Do all natural human languages have a word that translates to "alive"?
Dunno about the word but, according to a list of "human universals" compiled by Donald Brown and included in StevenPinker's book
The Blank Slate, "death rituals", "fear of death", "magic for increasing life", and "magic to sustain life" have been found in every human culture studied.
[Yes, I'm sure they do. See for instance "life" in Cross-Cultural Universals of Affective Meaning, Osgood et al, ISBN 0252004264
. BTW despite the interesting topic, this book is very specialized, and most people wouldn't want it even if interested in the topic -- see it in a library before buying.]
[It's also clear from evolutionary psychology that this is necessarily a universal concept, and from Zipf's Law that one would additionally expect such common things to be short words, in the absence of countervailing factors such as taboos leading to euphemisms and circumlocutions.]
[Following is Pinker's summary of Brown's Human Universals (It takes for granted more basic questions like "life"). -- DougMerritt
[ "The Language Instinct", S. Pinker, discussing "Human Universals", D.Brown ]
"According to Brown, the Universal People have the following:"
"Value placed on articulateness. Gossip. Lying. Misleading. Verbal
humor. Humorous insults. Poetic and rhetorical speech forms. Narrative
and storytelling. Metaphor. Poetry with repetition of linguistic
elements and three-second lines separated by pauses. Words for days,
months, seasons, years, past, present, future, body parts, inner states
(emotions, sensations, thoughts), behavioral propensities, flora,
fauna, weather, tools, space, motion, speed, location, spatial
dimensions, physical properties, giving, lending, affecting things and
people, numbers (at the very least "one," "two," and "more than two"),
proper names, possession. Distinctions between mother and father.
Kinship categories, defined in terms of mother, father, son, daughter,
and age sequence. Binary distinctions, including male and female, black
and white, natural and cultural, good and bad. Measures. Logical
relations including "not," "and," "same," "equivalent," "opposite,"
general versus particular, part versus whole. Conjectural reasoning
(inferring the presence of absent and invisible entities from their
"Nonlinguistic vocal communication such as cries and squeals.
Interpreting intention from behavior. Recognized facial expressions of
happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, and contempt. Use
of smiles as a friendly greeting. Crying. Coy flirtation with the eyes.
Masking, modifying, and mimicking facial expressions. Displays of
"Sense of self versus other, responsibility, voluntary versus
involuntary behavior, intention, private inner life, normal versus
abnormal mental states. Empathy. Sexual attraction. Powerful sexual
jealousy. Childhood fears, especially of loud noises, and, at the end
of the first year, strangers. Fear of snakes. "Oedipal" feelings
(possessiveness of mother, coolness toward her consort). Face
recognition. Adornment of bodies and arrangement of hair. Sexual
attractiveness, based in part on signs of health and, in women, youth.
Hygiene. Dance. Music. Play, including play fighting."
"Manufacture of, and dependence upon, many kinds of tools, many of them
permanent, made according to culturally transmitted motifs, including
cutters, pounders, containers, string, levers, spears. Use of fire to
cook food and for other purposes. Drugs, both medicinal and
recreational. Shelter. Decoration of artifacts."
"A standard pattern and time for weaning. Living in groups, which claim
a territory and have a sense of being a distinct people. Families
built around a mother and children, usually the biological mother, and
one or more men. Institutionalized marriage, in the sense of publicly
recognized right of sexual access to a woman eligible for childbearing.
Socialization of children (including toilet training) by senior kin.
Children copying their elders. Distinguishing of close kin from
distant kin, and favoring of close kin. Avoidance of incest between
mothers and sons. Great interest in the topic of sex."
"Status and prestige, both assigned (by kinship, age, sex) and achieved.
Some degree of economic inequality. Division of labor by sex and age.
More child care by women. More aggression and violence by men.
Acknowledgment of differences between male and female natures.
Domination by men in the public political sphere. Exchange of labor,
goods, and services. Reciprocity, induding retaliation. Gifts. Social
reasoning. Coalitions. Government, in the sense of binding collective
decisions about public affairs. Leaders, almost always nondictatorial,
perhaps ephemeral. Laws, rights, and obligations, including laws
against violence, rape, and murder. Punishment. Conflict, which is
deplored. Rape. Seeking of redress for wrongs. Mediation.
In-group/out-group conflicts. Property. Inheritance of property. Sense
of right and wrong. Envy."
"Etiquette. Hospitality. Feasting. Diurnality. Standards of sexual
modesty. Sex generally in private. Fondness for sweets. Food taboos.
Discreetness in elimination of body wastes. Supernatural beliefs. Magic
to sustain and increase life, and to attract the opposite sex. Theories
of fortune and misfortune. Explanations of disease and death. Medicine.
Rituals, including rites of passage. Mourning the dead. Dreaming,
"Obviously, this is not a list of instincts or innate psychological
propensities; it is a list of complex interactions between a universal
human nature and the conditions of living in a human body on this
planet. Nor, I hasten to add, is it a characterization of the
inevitable, a demarcation of the possible, or a prescription of the
desirable. A list of human universals a century ago could have included
the absence of ice cream, oral contraceptives, movies, rock and roll,
women's suffrage, and books about the language instinct, but that would
not have stood in the way of these innovations."