It is doubtful that many Nobel Prize for Literature
winning novels would come out of a nation
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 kidney
s 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 Area
s of our brain
s, 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 plane
s 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.
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.