Ogden's Basic English
12. Basic English Compiled
by Julia E. Johnson
THE AUXILIARY LANGUAGE QUESTION 6
A medium of communication in speaking and writing for the interchange of ideas between persons of different mother tongues would be useful in science, literature, statecraft, journalism, commerce, wireless telegraphy. Some specific examples will show this quite obviously. At the World Power Conference in Washington in September, 1936, each delegate was provided with a telephone device enabling him to hear the same speech in four languages. Not long ago a Russian scientist, Docent E. B. Rabkjn of Kharkof, sent me a monograph on color perception printed in four languages, Russian, English, French, and German. The immense expense incurred by the World Conference for the arrangements mentioned and by the Russian scientist for translating and printing his essay could have been saved by an easily acquirable and universally known medium of communication in speaking and writing between persons of
different mother tongues. The instances showing the usefulness of and even need for one medium can be multiplied a hundred. fold and are very frequent especially nowadays. We only need to think of the League of Nations and other international bodies and conferences and of the broadcasts by famous statesmen, dignitaries, writers, etc., each speaking in his mother tongue which the listeners do not understand.
The cumbersome expression "medium of communication in speaking and writing for persons of different mother tongues" has been advisedly used at the beginning of this essay instead of the convenient term "Auxiliary Language." For as we shall see very soon our medium can be only a devised or constructed linguistic system but not a natural tongue. Now if it be called "language" right from the start, objections at once arise in the minds of the uninitiated against our medium. Its opponents claim that a language must "grow by itself" like a plant or an animal, that it can as little be constructed at will, produced artificially as a living organism, as the homunculus. An eminent linguist has even asserted that "an artificial language is contrary to all linguistic science."
If we take the word "language" in the ordinary sense, that is, as "a means of communication among the members of a single nation" (Standard Dictionary) acquired by them in early childhood, such views may, perhaps, hold true. At least they have never been disproved by the experience of mankind. Language, however, may also be defined in a second sense that has no reference to a particular nation, simply as a medium of communication in speaking and writing acquirable by persons of mature age. Experience has fully proved the possibility of a constructed partial language of this definition. The Arabic numbers, the musical notes and terms, the mathematical signs and the scientific nomenclatures, are all fragmentary languages of the second sense. All these systems have not "grown naturally," but have been devised by mathematicians, musicians, scientists. What is true of one fragment of language is true of any other fragment. All fragments of a language constitute a complete language. Simple logical reasoning thus refutes the above-stated views regarding language of the preceding definition. Moreover, great linguists, such as Jacob Grimm, Max Muller, Hugo Schuchardt, and others, have held that an artificial complete language is feasible and can even be made more efficient than a natural language. Experience finally has furnished the strongest confirmation of the possibility of a devised complete language. With all their faults the best-known projects called "International Languages" without any other qualifying adjective or "World Tongues" constitute experiments on so large a scale as to prove beyond peradventure the possibility of an artificial language, of a contrived medium for the expression of thought in speaking and writing. There are other objections against our medium. They are of no significance and need not be dwelt upon. In the further discussion of our subject the term "auxiliary language" will be used for our medium. We have to show now which requirements the auxiliary language must comply with in order to be successful, that is, to be universally and lastingly recognized.
Requirements of the auxiliary language; difficulties of the natural languages; lack of expressiveness as factor of greatest difficulty; English as the richest language; basic languages. The auxiliary language must be strictly neutral, . favoring no particular nation. For otherwise all other nations would refuse to recognize it. Because of this requirement no living language can be advocated as the auxiliary language since a living language would favor some nation. The second requirement of the auxiliary language is to be so easy that it can be fully mastered by an educated person in a few months. For otherwise intelligent people in all civilized countries would not learn it, would not find time to learn it. This requirement completely disposes of all arguments advanced in favor of selecting a natural language, living or dead, as the auxiliary language. It takes many years of hard assiduous study to acquire a mere smattering of a natural tongue and almost a lifetime to attain an adequate knowledge of it. From the two requirements it follows that the auxiliary language can be only a devised system, but not any one of the natural languages.
The factors making these so difficult are excessive inflection, extravagant inflectional and other irregularities and immoderate
multivocalness of the words. The factors refer chiefly to the theoretical acquisition of any language and are well known. In making practical use of a foreign tongue, however, one is continually harassed by another factor which engenders even more troublesome perplexities and has been little known as a cause of great hardship. This factor is the necessity of a circumlocution in one language for expressing a concept which is expressible by a single word in another language. This source of greatest linguistic difficulty was pointed out in two essays of mine ("Notes on a Model Language," Scientific Monthly, April, 1929; "Model Language and Essentials of Arulo," Modern Language Journal, February, 1930). It was designated there as "lack of expressiveness" and was illustrated by various examples. . . .
English is far richer, far more expressive than any other language. Far more often than with any other tongue one meets, in a comparison pertaining to expressiveness, with concepts each expressible in English by a single word and only by a circumlocution in any other language. This statement is readily verifiable by an unprejudiced student and will be substantiated later in this essay by other specific examples. Furthermore, English has no such abhorrence of foreign words as prevails in other languages, but appropriates them to a far greater extent than other tongues do, as evidenced by words such as auslaut, kindergarten, landsturm, weltanschauung, zeitgeist. It follows that English must be well considered in creating the auxiliary language. This point is of importance because all language inventors have hitherto patterned their systems mostly after one of the Romance languages, greatly neglecting the richest tongue, English.
The third requirement of the auxiliary language is efficiency, fitness for expressing all ideas as well as the most efficient natural languages do. The auxiliary language can attain universal recognition only through being extensively resorted to in public by men of science and letters; and no writer or lecturer would make earnest use of a linguistic system that does not enable him to express himself in public as clearly, easily, and effectively as his mother tongue does.
Projects consisting only of 850 words and called "Basic Languages" are claimed "to be adequate for all the ordinary needs of life" and to have "special value as an auxiliary language." This is an egregious error. It is true, with 850 aptly selected words one can accomplish a good deal in expressing everyday thoughts and can even write an impressive article and some fair translation. But let one infatuated with such a project tell us in it all and everything about his bread and butter and daily life, and he will halt and stammer and break down in his speech. I gained this experience with a project of 900 words. Its enthusiastic devotees would extol it as being equal to their mother tongues in expressiveness and as enabling them to converse fluently in it. The much-vaunted fluency, however, which I observed in their gatherings, held true only with respect to stereotyped phrases and sentences, but as for the rest, it was a constant faltering and groping for words. A project of 850 words is unfit even for the role of the "World Tongue" which is intended chiefly for conveying the simple thoughts of the man in the street. For the function of the auxiliary language it is altogether out of the question. If a writer tried such a project for literary work, he would find himself constantly hampered and would quickly give up the attempt in despair. The auxiliary language must be adapted not only for expressing all ordinary ideas, but mainly for communicating the lofty thoughts of the best minds thinking in one language to the best minds thinking in another one. This is possible only with a system possessing a rich treasure of words laid down in dictionaries.
It is a fallacy that a language is so much easier the fewer root words it possesses. Just the opposite is true. When a language which a writer may use for literary work has no equivalents for the words of his mother tongue, he has to resort to derivation, compounding, and roundabout expression. This entails great hardships. They are obviated by a rich vocabulary of the language used. The objection that an extensive vocabulary would tax the memory too much is not valid. No English student needs to remember all the words contained in the Standard Dictionary. Literary persons Principally are in
need of the auxiliary languages; and only through them will it attain the indispensable universal recognition. If only they can find the required words in the dictionaries of the auxiliary language, their task in making use of it is far easier than when they have to forge those words. The auxiliary language will be used to a large extent for translating the natural languages. Any system which lacks equivalents for their words is inadequate for the function of the auxiliary language.
Failure of the "World Tongues" or "International Languages"; motive for developing the system Arulo or Gloro; reasons for not designating it as an International Language without any other qualifying adjective. With respect to the two requirements of the auxiliary language, facility and efficiency, the so-called International Languages are utterly inadequate. They are very easy in theory, that is, they can be learned very readily, but in practical use they are fraught with greater hardships and are far less efficient that the natural languages. Want of expressiveness, the principal factor making for difficulty and inefficiency in practise, is very much aggravated in all international language projects. In the experience of serious-minded students they have turned out to be "haphazard artificial tongues," mere linguistic toys for enthusiasts and dilettantes, unfit for earnest use. All able students of the auxiliary language problem have given them up as defective and entirely unavailing. This is the chief reason for the final bankruptcy of the best known international language projects after a remarkable success lasting for about ten years.
To overcome their defects a new system was evolved that complies with the requirements of an auxiliary language. It received the name ARULO, formed from the initials of the expression Auxiliary Rational Universal Language. For reasons explained below the name GLORO was recently added, not as a substitute but as a synonym of Arulo. The system is proposed for the role of the auxiliary language and is not to be designated as an international language without any modifying attribute. The first term clearly indicates the purpose striven for and intimates the kind of people chiefly to be reached, while
the second term obscures both and even connotes ideas that are provocative of opposition in wide circles. An international language appears to be intended mainly for the common people including children and youngsters and even to be a means of curtailing the natural languages. These ideas are repulsive to many, particularly nowadays with nationalism rampant everywhere. The auxiliary language, on the other hand, is at once recognized as a subsidiary means of communication between mature persons who are actually in need of such a medium.
The Model Language idea and its origin. The guiding principles for the make-up of the system Arulo or Gloro constitute the model language idea, the idea of a linguistic system which would be a model of rationality, expressiveness and facility. The new system has been characterized in several publications . . . which have been approved by men of science and letters: Professor Charles H. Grandgent of Harvard University, Professor Robert H. Fife of Columbia University, Dr. Frank H. Vizetelly, the late Garrett P. Serviss, Professor Albert Einstein, and others. Professor Grandgent's private letter of approval, published with his express permission in my book on The Relativity Theory Simplified (p. 175), reads as follows:
Your article starts out most fascinatingly. Such a language as you describe would be a marvel if it were within the power of man to create. Even an approximation would be admirable. . . . It is evident that the new language vastly surpasses in logical resources the more haphazard artificial tongues invented before.
Brief history of Esperanto and Ido in this country; origin and development of the system Arulo or Gloro. Evidently the model language can be only a devised system. It shares this feature with all international language projects. I therefore devoted a great deal of effort to some of them. As a boy I learned Volapuk. It only brought disappointment and was given up very soon. In mature age I studied Esperanto, wrote various articles in and on it, and published an English textbook of the project. In 1906 I founded the first Esperanto society in this country and lectured on the project in the New York City College and elsewhere. It became known thereby in the
whole country. It had been all but unknown here before these happenings. After a year and a half, however, I abandoned it--as did many noted men (Wilhelm Ostwald, Otto Jespersen, Hugo Schuchardt, Louis Couturat, etc.)--having convinced myself of its unfitness even for the role of the international language. At that time (it was in the fall of 1907) appeared the Language of the Delegation, commonly known under the absurd name Ido. It was vastly superior to any previous project. I therefore devoted myself to it for fifteen years. Finally, however, I withdrew from it because it fell short of the properties of the model language and because of its deterioration owing to the untimely death of the able leader, Dr. Louis Couturat, and to the disappearance of the competent Ido Academy. At this place it is appropriate to state that "model language" is identical with "auxiliary language," the first term referring rather to the properties of the system sought and the second rather to its purpose.
I had cooperated in the development of Ido, had published an exhaustive English textbook of it and various other works in and on it, and had contributed extensively to Progreso and Mondo, the official organs for Ido. All these writings offered constructive criticisms of the system which were approved by the best Idists. The new Ido Academy, however, organized in 1921, remained reactionary. I therefore undertook all by myself the reform of the system. Its grammatical structure was considerably modified, adequate principles for the selection of the radicals, preferably called root words, and for the derivation of other words from them were put up, and the vocabulary was purged of wrongly selected roots and was enlarged to a great extent. From these labors resulted a system which differs from Ido more than the latter differs from Esperanto. It is outlined in the publications cited above and is fully described in the Arulo Textbook.
Distinguishing features, aim and improvement of Gloro; works on it as yet unpublished; important linguistic questions never even raised by any author. The new system conforms to the principles for the model language and accords with the
answers to linguistic questions which no writer has ever raised and which must be solved in order to arrive at a rational easy language. Our system differs thereby from all projects hitherto devised. Its main distinguishing feature is the purpose, pursued in developing it, to create a vocabulary so rich as to afford a word for every concept that is expressible by a single word in any one of the principal natural languages. This aim may remain an unattainable ideal, but it can be approached and has already been approached to a considerable extent, so that in many instances the system is more expressive than the natural languages. It has been further improved in four large works, unpublished as yet, which contain also suggestions for bringing it still nearer the aim. One of these works is a new revised grammar of Gloro. Another one entitled Model Language and Gloro or Arulo, is a theoretical book wherein are set forth all the principles for the construction of a rational language and all aspects of the model language into which it is proposed that Arulo or Gloro should be developed.
Linguistic questions of great interest are discussed and answered in this book. (1) Is the presence or absence in a language of the definite and indefinite articles an excellence or a drawback? (2) Which is the more useful way of comparing the adjective,, the analytic or synthetic? (3) Is the possessive case, which is wanting in the Romance languages, useful or not? (4) Which is the more rational way of forming compound words, that of Greek followed by English and German, etc., or that of Latin inherited by the Romance languages?
(5) Which is the factor of greatest difficulty in the practical use of a foreign tongue? (6) Why is the passive voice ambiguous in most of the modern languages and how can it be made unequivocal? (7) Is the presence in a language of the subjunctive mode advantageous or not? (8) By which criterion is it possible to judge and even ascertain experimentally the efficiency of any language? etc. All these questions cannot be dwelt upon in a short essay. Only the last three are discussed here.
* * *
The auxiliary language is little needed in matters of everyday life in spite of contrary claims of visionaries, but is very necessary in the spheres of intellectual exchange. The auxiliary language differs in scope from the international language without any modifying attribute. The latter, as indicated by its very appellation, is intended for the nations, that is, principally for the masses whose intellectual horizon hardly extends beyond matters of everyday life. The auxiliary language, in contrast, is meant chiefly for educated mature persons and mainly for communicating ideas of social, economic, scientific, and educational importance. Because of its appellation and scope there is widespread bitter opposition to the international language. Designation and scope of the auxiliary language do not make it liable to any reasonable objection. The linguistic projects devised heretofore have all been urged principally for the role of the international language. Gloro is proposed mainly for that of the auxiliary language. This does not mean that the uneducated person is excluded from it. He, too, may learn it. The great facility of the international language projects is only apparent, that of Glaro is a true one. For this reason the man in the street can acquire a knowledge of it superior to the one which he has of his mother tongue. Acquaintance with the auxiliary language enjoyed also by the common people and those of meager education may be advantageous for them in some instances, as in broadcasting, will enhance the usefulness of the auxiliary language for those who actually need it, and may be an additional factor tending to obviate a disturbance of the peace of the world.
6. Max Talmey, M.D. New York. Read before the Linguistic Club of Yale University March 8. 1937. Modern Language Journal 23:172-86. December 1938.
ROTARY WAITS FOR A UNIVERSAL TONGUE 7
Mr. Stalin doesn't know English and Messrs. Roosevelt and Churchill don't know Russian, and there isn't any language that all three of them can speak. The present world situation emphasizes the need of a universal language--one which will
supplement all our existing tongues without supplanting any of them. Instead of the people of each country trying to learn the languages of several other countries, all should learn one auxiliary language agreed upon by all. What a great contribution to world understanding and cooperation such a language would be.
Mr. Churchill recently suggested the value in international affairs of a knowledge of Basic English, which is an excellent system of "rationed" English. It enables one to speak and write English clearly and even eloquently with the use of only about 850 words. Those who invented or developed Basic English did a grand piece of work, which demonstrates what a great waste there is in the teaching and learning of the present verbose and pleonastic English language.
However, in thinking of promoting the use of Basic English, we are confronted by two difficulties. One is the loyalty of all peoples to their own native tongues and their disinclination to foster the spread of any other national language. The other is the inability of those who now know regular English to forget it and use only Basic.
It will not be difficult to teach Basic to non-English-speaking persons, but teaching it to those who are now fluent in the English language is another matter. If as a non-English-speaking person I learn Basic and you speak only regular English, I shall be able to make you understand me, but I shall have difficulty id understanding your regular English because you will be using so many words and phrases that are not in my vocabulary. I shall need an interpreter to translate your regular English into Basic English. Of course, you may patiently repeat your thoughts in other words until perhaps you hit words and expressions that I understand, but as a rule I will get what I can of what you are saying and let the rest of it go and you will talk on, thinking that I have fully understood all that you have said. And that may lead to trouble.
Moreover, as those non-English speaking persons who acquire Basic English come in contact with and communicate with those speaking regular English,
regular English. On the other hand, they will begin to experience difficulty in making themselves understood by those who are still using only Basic. Basic won't remain static very long where it is in contact with regular English.
It becomes clear, therefore, that Basic, instead of being a universal language, is merely a useful introduction to the English language. That being the case, we may expect non-English-speaking peoples to look upon Basic as an effort to promote the use of the English language. For that reason it is not logical for Rotary International to undertake to promote the general use of Basic *
Granted that it is logical for the Rotary Clubs of the English-speaking countries to want to have the world learn the English language (and learning Basic is merely a first step in learning the English language), it equally is not logical to expect that the Rotary Clubs of French-speaking, or German-speaking, or Spanish-speaking, or Portuguese-speaking countries will promote the English language in preference to their own. After all, language is one of the tools of' trade, politics, religion, and everything else. Rotary International cannot with propriety try to get the Rotarians of all countries to learn and use any particular one of the existing national or racial languages. Rotary International, as the united body of Rotary Clubs of the world, can promote, with any hope of success, only a new language that has no national label, but belongs to all peoples in common. To satisfy national pride and prejudice we must contemplate the adoption of an auxiliary language that is not tagged with any national label.
While Basic English is an excellent introduction to the English language, it is not likely to replace the present English language because of the inherent refusal of Britons and Americans to be limited and restricted or regimented. If one of us knows more than 850 words in our language, he will have an urge to make use of them. If we all would confine ourselves to the vocabulary of Basic, the richer English language of today might be relegated to a place beside classic Greek and Latin, and Basic become the language of America and the British Commonwealth. That is not likely to happen.
The United States might revise its educational system so that in all primary and secondary schools Basic English and only Basic would be taught. If this were done for, say 20 years, we might have a generation that knew only Basic, and newspapers and broadcasters and writers and speakers would be forced to use Basic in order to reach the majority of those to whom they would address themselves. However, no such educational revolution will come to pass.
If we would do this (which we won't) and at the same time simplify and rationalize the spelling of the words used in the Basic vocabulary, it is possible that it might come to pass that Basic would be accepted as the universal language. In fact, there is some reason to believe that if we would reform and simplify the spelling of the words in our American-English language of today, it would sweep the world as a universal language.
Any manufacturer or distributor or salesman knows the value of 'proper packaging to promote the sale of something for which there is a consumer demand. There is a consumer demand for a world language. English has a big lead over all its competitors in this field, but it isn't getting the distribution that it would if it appeared in a more attractive package. English spelling is atrocious.
A knowledge of Basic English can do harm to no one, and to those without any knowledge of English it should be most useful. To everyone in the United States who lacks a working knowledge of the English language, whether an immigrant or someone born in the U. S. A., we could well proceed at once
to teach the vocabulary of Basic and how to. use the words that comprise it. Such a working knowledge of English will give those who acquire it a new status and a new dignity as American citizens. It will enable them to communicate their thoughts to the rest of us. It will help them to understand what we may be endeavoring to communicate to them, although, because we will not confine ourselves to Basic, they will not understand us fully.
One of the several non-national scientifically constructed languages, such as Esperanto or Novial, is just as good as, if not better than, Basic. If learned both by English-speaking peoples and by those speaking other languages, it would make a perfect universal two-way medium for communications--one in which everybody could understand everybody else. Non-English-speaking peoples could learn it as easily as Basic English and it could be taught to school children in the British Commonwealth of Nations and the United States without interfering with their learning of English. (To teach Basic English and regular English at the same time would be very confusing.) In our schools the auxiliary language could be taught in place of Greek, Latin, French, German, Spanish, Italian, etc. It wouldn't require much teaching-given an introduction, to it the children would rapidly acquire it.
The fact that there are several such made-to-order languages on the market and in competition with each other for adoption and use complicates the situation. And the position of Rotary International is that it will not sponsor or endorse or endeavor to promote the use of any one of them until it has been designated as the best and most useful by at least a majority of the scientists and linguists who have made a study of them all or until the advocates of the several languages have ceased their competition and come to an agreement upon one of them. This position of Rotary International has been and is logical.
Whether or not the scientists and linguists or the advocates of Esperanto, Novial, and the other proposed languages come to an agreement, it may be possible that in the postwar period several governments will agree upon an auxiliary language and by joint resolution proceed to have it taught in their schools.
If, for example, the U. S. A., Great Britain, Germany, France, and Russia were to do this, it would speed up communications, enhance the development of understanding and goodwill, promote correspondence and travel by both adults and children, and expedite trade relations. Not only the countries mentioned, but other countries as well, would be learning and using such an auxiliary language. Let us hope and pray that we get a universal auxiliary language before we get another world war.
In the meantime Rotary Clubs in all English-speaking countries should advocate and assist in the teaching of Basic English to all non-English-speaking persons who are residing in their countries and to persons in other countries with whom they may have contacts and who are willing to learn English. Anything that increases the ability of peoples to communicate with each other and the number of persons who are able to do so is a desirable thing to do.
Such an activity on the part of Rotary Clubs in English-speaking countries may be paralleled by the activities of Rotary Clubs in other countries to secure a wider knowledge and use of their respective languages.
* -- Rotary International is not committed to promoting any of the universal languages already proposed, but it does collect facts, opinions, and points of view on this important question for any future action which the Board of Directors of Rotary International may see fit to take. At the Vienna Convention (1931) the International Service Committee was instructed to investigate the problem of universal language. In its report to the Board the Committee concluded that a synthetic language would be more practical than Basic English (which it had studied), and pointed to Esperanto as the most solidly established of the synthetic tongues.
In 1933 the Boston Convention authorized the Board to plan a world conference on the subject of a universal language. Three years later, at Atlantic City. New Jersey, a resolution was passed expressing interest in the aims of the International Auxiliary Language Association--a world body designed to make a scientific study of the problem--and since that time Rotary International has kept in close touch with the findings of the IALA. The war has naturally made any further specific steps impractical. -- Eds.
7. By Perry Reynolds, pseudonym of a Rotarian. long active in the affairs of Rotary International. In a debate with Ivor A. Richards. Rotarian. 63:28-50. December 1943.
| toc |