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Gary Shannon wrote:

>> Another couple of collaborative-language ideas I've had in the
>> time since the Kalusa project ended include:
>>
>> - a pictorial project where we start with a handful of simple
>> line drawings with captions in the new conlang, and people
>> can add new pictures and alternate/additional captions
>> for existing pictures.
>>
> 
> That could be a lot of fun. Like the old "Learning _X_ Through Pictures" series
> of books from the 1960's. 
> 
>> - a modification of the Kalusa engine, where glosses can be
>> in any number of other languages; and you can pick which
>> language or languages you want to see glosses in.
> 
> That would make it more universal. The problem is, who would create the
> translated glosses for my English glosses?
>  
>> - Or a combination of both, where the "gloss" on a conlang
>> corpus sentence could be a sentence in any of several
>> natlangs, or a picture you've uploaded or linked to elsewhere
>> on the web.
> 
> The picture idea is a good one, I think. Maybe even this new project idea could
> use pictures rather than explanations for simple concrete nouns like "rock" and
> "tree". If the experience of something can be tangibly shared then there is no
> need for "definition". If I walk into the foreign shop and point to a coconut,
> the proprietor and myself can come to an agreement about what common word we
> shall use for "coconut", even if we don't share any language in common.
> 
> I'm reminded of Wierzbicka's NSM definition of "mouse" which runs 33 lines of
> text with 355 words*, covering such things as category, habitat, size,
> appearance, etc. etc., all to narrow down the concept until "mouse" is the only
> thing that fits the bill. While theoretically fascinating, for the purpose of
> building a practical language for everyday use, a simple picture of a mouse
> would have sufficed. A picture truely is worth 355 words in this instance. 

I think the picture idea is better for most vocabulary words than a 
convoluted definition built from a minimal vocabulary. You'd want to 
include more than one picture, and some way of indicating "not". For 
instance, while English speakers think of "mouse" as one concept and 
"rat" as something different, some languages have a single word meaning 
"mouse or rat". If you have a picture of a mouse and a picture of a rat, 
then you can label each one so it's clear that your "sawiki" can be 
either a mouse or a rat (or on the other hand, that a house mouse is 
"sawiki" but a rat is not one, and the thing with buttons that you use 
to move your cursor around isn't either.) You could, I guess, just 
introduce the word for "not" in this way and use it in the captions. 
Picture of deer mouse: "sawiki". Picture of four-leafed clover: "sawiki 
nui". Picture of striped grass mouse: "sawiki". Picture of volcano: 
"sawiki nui".

For more abstract words, you can use them in phrases with words that 
you've already defined -- "white mouse" with a picture of a white mouse, 
"gray mouse" with a picture of a gray mouse. This gets trickier and not 
all words can be illustrated in this way, but it could be an interesting 
exercise to see how far you can get with just pictures. By then you'll 
have a reasonably good vocabulary that you can use to define other words.