LINGUIST List 13.2622

Mon Oct 14 2002

Sum: Swadesh query

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <>


  1. Robin Allott, Summary: Swadesh query

Message 1: Summary: Swadesh query

Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2002 02:28:41 +0100
From: Robin Allott <>
Subject: Summary: Swadesh query

Summary: Swadesh query

"In the chapter on glottochronology in the posthumously published The
Origin and Diversification of Language 1972, Swadesh presents a 100-word
Basic List. However I have seen references to a 200-word Swadesh list.
Where does this come from? When was it compiled? The 100-word list
figured in Swadesh's 1960 article in Spanish, on which the chapter in
the 1972 book was based."

Thanks to the following: 

David Nash
George Huttar
Jakob Dempsey
Lameen S
Marc Picard
Max Wheeler
Peter Menzel
Peter T. Daniels
Rudy Troike

Excerpts from the replies

David Nash :

This URL may help: 
[Marc Picard's email reproduces the material in the URL]

Marc Picard :

The original 100-word and 200-word lexicostatistical lists were
published by: Swadesh, Morris. 1952. Lexicostatistic dating of
prehistoric ethnic contacts. Proceedings of the American Philosophical
Society 96,152-63

A short history of the development of such lists is given on pp.5-6 of 
Hymes, Dell. 1960. Lexicostatistics so far. Current Anthropology 1.1.

The 200-word list as used by Dyen for Austronesian and Indo-European,
with observed replacements rates, was published as: Kruskal, J. B., I.
Dyen & P. Black. 1973. Some results from the vocabulary method of
reconstructing language trees. Pages 30-55, in I. Dyen (Ed.),
Lexicostatistics in genetic linguistics. The Hague: Mouton.

The adaptation to Australia is argued in: O'Grady, G.N. 1960. In 'More
on lexicostatistics'. Current Anthropology 1.4(July),338-339. 

Jakob Dempsey :

The list has also been modified in some other ways [besides the
reduction to 100 words] by various researchers. 

Max Wheeler :

Swadesh's 200-word list is reproduced in S. A. Gudschinsky, The ABC's of 
lexicostatistics (glottochronology), Word 12.2, 1956, 175-210. 

Rudy Troike :

The published 200-word list preceded the 100-word list, and had more 
cultural items. The reduction to 100 words was to eliminate some of the 
variability created by the less-reliable items. I published an article
on the glottochronology of the Turkic languages in an issue of IJAL
dedicated to Swadesh in the early 1960s.

Peter Daniels :

Just about any historical linguistics textbook includes the 200-word
list, e.g. Larry Trask's. So does Patrick Bennett's Semitic Linguistics
Manual (Eisenbrauns). 

Peter Menzel :

When I was a grad student, lo these many years ago, H. Hoyer, our
instructor for hist. ling. told us that the two-hundred word list you
mentioned was prepared by Swadesh first, and the one-hundred word list
came later, after some criticism that the earlier, longer list was not
"universal" enough. Working with American Indian languages, Hoyer was
not enamored of Swadesh's word list, of course. He argued that many of
the concepts that SAE languages use one word for are often expressed in
complex phrases in Amerindian languages

Lameen S:

I understand Jackendoff later produced an even smaller 35-word 'core'
list which supposedly contains the most stable terms of all.

George Huttar :

The following two items may answer your question about the 200-word
Swadesh, Morris. 1951. Diffusional cumulation and archaic residue as
historical explanations. Southwestern journal of anthropology
Swadesh, Morris. 1955. Towards greater accuracy in lexicostatistic
dating. IJAL 21.121-37.

Robin Allott
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