Assume an alien has landed on Earth and wants to learn English with the help of an English Dictionary.

He looks up the meaning of "the".

Meaning of "the":

"denoting one or more people or things already mentioned or assumed to be common knowledge"

Now he searches the individual meaning of each and every word of the above sentence.

If he continues to do this infinitely, he will land on many words. The words uncovered may be referred to by visiting the dictionary manually 1 by 1.

Obviously, in this exercise, there would be nothing but circular references of word meanings. To resolve this issue, we may declare few words as "axioms".

What would those sets of words which would be axioms be?

Using these set of words only(or predominantly), one could understand every other word in the English dictionary.

  • Better on meta, or even Linguistics – Kris Aug 27 '18 at 10:23
  • "... in this excercise there would be nothing but circular references of word meanings ..." cannot be substantiated, AFAIK. – Kris Aug 27 '18 at 10:23
  • 2
    Babies start with "mumma" and "dadda". – WS2 Aug 27 '18 at 10:42
  • This is a very interesting question, but your 'which would be' is really 'which should be'. That's not necessarily an opinion-based question, but you need to give your desiderata for best choice. Smallest set? as long cycles as possible? Is extra-dictionary information available, like perception of real life (like in @WS2's example)? Can you edit to add what you care about? (note that this is not a discussion site but an -answer- site, so you should reword to limit speculative discussion and encourage more factual answers. – Mitch Aug 27 '18 at 12:52
  • The premise is faulty. – Lambie Aug 27 '18 at 13:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.