I was looking through Wikipedia's Swadesh Lists recently and wondered if there was anything like a Swadesh list for verb infinitives, similar to how Spanish verbs work (to be, to want, to eat, to know, to jump, etc.) or verb meanings. Is there one? What verb infinitives does it contain (what number)?

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    Do you mean verb meanings? Having non-finite/infinitive forms is not a necessity for a functioning language. – kaleissin Jun 29 '18 at 19:24
  • @kaleissin I added that to the question. Thanks for the tip – FoxElemental Jun 29 '18 at 20:25

It's worth noting that there are PLENTY of word frequency lists around, but almost no one ever bothers to even try compiling cross-linguistic ones (for reasons that should be pretty obvious). Lists for English, furthermore, hardly ever even attempt to separate different word categories (again for reasons that ought to be obvious).

The Conlanger Lexipedia is based off a 1500 roots list (with some caveats) compiled from a 1.1 million word corpus of science-fantasy writing. You can count the verbs yourself... once you decide what counts as a verb (the list can't tell apart verb vs. adjective vs. noun uses, and the commoner an English content word, the likelier it is to drift between noun/verb/adjective).

The top 200 words (page 36-37 of the book) have the following roots that are "primarily" verbs:

go, will, know, see, come, like, would, could [end of top 50 words, could is 49] look, give, seem, must, call, think, make, ask, work, run, mean, may, wear, feel, want, stand, hear, open, should, end, keep, sit, need, turn, move, try, begin, place, close, talk, can, get, take, tell, find, speak, might, let, hold, fall, bring

Be mindful of the biases introduced by an English list: the English auxiliary system, in particular, wouldn't be reproduced in any other languages as the past forms (and very often the main forms!) would be regular verbal inflections instead of separate forms. Arguably, I shouldn't have included the auxiliary verbs at all, really:strictly speaking these verb have no infinitive form to begin with.

  • @Lostinfrance that should've been "try". Fixed it now – Circeus Jul 2 '18 at 15:05

When designing some of my recent attempts at languages, I've used a list of Proto-Indo-European roots (taken from here). Looking at the verbs covered by those roots, you get a good list of verbs which would be important to a pre-literate culture. So while you get verbs like "to paint" (since slapping colour on things is rather old) or "to shop/trade" you don't get verbs like "to write" or "to read".

Obviously this is somewhat culturally biased: someone living in other parts of the world without domesticated animals is unlikely to need a verb for "to domesticate/tame", while the plains/steppe dwelling PIE culture didn't need a verb to describe a long crossing over water ("to sail"), whereas someone from a culture in the South Pacific would. Still, it's a good place to start because it gives you functional verbs that a human society is more than likely to have.

  • Welcome to Conlang, Keith, and thanks for the answer! You have my +1 for the point about pre-literate cultures. When you have a moment, please take our tour and visit the help center. You may also find Constructed Languages Meta useful. Have fun! – FoxElemental Jul 9 '18 at 23:52

Note that a break down of concepts according to part-of-speech (like verb, noun, adjective, adverb, etc.) does not generalise well over the languages of the world. The amount of verbs—whatever you define them, anyway—can vary to a large degree in natural languages, and adjectives may be completely absent (their role being taken over either by verbs [like the apple reds] or by nouns [the apple's redness]). So asking for a list of verbs already introduces some bias (wanted or unwanted, depending on your design goals) into your conlang design.

It is therefore quite understandable that such lists don't exist.

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