Thinking back on Terry Winograd's "Blocks World" for his research conlang SHRDLU ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SHRDLU ) it occurred to me that I often hit a point in my conlang building when I start feeling overwhelmed by the shear volume of lexicon that seems to be needed to do any significant translations. Last night it occurred to me that one could build a tiny microcosm with a small number of people and objects and a small number of things that can be discussed. That way grammars could be explored within that microcosm with the advantage that a complete lexicon already exists for every object and activity possible in that micro-culture. Then another odd idea occurred to me. Assume this microcosm has nothing that functions as a "market" and that the economy is a gift/debt economy that works as follows: token (cowrie shells, wampum beads, porcupine quills, whatever) represent certain fixed values in relation to "consumer goods" like potatoes, onions, carrots, bamboo poles, palm leaves for thatching, chickens, eggs, a pig, etc. (There would be a fixed number of plants, animals and construction materials with no need to ever coin new words for new plants or animals.) To accept, say, 4 eggs you must also accept tokens of value equal to four eggs. By doing so you accept a debt to the community as a whole (never to another individual). Your debt is repaid, for example, when someone else asks you for a bunch of carrots. You give that person the carrots and the appropriate number of debt tokens, and this person now has a debt to society that, in turn, repays by giving something (along with some debt tokens) to the next person. Nobody would want to accumulate this kind of "money" (or un-money) since the money tokens do not represent wealth extracted from the community, but obligation owed to the community. Money is a "hot potato" that you want to pass along to the next person as soon as possible. Imagine what kind of money-based idioms would turn up in that kind of society! Assuming that the weather was always warm and perfect, that there always exactly the right amount of rain to grow crops, that there were no diseases (aside from old age), there were no seasons, there are only 150 or so individuals and no need for "government" since decisions about group actions are preordained by tradition, nothing is known of other villages or the outside world, what would the vocabulary include? Names of a handful of plants and animals (including humans) Names of body parts of humans and animals Names and descriptions of two or three simple and universally used clothing items Kinship terms for immediate family Environmental phenomena (rain, cloud, wind, day, night, sun, moon, stars) Terms for the creation myth religious beliefs, as well as a corpus of their traditional word of mouth stories Terms for individual human activities (cook, eat, sleep, drink, gather eggs, thatch roof, ...) Terms for a small enumerated inventory of person-to-person interactions Terms for a few types of un-money transactions It should then be possible to have a closed lexicon of every word you would ever need to function in such a microcosm and you could focus on grammar alone.