It is doubtful that many Nobel Prize for Literature winning novels would come out of a nation whose language was limited to 100 words. There would hardly be enough words to convey the idea that one likes tea with milk, let alone describe how kidneys work or captivate an audience with a thrilling novel. Yet if one day the world was hit by a global epidemic that instead of killing its victims it instead damaged the Broca's Areas of our brains, causing a kind of mass amnesia - how would society cope when all humankind knowledge is based in language, and we have no independent back-up system to recover this learning ? Aside from safety demonstrations given by flight attendants before planes take off, no other forms of human knowledge is disseminated using a media not dependant on language.

Languages have died out already, due to the impact of colonisation where nations have been irrecoverably transformed, and their own indigenous language is progressively under-used, then forgotten as people learn the introduced lingua franca. But what if language died from another cause ?

My solution would be the United Nations or some kind of organisation to develop 'emergency language packs', and distribute them to all countries, less a mysterious disease wiped out all language and we had to communicate with each other. Each pack would contain videos, flashcards and other tools to teach people what concepts were without the aid of any language.

So, if this linguistic Noah's Ark only had space for 100 words, what would be the most useful words to include ? Assume that we can modify the words as required to fit tense, voice, negation, plurality, questions etc.

Words to describe affirmation and denial:
Yes, No....2 words

Pronouns: to save space we can add a modifier to turn pronouns into possessives or subjects/objects etc., and we can just have one gender
I/me/my, You/your, he/she/him/her/his/hers/, this/that/it, we/us/our/ours, They/them/their....6 words

Numbers: as with most Asian languages, just articulate numbers by sequential digits, plus words to describe the place of a number:
one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, zero, ten, hundred, thousand, million....14 words

Prepositions: so that the survivors will be able to relearn how to put a video back into its cover, some prepositions are also vital for describing time and location:
out, in, on, under, left, right, above, below, near, far, before, after, to, from....14 words

Verbs: To make the scant propositions we have do things:
to be, to go, to do, to see, to eat, to drink, to say, to know, to need, to like, to get, to hunt, to kill, to cook (in this grim world love will not be needed)....14 words

Modals: Definitely in the autocratic government structures likely to form the word must will be needed - ought won't be necessary when somebody else will be doing the thinking for you:
can, must, will, might....4 words

Adjectives: To describe the world we live in. Unfortunately I have had to jettison colours, which while has allowed us to describe the beauty of sunsets or which mushroom not to eat, has also been responsible for racism:
Big, small, strong, weak, many/much, few, all, none, alive, dead, smart, stupid, edible, inedible, thirsty, hungry, sick, fast, slow, hot, cold, dark, light, too, good, bad, dangerous.
...23 words

Nouns: Ok....only 19 words are left. Tricky:
Food, drink, water, person, head, mouth, street, family, mother, father, child, idea, home, fire, power, hand and five words depending on where the emergency language pack is placed to describe food and hand weapons the users of the language are likely to have.

Hopefully the survivors will then be able to rebuild their language by combining these words together, to describe the world they live in. A book might be an inedibleideathing, a plane might be a goabovefastthing, happiness would be persongoodidea etc...perhaps some metaphors would come in handy here.

I saw this node and just had to give it a try. It'll probably end up being pretty similar to Mardy's though (although he/she only seems to have bothered with 50 words, for some reason).

Words for 'a' and 'the' are probably unecessary; the Romans, the Japanese, the Russians and others get along perfectly well without them. It might be possible to get along without 'yes' and 'no', instead using a verb to confirm or deny what has just been asked, but we'll include them to make things simpler. We also need 'and', 'but' and 'or', so that's 5.

Pronouns: I, we, you, he, she, it, they. That's seven, but we could cut it down to 5 by using the same word for 'he', 'she' and 'it', or even say 'it-man', 'it-woman' and 'it-thing' to indicate gender. Let's call it five pronouns, ten words total.

Prepositions: Up/on, down/under, to, of/from, in, out, before/in front of, left. 'Before' can be negated with 'no' to form 'after/behind', and 'left' to make 'right'. (Thanks to Apollyon for suggesting this.) That's 8 words, 18 total.

Verbs: Tricky to reduce it to just a few, but I think 'to be', 'to have', 'to do/make', 'to sense', 'to begin', 'to go/move/come', 'to eat/drink', 'to get/take', 'to put/give', 'to die/kill', 'to need', 'to like/love/want', 'to know', 'to think/remember', 'to speak/say' and 'to end' are about sufficient for starters. (The difference between 'to go' and 'to come' can be indicated with prepositions.) Negatives are formed using our word for 'no'. Verbs are intensified with repetition or the word for 'yes' (so 'to like-yes' or 'to like-like' would mean 'to love'.) We won't worry about tenses. Actually yes we will; 'to like-before-no' means 'to have liked' and 'to like-before' means 'to be going to like'. The difference between 'to kill' and 'to die' is that 'to kill' is transitive (the verb is performed on someone) and 'to die' is intransitive (it is not performed on anyone; you die and that's it). That's 33 words so far, total. We're making good progress.

Modal verbs can be 'must/should', 'might' and 'can'. That's really about all you need ('will' is just a verb in the future tense as shown above, and 'would' can be expressed with 'like to'. 36 total.

Numbers. Zero through ten, of course. After that we can rely on multiplication ('twenty-three' being 'two-ten-three' or 'six hundred and four' being 'six-ten-ten-four'.) As you can see, smaller numbers before bigger numbers means you multiply, smaller numbers after bigger numbers are added. We'll need thousand, million and billion as well, so fourteen numbers makes 50 words altogether.

Now for adjectives. We may be able to express colours. This is maybe overly complex but we can try basing them on colours. Colour-1 is red, colour-2 is purple, colour-3 is blue, colour-4 is green, colour-5 is yellow, colour-6 is white, colour-7 is grey, colour-8 is black. Notice the even colours are what you get when you mix the neighbouring odd numbers, with the exception of 6. We need orange, that could be number 9. 10 is brown, naturally. What's zero then? Transparent? Could 'yes' and 'no' be added to lighten and darken the colours (so colour-three-yes is light blue)? Maybe. This may be a bad idea, but it adds only one new word - the word for 'colour' - so we'll add it. Other adjectives are good, big, fast, light, strong, smart, safe, very, alive, old, easy, many, all, hot, high, same. We can negate them (yet again) with 'no', so we get bad, small, slow, etc. 16 adjectives, 66 altogether.

Question words such as 'what/who', 'why', 'where', 'how' and 'when' are required, as are 'this' and 'that'. I guess we can pluralise to 'these' and 'those' by repeating the word. Add these seven to our existing 66, and we've used 73 words.

This only leaves us with 27 nouns. Food, water/drink, person, animal, plant, family/relation, man, woman, vehicle, place, paper, clothing, other, fire, air, portal, surface, danger, sentence, sky, hole, container, space, power/electricity, tool, colour, day, thing. That's 27. So a book would be a 'paper-place-before-no-thing'. A mother would be an 'old-woman-family'; and grandmother a 'very-old-woman-family'. 'Trees' are 'big-old-plant-plant', the noun being repeated to pluralise it. A pink bicycle is a 'colour-one-yes small-power-no-vehicle', although you could get away with 'colour-one-vehicle' with some context.

Let's try a full sentence. Obviously this new language is going to take some learning, so you may want to know 'What to-be this small-sentence?' We just asked what a word meant with relatively little fuss. If the words are fairly short (with this few, they could be one syllable each) then it shouldn't be that difficult to communicate. Or should I say, 'It-thing should-no to-be very easy-no to-say-other'.

There you have it: a 100 word language which should cover most things you'd want to say. I can tell you're amazed.

(Good to "The Debutante", to-say-before-no to-I of portal small-sentences; I to-think-no-before-no all-day-day of they! And good to Apollyon to-say-before-no all to-I.)

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