--- Herman Miller <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> 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.

I agree that for concrete nouns, at least, pictures would be the way to go.
They  can be a bit problematic for more abstract concepts like "if" or
"because", but then a lot of those words can be part of the core vocabulary.

Long-winded definitions can probably can be avoided by building the vocabulary
in small incremental steps. For example, "hunt = find animal, then kill for
food", "fly = travel in air", "bird = animal that can fly", "swim = crawl on
water", "duck = bird that can swim." and finally "duck hunt = hunt for ducks".
Even if mouse had to be defined without recourse to a picture, I'm sure it
could be a very short definition consisting of other defined words that
introduced intermediate concepts such as "mammal", "vermin", ...

As for core vocabulary, I started with the Swadesh list, added the NSM semantic
primes, trimmed out the duplicates, and then started trimming words that could
be easily defined by a picture, and words that could be easily defined by two
or three other words in the list. I then added some words that made it easier
to define other words already in the list so that they, in turn, could be
dropped. Even the semantic prime "now" can be dispensed with by adding the very
handy word "time", so that "now" = "this time", etc., and "time" itself is now
available for use in defining other temporal concepts.

I've gradually pruned the list to the point where I can't find any more words
that are easily dispensed with. Currently that leaves 122 words, each of which
has one very specific definition (no polysemous words allowed). I imagine the
list might grow or shrink a bit as I play around with defining more "complex"
words in terms of these 122 core words.  Eventually I should end up with a
practical list of core words, and a nice list of secondary words defined only
in terms of the core words.