Ogden's Basic English
THE ORTHOLOGICAL INSTITUTE
PSYCHE, Vol XIII, 1933
In times like these it is a pleasure to be able to put on record any
sort of news about heads which have not gone under water. So
in view of the fact that we are writing these notes in Basic, let us
first give the Story of Noah as it will be printed in Stories from the
Bible which will be Number 22 of the Basic books listed on page 208
[ of PSYCHE an annual of General and Linguistic Psychology, Volume XIII, 1933.]
A New International Bible
1. AND when men were increasing on the face of the
earth, and giving birth to daughters,
2. The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and
they took as wives those who seemed to them the best.
3. And the Lord said, My breath will not be in man for ever. He is only
man, and his lifetime will be a hundred and twenty years.
See the full text at Bible in Basic English Genesis Six thru Genesis Nine
This is not only a good advertisement for the book itself, which
comes out on July 15th, but it makes possible some comparisons
which are of special interest for the theory of language. The stories
in this book are part of the complete Basic Bible, on which work was
started in 1930. The selection has not been made from any special
point of view, or with any purpose other than that of giving the
public some examples of the value of Basic in this important field.
As a general rule the words of the King James Bible have not
been changed where they are good Basic, though more than 80%
of the 6,000 there usedl have been taken out.
It would naturally not be wise for the learner to make use in
everyday talk of all the turns of language in these Bible stories.
There has beena certain loss of the power of simple statement in
the last three hundred years, and it is even possible that, with the
help of Basic, we may" get back to someoi our earlier forms of word-music.
Current American tendencies are here frequently working
in the right direction.
The chief purpose of a Basic Bible is, however, not for English
readers. In the year 1932, more than 25,000,000 Bibles (or books
of the Bible) were put out by three British Societies only. Of those,
3,000,000 were printed for the normal market in England ; so that
some 20,000,000 went to other countries where the learning of 6,000
words and their uses takes anything from five to ten years. From
this it may be judged how much time is wasted on language work if
the Basic Bible is able to take away 5 words out of every 6, and still
The learning of the Basic system for reading purposes takes only
a week or two ; fifteen minutes with a phonograph record gives the
sounds of all the words for international use. So that it would be
quite possible for Basic to become the international language through
the Basic Bible.
That, however, is only one side of the picture. In addition, there
is the value of Basic as a guide to those who have to put the Bible
into other languages ; and specially into the languages of Africa and
the East, which are so very different in structure from those of Europe.
In other words, the Basic Bible is not simply one more attempt
to get something nearer to the language and thought of AD 1933
than the great work of 1611. This will be clear from almost any
part of The Bible, an American Translation, made with great care
and learning under the direction of Professors M. Powis Smith and
Edgar J. Goodspeed (Chicago, 1931).
When Boaz (Ruth, IV, 7) becomes the owner of Naomi’s field,
the American Bible says :—-
“ Now this was the ancient custom in Israel : to validate any transaction
in the matter of the right of redemption and its conveyance, the one pulled
off his sandal, and gave it to the other ; this was the manner of attesting
Here is the same verse in, Basic : —
“ Now in earlier times this was the way in Israel, when property was taken
back or the owner was changed. To make the exchange certain, one man
took off his shoe and gave it to the other ; and this was a witness in Israel.”
Men of letters may have their doubts about the different values
of the two examples ; and here is the King James version :
“ Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming
and concerning changing ; a man plucked off his shoe and gave it to his
neighbour and this was a testimony in Israel.”
Those whose business it is to put such material before the Zulus
or the Chinese, or even before young persons in England and
America, will at least be interested in a serious attempt to make the
Basic Bible as good as possible. And how serious the undertaking
is may be judged by the fact that even the present stories might not
have been printed for some years if it had not been clear that others
would take the field, unconscious of what was being done.
br> Basic, as a system, is limited with great care to 850 words.
Of these, 600 are ‘ nouns ’, 150 are ‘adjectives’ and the other 100
(only 18 of which are ‘ verb ’-forms) do the rest ; so that everything
may be said in a natural way from the point of view of normal
English. For Science, there are 100' general words, and 50 words
for any branch which is more or less self-supporting, to take the
expert to a level where international words are ready to hand ; so
that with 1000 words any branch of knowledge may be fully covered,
though the public is still only interested in 850 of them. Looked at
in this way, the Bible is equally part of a wider field in which belief
and feeling have their place ; The general public does not normally
make use ofthe language of religion or the language of verse in going
about its business ; so our 100 general words will be those of most use
for the reading of verse in all its forms, and our 50 special words will
be those of most use for the special purpose of reading the Bible.
It will be noted that we say reading ; and from the point of View
of the learner this is important. If he has a good working knowledge
of the 850, he has only to get the sense of the 150 other words when
he comes across them (in the process of reading almost 1,000,000).
That sense is generally given by the rest of the verse, and the sound
of such words is frequently more important than the sense, so that
an hour or two will be quite enough tor any ‘learning ‘ which may
br> And here we come to another point which makes this sort of
writing different from any other in which Basic will normally be
used. For more than 300 years certain forms of words have been
part of the inner structure of every English mind. Even a small
change in the rhythm of these words comes as a shock to millions
of readers —- though others may have a feeling that the change is
When Chateaubriand put into French Milton's lines,
. . . and Siloa’s brook that flowed
he gave us " coulait rapidement ”. So when, in the American
Fast by the oracle of God,
" . . . a Canaanite woman came out and screamed ‘ Son of David, take pity on
me, sir ! My daughter is dreadfully possessed of a demon ’ ”
there is some doubt if even a Chateaubriand would have been
troubled by what is probably a strange effect to most English ears.
The English reader, then, is requested to be as internationally-minded
as possible in judging this latest attempt in a new form of
A Basic Bible is certainly not a simple undertaking. When
King James said, in 1604- " So far I have not seen a Bible well put
into English,” he had before him the work of Wyclif and Tyndale,
of Coverdale and Matthew, the Bishops’ Bible and the Douay Bible.
Three years were needed for the selection of experts, 54 in number,
of whom 47 took part in the work for three years more, in six
companies. Every company had meetings from time to time to
make comparisons before sending the outcome to other companies ;
and at the last a small Committee gave their approval to every word.
Even then, changes were quickly seen to be necessary. In 1645,
and again in 1653, requests were made to the House of Commons
for something more in harmony with the knowledge and language
of the time ; and in 1870 the Convocation of Canterbury itself undertook
a comparison of all readings. Two Committees were formed,
one in England and the other in America, and after 14 years the
Bible was again put before the public, in the ‘ Revised Version ',
with no less than 5,000 changes in the New Testament only. Most
of these changes are not important, but they make clear the amount
of thought which would have to go to the making of a Bible based
on 850 simple words.
If, however, the Basic Committee is able to get the necessary
support for a three year expansion of its work, the apparatus is
ready to hand. A great Library has been formed with all the
necessary material ; and the Basic Bible might well become the
International Bible -- international for the first time in history, a
Book for young and old, East and West. It would be clear to the
man of little education ; it would be of interent to the man of letters ;
it might even be of value to the workers in Anthropology. And so,
in the truest sense, the days of Babel would be no more.
BASIC FOR SCIENCE
Though the work necessary before Basic for Psychology goes to
the printer is still far from complete, the back of the undertaking will
certainly be broken before the end of 1933. Because of the New
York Conference, Basic for Economics had to be got out of the way
first ; and with the help of Professor Sargant Florence, Miss Lockhart
has made herself responsible for taking the book through its last
stages before sailing to America.
America is still the chief hope of all who are interested in the
future of Science from an international angle. The first need of
Basic in most branches of science is for an expansion of such work
as is now being done by the American Standards Association1
The American Institute of Electrical Engineers,2 and the National
Conference on Nomenclature of Disease.3 Every word which gets
fixed for international purposes makes the writing of Basic for
Science a simpler business, which is a strong argument for a new
attack on the question as early as possible.
This need for a quicker adjustment to changing conditions is
happily becoming clear to an increasing number of men of.science
in high positions. In the last six numbers of Progress (produced
by the Association of Scientific Workers, London), Basic English
has been given an important place ; and its value for Science papers
will probably be under discussion at the September Meeting of the
British Association, where Professor Holman, of the Royal School
of Mines, is among those interested in taking our work forward to a
point where less time may be wasted in science by men of letters or
by the discussion of language systems which do not take into
account of the use of English in Germany, Scandinavia, India, and
the Far East. In this connection a book which Dr. I. A. Richards
is now getting ready (in Basic), Basic Rules of Reason, may be
noted. It will certainly be out before December.
AROUND THE EARTH WITH 850 WORDS
Naturally, Basic will not be starting on its journey round the
Earth before the right teaching material has been put into other
languages. Of the 22 Basic books now on our list, 18 are in Basic,
the other four (Basic English, The Basic Vocabulary, The Basic
Dictionary, and Debabelization) not being designed as international
Readers. The Basic Words is in Basic and, together with the ABC,
gives a complete key for anyone who has a knowledge of German or
French (the parallel German and French words being printed for
all senses), or who will take the trouble to make use of a normal
Dictionary. But some book based on the ABC is clearly necessary
in every language, as a first step ; so that the order in which our
representatives are generally requested to put the system before
their different countries is something like this :——
1 . First Steps based on the ABC.
The way is then open for school books of all sorts, and for keys to
the Readers, such as Julius Caesar, The Gold Insect, Stories from the
Bible, and so on, of which 20 or 30 are now waiting only for the
development of an international market.
2 . The ABC as a guide for teachers and private persons ; in
the language in question.
3 . Basic English, as a general account of the system.
4 . The Basic Words, with detailed examples of their normal uses,
and of the most important special senses and expansions ;
in the other language.
5 . A parallel to The Basic Dictionary, putting the 7,000
commonest words of the other language into Basic.
6 . A Radio Learner’s Guide.
Which country will be first in the field with at least 4 of the most
necessary units is still not certain. Denmark, Poland, Sweden,
Czechoslovakia, and Germany are all well forward with the work.
Poland has its Basic News, under the direction of Professor
Pawlowski of Wilno, who is working in harmony with Professor
Massey of Poznan, where the ABC is being put into Basic. In
Denmark, Mrs. Kamma Taylor is getting ready a step by step
guide to Basic, based, on the Danish form of the ABC -- which is
now almost complete, and will make it possible for Basic English
for Danske, by Mr. Boisen and Mr. Christensen, to be used with
profit as an addition to school work. In Japan, Mr. Takata and
Professor Okakura will not be long in getting their material in order,
with the help of Mr. Daniels at Otaru and the support of the Kyoto
Basic Monthly. Madame Litvinoff is making herself responsible
for the development of the system in the U.S.S.R. —- her special
interest being to make Basic a pleasure for the young by the use
of verse. Ma Than E', now back in Rangoon, is getting details
fixed up with her Burmese friends in education circles ; and so on.
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