In terms of semantic useful words, Minimal English lists:


  • corn (yams, etc.)
  • flour
  • meat
  • rice
  • salt
  • sugar
  • sweet
  • wheat

    Technology And Transport:

  • bicycle
  • boat
  • car
  • engine
  • phone
  • pipe
  • plane
  • radio
  • road
  • telephone
  • television
  • train
  • wheel
  • wire

    Q1: I don't understand the relationship between corn and yams. If the relationship is just about being vegetables and/or fruits, why not list that first, then include examples in parentheses?


  • fruits/vegetables (corn, yams, etc.)

    Q2: Why does it list both "phone" and "telephone"? Isn't that redundant?

  • 6
    • 1
      What is your source for a list of "Minimal English" words? Mine includes neither.
      – user6726
      Jul 28, 2018 at 20:32
    • @user6726 books.google.com/… p. 17.
      – abcjme
      Jul 29, 2018 at 11:17
    • 3
      The Natural Semantic Metalanguage people are getting into Basic English territory? That... is more of a surprise than it should be.... Jul 29, 2018 at 13:12
    • Ok, so that is a proposed extension, not words actually on the list.
      – user6726
      Jul 29, 2018 at 15:08
    • @user6726 There are semantic primes, semantic molecules (univeral but non-prime words), and semantic useful words (non-universal words that might still simplify a particular NSM). These are just some of the latter-most. As Nick Nicholas noted in his answer, they're apparently just not well-thought out or edited at this point.
      – abcjme
      Jul 29, 2018 at 23:20

    1 Answer 1



    I'm flabbergasted that the Natural Semantic Metalanguage people have actually gone there, and tried to reinvent Basic English as Minimal English. I'm not surprised Cliff Goddard is behind the effort; he's always been an evangelist for NSM.

    In context, the list of words that derives from is a list of candidates for inclusion in the Minimal English vocabulary, rather than the definitive list of semantic primes that precedes it; and you can tell: it clearly has not been rigorously defined or cleaned up. Goddard admits that the list is a grabbag. I think the inclusion of telephone and phone is just poor editing.

    As for corn/yams, the list in context is: meat, rice, wheat, corn, (yams etc.); I surmise the actual intent is "any number of starchy staples, which could be expanded by region" (so "yams etc." are an extension of the set "rice, wheat, corn"). Again, this is a thrown-together list of candidate words, so they don't seem to have felt the need to pare it down.

    • Ogden's "Basic English" isn't the only one of its kind... Do Godard et al actually claim to be reinventing it specifically?
      – curiousdannii
      Jul 29, 2018 at 15:08
    • He says it's hugely different, because its focus is on translatability: books.google.com.au/… . But it's defined as "a common auxiliary inter-language for speakers of different languages, and as a global means for clarifying, elucidating, storing and comparing ideas." (p. 2) It's a minimal English-based auxlang, of which Basic English is the exemplar. Jul 29, 2018 at 22:22
    • And they concede that Basic English is the comparison readers will first think so. But no, @curiousdannii, they do not explicitly say "we are reinventing Basic English." Jul 29, 2018 at 22:51
    • Ah, that's what I suspected: regarding the poor editing and sloppy choice of semantic useful words. Thanks for the detailed answer!
      – abcjme
      Jul 29, 2018 at 23:27

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