As any linguist (and anyone who knows unrelated languages, probably), not all languages express things the same way. Worse yet, its not possible to express everything logically, so all languages are forced to rely on something arbitrary to express certain concepts.

I try to find out how other languages do things, but I rarely meet with any success. Most dictionaries I find online assume you already know the language, which of course makes sample sentences useless.

It seems like the only way to find out how a language does anything is to know it. This means that as a conlanger, its nigh impossible to make a conlang that doesn't in some way resemble the languages you know. This can obviously be quite a problem if you're monolingual, as most Americans are. I'm not monolingual, but even I have a problem avoiding Euro-centrism since the only other language I know well is German. Yeah, German does some things differently, but its not that different from English since the two are closely related. They tend to overlap more often than not.

Is there any convenient way to get information on specific things in languages without just having to learn half a dozen unrelated languages?

  • 1
    Okay, this is definitely not a professional answer (therefore I comment), but I find it quite informative to just browse Wikipedia and read stuff about languages (depth-first link traversal). There's often a good overview of concepts as well as specific languages.
    – Cecilia
    Aug 22, 2018 at 20:14
  • I think a reasonable method - anyway, less time consuming than learning several languages - is to look at the way one own's language expresses complicated concepts. And then trying to create different expressions. For instance, Banin has the idea of "owl in a hood" - a person in the wrong place, ate the wrong time, for the wrong reasons (derived from falconry - you put a hood over a falcon's head, not over an owl's), Mark Rosenfelder has some other ideas here - zompist.com/kitlong.html - at the section on Some guidelines for not reinventing the English vocabulary. Aug 24, 2018 at 2:53

1 Answer 1


Unfortunately not.

There are a few concepts (like colour terms or kinship terms) that are regularly studied in linguistic typology and where one can find a lot of publications including high-level overviews including a lot of unrelated languages.

For the most concepts, there is nothing comparable available. Maybe one can find studies (e.g., from translatology) comparing a certain concept in a pair of languages or a small group of languages, but those languages tend to be the well-known big ones (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.