Mountains and rivers are chiefly responsible for the early division of men into small warring groups whose expansion, as nations, is effected by crushing other nations. The tendency of every group to make noises in a different way has given the different forms of language by which their thought is limited and their troubles are increased. Language, which might be a uniting force, keeps men separate so that their common interests are still seen through a mist darkly.
What, then, are the uniting forces working for the future and against these unnatural divisions which are natural only in books on Geography? Rivers may be controlled by one or another of the groups living near them, but the sea is still a highway for international Trade. Mountains may be the property of nations, but the air is still free--at any rate for international radio. Radio, like the airplane and the talking picture, is the outcome of Science; and Science, though its produce is still being used for destruction, is a help to that international development which will only be possible through a common international language.
English is one of the international languages for trade, which is dependent on peace and common sense for its increase, so Basic as a complete second language for all purposes has a special value for businessmen. But a wide field is covered by the word 'business.' We get no clear picture of a businessman. He might be anything from a bookkeeper to an insurance expert. Traders, bankers, storekeepers, and those responsible for operations on the Exchange are all equally businessmen, though they have little in common but an interest in making money. Most of them, however, are more certain of making money in peace time than when everything is being turned upside down by the military; and all of them get more comfort from the thought of themselves on a seat in an office or a club, getting bits of paper signed by the softer part of the public, then on a bed in a hospital having bits of metal taken from the softer parts of their bodies.
To the peace-loving sort of businessman common sense says: "Sweet are the uses of advertisement. Send letters (with the 850 Basic words on the other side) to business house in other countries. When new orders are coming in by every post it will be possible to get from you support for inventions which might have had no other chance but self-help. And a new invention is a safer mother for new business than a flag or a gun."
Any branch of business may have 50 special words, in addition to the 850, for its special purposes. There are certain words, such as liability, purchase, and guarantee, which are common to all the branches, but the number of those is very limited. Clearly then, it will be necessary to have separate lists for bankers, insurance men, an so on, in the same way as we have separate lists for zoology, chemistry, and psychology, though they are all sciences.
On the other hand, there is one branch of business which is in a very great measure, the key to all the rest. The backbone of business is trade. Industry is nothing but an organization for producing goods for the trader; the chief purpose of insurance is to make the transport of goods a safe undertaking; and trading operations may have important effects on banks and the money-market.
For these reasons the decision was made that a Business List of the widest and most general use possible would be formed by putting together 50 words from among such necessary words as are common to all the branches of business and the special words which are needed for trading purposes. There is no doubt that this is the field which teachers of 'Business English' have chiefly in mind when writing their books. In Basic for Business sixty Basic examples are given of the sort of letters which are sent through the post by someone every day.
There is more profit to be got from learning examples by heart in connection with business letters than in most other special fields, because in business a small number of conditions and decisions have to be faced again and again, and the forms used have a tendency to become fixed. For this reason it is possible to get a very long way with a rubber-stamp knowledge. That is why the shorthand experts have been able to make a working system based on the use of unit signs for long groups of words, a system which would not be possible if there were a great number of such word-groups in frequent use. It may be pointed out that Basic gives the experts a chance of taking this system even further than they have been able to do at present, because in Basic the number of different ways in which one statement may be made is much more limited than in normal English, and for this reason the forms of letters will necessarily become more regular.
A reader who has any knowledge of business will see for himself which parts of the examples it will be wisest for him to get into his head. He will do well to give special attention to the words with which the letters are started and ended. Openings such as :
It is important to get these details right because the purpose and outlook of the sender are frequently judged by the words with which the letter is started or ended. The parting words, "It is our hope that there will be no more cause for complaint," make it quite clear that the writer is not pleased, which keeping well inside the limits of good taste; and an ending such as "Hoping that you will not be greatly troubled by my request . . ." has probably more chance of getting attention for a letter than one worded with less care. It will be noted that 'Yours truly' is the form used at the end of all Basic business letters as a sign that there is no more to be said. Anyone who gets tired of putting this may make small changes such as 'Yours very truly' or I am your truly,' but it is our belief that nobody will be very much troubled by the fact that 'respectfully', 'faithfully', and 'I have the honor to be' have been put on one side.
The fact that certain ornaments and additions normally exchanged in letters between businessmen are overlooked by Basic gives equally little cause for regret. Any attempt to put what we have to say more simply and straightforwardly is a step in the right direction. Much good ink and time are wasted in writing about 'an esteemed firm' or being 'favored by an enquiry'. There is no need for creditors to be 'reluctantly compelled' to make their requests for payment; even less is it necessary for someone desiring simple details from another business house to say, before putting his questions, "May I trespass on our indulgence in the following matter." Forms such as these are only like the silver paper round the chocolate, and when the chocolate is a bitter one, the silver paper does not make it any sweeter. Basic has quite enough smooth-sounding words to be able to do everything necessary in the way of giving a soft answer or making a delicate request. Here are some suggestions :
A long list of this sort might be made; but the degree to which such forms are necessary is all a question of what one is used to. A Frenchman has more taste for polish than an Englishman; while in the Far East the ornaments of language seem quite overpowering to most Europeans. If everyone equally is forced by Basic to get to the point as quickly as possible, we may safely say that nobody's feelings will be wounded.
From one point of view, then, Basic English will be hard even for the English themselves. The businessman seems to have a strange love for using long words where simple words would do as well and better. In this way there has come into existence a special business language which I not based on business needs or interests and whose only purpose is to make whatever is under discussion seem more important than it is. A businessman will 'furnish' details where a normal person would give them; he 'renders' an account when he might equally well send it in; letters are talked of as 'favors' and payments as 'remittances.' To give a clearer idea of how unnecessarily complex business letters are made in normal English here are some examples of the self-important forms which are frequently used, together with Basic parallels :
|We are compelled to have recourse to your selves.||We are forced to make our request to you.|
|It afforded us great pleasure.||It gave us great pleasure.|
|Furnish particulars.||Give details.|
|I shall esteem it a great favor if you will send.||Will you kindly send.|
|You may rest assured that.||You may be certain that.|
|We venture to suggest.||We make the suggestion.|
It may be doubted if anyone would seriously say that there is any loss of sense in putting such statements into Basic, and it is to be hoped that the number of those to whom the simple Basic words are more pleasing and more natural to the ear is increasing.
Traders undertake the exchange and transport of all sorts of goods, but naturally the names of a great number of these are not among the general 850 words. The trading operations of most business houses, however, are limited to certain groups of goods -- fruit, cloth, writing materials, and so on -- and wherever this is so it would be very simple to make short lists of the names which are needed in connections with any special group of goods. The question of the general trader is a harder one, and for him some use of wordbooks will probably be necessary. But if the form and purpose of a letter are clear, the fact that two or three words in it have to be looked up will give no trouble to anyone.