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How stable are different words?

In my research I do a lot of work with so called Swadesh lists – lists of the same word translated into hundreds of languages. You can read more about them here.

Most people use the Dyen et al 1992 [1949] stability lists, but many also quote the work of S A Starostin. Calude & Pagel (2011:1102), for instance, say that “Starostin’s list is a subjective rank-ordering based on his work with [14 language families] from the most stable (rank = 1) or slowly evolving to less stable (rank = 110).” Unfortunately, unlike the Dyen et al material, the Starostin list is only available on print, in Russian. With the help of my Russian-speaking friend Tanja I’ve translated the Starostin list into its Swadesh list (English) equivalences.

References

Calude, Andreea S., och Mark Pagel. 2011. ”How Do We Use Language? Shared Patterns in the Frequency of Word Use across 17 World Languages”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 366 (1567): 1101–7. doi:10.1098/rstb.2010.0315.
Dyen, Isidore, Joseph B. Kruskal, och Paul Black. 1992. An Indoeuropean classification : a lexicostatistical experiment. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.
Starostin, S. A. 2007. Languages of the Slavic culture. In Works on linguistics (ed. S. A. Starostin), pp. 827–839. Moscow: Nauka. [Note: this work is in Russian]

 

Rank Word
1 we
2 two
3 I
4 eye
5 you (thou)
6 who
7 fire
8 tongue
9 stone
10 name
11 hand
12 what
13 die
14 heart
15 to drink
16 dog
17 louse
18 moon
19 nail
20 blood
21 one
22 tooth
23 new
24 dry
25 liver
26 eat
27 tail
28 this
29 hair (strand)
30 water
31 nose
32 not (negation)
33 mouth
34 full
35 ear
36 that
37 bird
38 bone (skeleton)
39 sun
40 smoke
41 to stand
42 tree
43 ashes
44 to give
45 rain
46 star
47 fish
48 neck
49 breast/chest
50 leaf
51 to come
52 to kill
53 foot/leg
54 to sit
55 root
56 thin
57 horn
58 to fly
59 to hear
60 skin
61 long
62 worm 
63 meat
64 road
65 to know
66 salt
67 to say
68 egg
69 seed
70 knee
71 black
72 head
73 to sleep
74 to burn (something)
75 earth/soil
76 year
77 feather
78 to swim
79 white
80 to bite
81 fat (noun)
82 man (male)
83 human
84 whole
85 snake
86 night
87  to see
88 heavy
89 to go/walk
90 warm
91 red
92 cold
93 woman
94 round
95 close
96 yellow
97 to lie (be in a lying down position))
98 green
99 cloud
100 far (adjective)
101 big
102 bark (of tree)
103 sand
104 short
105 good
106 many
107 mountain
108 wind
109 stomach
110 little