ARE THERE ONLY 65 WORDS THAT ARE FOUND IN EVERY LANGUAGE? I posted here seven years ago about the observation by the linguist, Anna Wierzbicka, that English, compared to other languages, has “a proliferation of various linguistic tools for qualifying one’s statements, for hedging one’s assertions, and for differentiating the strength of one’s assent to a proposition.”
So I was happy to see a review in the TLS of a new book by Wierzbicka. She contends that there are very few words in any language that have equivalents in other languages. In fact, she thinks that there are only 65 words that are universal in all languages. These 65 include “someone”, “something”, “think”, “know”; “feel”; “want”; “live”; “die”; “see”; “hear”; “before”; “after”; “if”; and “because”. Andrew Caines selects these 14 examples of the 65 universal words in his review in the TLS (July 10) of Wierzbicka’s book IMPRISONED IN ENGLISH. Caines gives an example of a word that just fall short of qualifying as universal—“sister”—because there is no counterpart to “sister” in Kayardild, an Australian language.