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ThePrimes

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 9 months ago

Please refer to NSM Semantics in Brief (external link) for the "official" list of primes and some useful background material.

 

The Primes

 

 

Here are the primes discovered so far, collected into their tentative categories.

 

Natural Semantic Primes

Substantives:

I, YOU, SOMEONE, PEOPLE, SOMETHING/THING, BODY

 

Determiners:

THIS, THE SAME, OTHER

 

Quantifiers:

ONE, TWO, SOME, ALL, MANY/MUCH

 

Evaluators:

GOOD, BAD

 

Descriptors:

BIG, SMALL

 

Intensifier:

VERY

 

Mental predicates:

THINK, KNOW, WANT, FEEL, SEE, HEAR

 

Speech:

SAY, WORDS, TRUE

 

Actions, events,

movement, contact:

DO, HAPPEN, MOVE, TOUCH

 

Existence and possession:

THERE IS / EXIST, HAVE

 

Life and death:

LIVE, DIE

 

Time:

WHEN/TIME, NOW, BEFORE, AFTER, A LONG TIME, A SHORT TIME, FOR SOME TIME, MOMENT

 

Space:

WHERE/PLACE, HERE, ABOVE, BELOW; FAR, NEAR; SIDE, INSIDE; TOUCHING

 

"Logical" concepts:

NOT, MAYBE, CAN, BECAUSE, IF

 

Augmentor:

VERY, MORE

 

Taxonomy, partonomy:

KIND OF, PART OF

 

Similarity:

LIKE

 

Discussion

 

The declared NSM primes have currently stabilized as a list of some 60 irreducible meanings, coded here as English words with specific senses. These primes are hypothesized to be language universals, with most of them having been tested across a wide variety of languages without encountering disconfirmation. However, principal investigators have not called a halt to the search. There may yet be further refinements of primes, and deletion or replacement of more recent ones. NSM is an ongoing cross-disciplinary research program, not a de facto standard "controlled English" lexicon.

 

Note that it is the specific senses of the terms that form the key semantic elements, not the words themselves. A prime should not be thought of as "containing" all possible meanings of the English words that were chosen to encode them. A different English word for the same meaning might be proposed and adopted, for the sake of clarity, without affecting any extant NSM hypothesis.

 

The list of primes is not intended to imply any one-to-one lexical correspondence between any two languages. Many languages lack a single word corresponding to a prime, but nevertheless provide other ways of expressing an identical meaning. For example, some languages lack a distinct word for "think" (rational cognitive sense) as opposed to "feel" (emotional sense). Under closer scrutiny, it's found that these languages nevertheless permit expressions that might be literally translated as "some belly=feel X, but my *head* 'bellies' Y." Some languages might provide several words where English has only one, each with some implied additional sense. Japanese, for example, has several words for "I", including what might be called the "first person singular zero pronoun", achieved by ellipsis, which is less common in English but not unusual in informal speech. The various Japanese I-words can reflect status of the speaker vis-a-vis the addressee, or level of formality, or emphasis on the speaker's gender or age. The variation does not, in itself, detract from the core meaning, which is to be found in the overlap of all variants of "I" in such languages. To draw a chemical analogy, word-variants such as these may be thought of as "ions" with potential implications for composition, but not as distinct "atomic elements". In yet other cases and other languages, some meanings may be indissolubly bound by grammar or lexis to other meanings--they are always found in compounds, to invoke the chemical analogy. What matters is that the meaning is nevertheless in the language, and the expressive power of the language is not reduced by these lexico-grammatical constraints on it. Japanese, for example, requires that iru ("THERE IS/EXIST" used for animate things) cannot be used for inanimate things. This seems to limit the application of metaphor in some cases, but a way is always found to express the intended meaning in any case.

 

The prime categories are rough, and not intended to faithfully reflect any formal semantic taxonomy. Note that there is some apparent overlap among them: TOUCH appears in "Actions, events, movement, contact" and TOUCHING in "Space"; VERY appears as both an Intensifier (the only one so far) and an Augmentor.

Comments (2)

Anonymous said

at 10:20 am on Oct 17, 2006

The Principle of Least Surprise argues for parking my little introductory dissertation somewhere more obvious (perhaps on the sidebar) rather than leaving it blocking the way of people wanting to get straight to a listing of the primes. Something like this is useful to visitors arriving at the NSM Wiki while still unclear on the concept of NSM, but I don't think that's your average NSM list member.

Anonymous said

at 10:22 am on Oct 17, 2006

I added a link and a Wiki entry for "I", the first of many such links if we assume that the primes require discussion at all.

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