[Lingtyp] A list of 50 basic sentences

Christian Lehmann christian.lehmann at uni-erfurt.de
Sun May 9 09:24:26 UTC 2021

Dear Ian,

as Martin says, this can be a valuable project. Just a few observations 
on methodology:

The method you envisage seems valid to the extent that the 50 sentences 
that you choose are representative of what you want to compare - 
grammatical systems of languages, I assume.

A list of sentences taken to be representative of a language system has 
been used in the Archivo de lenguas indígenas de México. A preliminary 
survey of what can be expected from this approach is provided in:

Lastra, Yolanda 1993f, "El archivo de lenguas indígenas de México." 
/Boletín de Filología/ 34:463-476.

The list of sentences itself appears in each of the contributions to the 


As some correspondents have observed, this method can be reliable only 
if you guarantee communicative equivalence of the sentences to the 
extent possible. This would be true a fortiori if a great weight were 
attributed to differences in constituent order. However, just as others 
have suggested, it would seem wise not to exaggerate this weight. 
Constituent order at the higher levels of syntax is among the most 
variable features of a grammar.

A basic contribution to the requirement of guaranteeing communicative 
equivalence was made by Östen Dahl with his contextualized translation 
questionnaires. A sample of them is published in:

Dahl, Östen (ed.) 2000, /Tense and aspect in the languages of Europe./ 
Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter (Empirical Approaches to Language 
Typology, EUROTYP, 20-6).

Good luck,


Prof. em. Dr. Christian Lehmann
Rudolfstr. 4
99092 Erfurt

Tel.: 	+49/361/2113417
E-Post: 	christianw_lehmann at arcor.de
Web: 	https://www.christianlehmann.eu

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