinct "stability quotients" have been determined for each of the Swadesh-100 entries by Sergei Starostin. On this basis, George Starostin proposes establishing a shortened version of the list for surveying the genetical affiliation of languages. For reasons of practicality, he excludes also a number of relatively stable word roots that show other issues:

  • the pronouns 'this' and 'that': the structure of demonstrative pronoun systems in the world's languages may vary, and short monosyllabic demonstrative roots are prone to accidental similarities
  • 'liver', a word frequently unrecorded in superficial surveys
  • 'fish', a concept frequently unknown in desert communities
  • 'neck', 'breast': prone to sound-symbolism and polysemy (versus 'throat' and 'chest')
  • 'full', 'stand', 'give': prone to synonymy

These nine words are substituted with three body parts ('foot', 'horn', 'head'), two universal food items ('meat', 'egg'), two semantically better-defined verbs ('to kill', 'to hear') as well as 'black', 'night'.

Leipzig-Jakarta list

The Leipzig-Jakarta list is a more recent collection of 100 concepts established as rarely loaned, on the basis of the etymological analysis of vocabulary across 41 languages. Some words on the list, though, may be prone to onomatopoetic ('to chop') or derivational ('yesterday') origin, as is suggested by their absense from the Swadesh list.

Yakhontov list

A brief 35-word list developed by Sergei Yakhontov that was used by the Russian Nostratics school as a preliminary approximation of the stablest basic vocabulary, prior to the development of the Swadesh-50 list.



  • #: Stability index per Starostin for the Sw100 list
  • LJ: the Leipzig-Jakarta list
  • Sw50, 100, 200: various versions of the Swadesh list
  • Y: the Yakhontov list
Lexeme Semantic area # LJ Sw50 Sw100 Sw200 Y
we pronoun 1    
two numeral 2  
I pronoun 3
eye body part 4
thou pronoun 5
who pronoun 6
fire substance 7
tongue body part 8
stone (/rock) substance 9
name social 10
hand (/arm) body part 11
what pronoun 12
to die verb 13  
heart body part 14    
to drink verb: action 15  
dog animal 16
louse animal 17
moon celestial 18  
fingernail body part 19    
blood tissue 20
one numeral 21
tooth body part 22
new adjective 23
dry adjective 24    
liver body part 25    
to eat verb: action 26  
tail body part 27
this pronoun 28  
head hair tissue 29  
water substance 30
nose body part 31
not 32  
mouth body part 33  
full adjective 34    
ear body part 35
that pronoun 36     √   
bird animal 37  
bone tissue 38
sun celestial 39  
smoke substance 40  
to stand verb 41    
tree plant 42    
ashes substance 43  
to give verb: action 44  
rain 45  
star celestial 46  
fish animal 47  
neck body part 48    
breast body part 49    
leaf plant 50  
to come verb: motion 51    
to kill verb: action 52    
foot (/leg) body part 53  
to sit verb 54      
root plant 55    
horn body part 56
to fly verb: motion 57    
to hear verb: perception 58  
skin (/hide) body part
/ tissue
long adjective: spatial 60    
meat (food) substance
/ tissue
road 62      
to know verb 63  
to say verb 64    
egg 65
seed plant 66      
knee body part 67    
black adjective: color 68  
head body part 69    
to sleep verb 70      
to burn (itr.) verb 71    
earth 72      
feather 73      
to swim verb 74      
white adjective: color 75      
to bite verb: action 76    
fat tissue 77      
man social 78      
person social 79      
all 80      
night 81  
to see verb: perception 82    
to walk/go verb: motion 83    
warm adjective 84      
red adjective: color 85    
cold adjective 86      
woman social 87      
round adjective: spatial 88      
yellow adjective: color 89      
to lie verb 90      
green adjective: color 91      
cloud celestial 92      
big adjective: spatial 93    
tree bark plant 94    
sand substance 95    
good adjective 96    
many adjective 97      
mountain 98      
belly body part 99      
small adjective: spatial 100    
salt substance -  
wind -  
year -    
ant animal -    
back body/spatial?? -    
bitter adjective -    
to blow verb -    
to carry verb -    
child social -    
to crush/grind verb: action -    
to cry/weep verb -    
to do/make verb -    
to fall verb: motion -    
far adjective: spatial -    
hard adjective -    
3PS pronoun -    
heavy adjective -    
to hide verb: action -    
to hit/beat verb: action -    
house -    
in preposition -    
to laugh verb -    
navel body part -    
old adjective -    
rope -    
to run verb: motion -    
shade/shadow -    
soil substance -    
to suck verb -    
sweet adjective -    
to take verb: action -    
thick adjective: spatial -    
thigh body part -    
to tie verb: action -    
wide adjective: spatial -    
wood substance -    
yesterday -