logoOgden's Basic English

15. Basic English Compiled

by Julia E. Johnsen


    On the question of Basic English, raised by Winston Churchill at Harvard, a small voice had a large suggestion to make last week. The voice was that of Dr. Lin Mou-sheng, Chinese scholar, author and editor. On Columbia Broadcasting System's "People's Platform" Dr. tin interrupted a discussion of whether Basic English should be encouraged as an international language. Dr. Lin asked a disarming pair of questions:
    Why Basic English? Why not Basic Chinese?
    His argument: Chinese is the mother tongue of 450 million people. Hardly more than 200 million people can claim English for their own. There is no easier, simpler language to learn than the simplified "basic" Chinese of a thousand characters which had made possible China,s huge spread of literacy in recent years.
    Dr. Lin tempered his proposal with a compromise suggestion: let each of the world's most widely used languages be reduced to Basic and universally taught.
    -- Time. Oct. 4. '43. p. 70.

    The division of educational psychology of the institute of educational research of Columbia University, under Dr. Edward L. Thorndike, carried on a six-year investigation of (a) the relative ease of learning a constructed language as compared to learning an ethnic language, and (b) the influence of the study of a constructed language on subsequent language learning, both in the vernacular and foreign languages. The results are embodied in a report to IALA on language learning, published in 1933. They show (a) that a constructed language of the type of Esperanto is from five to fifteen times easier to learn than a natural language; (b) that pupils taking an initial course in such a language make more progress in English vocabulary than others of the same level during the same period of time; that, during this initial course, pupils make progress in French vocabulary to degrees varying from nearly as much to more than the progress made by a parallel group studying French; and that, after they begin the study of French, they make more progress than those pupils who have studied French twice as long. For carrying out a course of this kind a textbook has been prepared (A General Language Course--Helen S. Eaton)
    -- James F. Abel, Chief, Corn parative Education Division, United States Office of Education. School Life. May. '38 p. 320.

    I suggest Spanish as the supplementary language to be encouraged in all other countries and for these reasons:
    1. It is the easiest and simplest of all languages.
    2. It is flexible, expressive and musical.
    3. It is already in use in many of the most important and growing commercial areas in the world. (All South and Central America except Brazil, where Portuguese is spoken, and that is very like Spanish; many of the islands of the West Indies; the Philippines; Spain itself.)
    4. Spain is not so great in the world of commerce, industry, wealth, politics and power as to have the selection of her language opposed . . . for any of the reasons already suggested.
    I do not know how such a step could be brought about, but the first thing to do is to agitate it, to get people interested in it. It does not seem impossible that the numerous leagues, conferences and assemblies that are already in existence for the furtherance of peace should make it their concern. It would facilitate commerce, social relations, and harmonious well being and so doing would help to remove one of the chief causes of misunderstandings
    -- Colonel J. C. Breckinridge, U. S. Marine Corps. Survey. Aug 1, '26. p. 494.

    The most important use to which [Esperanto for scientific purposes] has, been put, and one which is of definite practical utility, is as the language for summaries of papers written in the national language of the country concerned, particularly where this language is one which is not widely understood. Such abstracts are a regular feature of several Japanese journals, of the Revista da Sociedade de Geografia de Rio de Janeiro, the Bul. Soc. Fran šaise des Electriciens, and of the Phare medical. In addition, abstracts and reviews appear in the Bulteno de Internacia Scienca Asocio Esperantista and the Internacia Medicina Revuo, which are published entirely in the international language.
    The reports of the Aerological Observatory at Tateno are also entirely in Esperanto, and this raises the question whether other matter of a tabular nature, intended for international use, could not with advantage utilize the same language. The use of Esperanto for such purposes will no doubt increase as it becomes more generally realized that, owing to the international vocabulary, simple grammar, and scientific construction of Esperanto, a text in this language is comprehensible to a wider circle of readers than a text in any national tongue.
    -- D. R. Duncan, London.Chemistry and Industry (London). Ap. 16, '38. p. 370.

    Dr. Mario Teixeira de Freitas, of the Brazilian Government, states the case for Latin America when he says:
    Many scholars, like Dr. Freitas, fear that Basic English would place the cultures of the world under a veritable empire of the English mind. Conceivably, an organized pidgin of any national group might partially remove the language barriers. But only Esperanto eliminates the psychological barriers. Any national tongue places men at disproportionate advantage-one is a native while the other is a foreigner, or both are foreigners speaking an alien tongue. The interlanguage Esperanto provides an absolutely neutral, linguistic foundation. Esperanto is composed of elements common to all, is mastered and used in the same way by all, and is entirely free from national pride and prejudice, or cultural encroachment. This elimination of the psychological barriers is the all-important requisite for the world auxiliary tongue.
    Several million persons of the most diverse cultures, Occident and Orient, already use Esperanto. Attempts to create a rival composite interlanguage have failed, or remain mere projects in pamphlet form on library shelves, to be brought out occasionally as scarecrows to foster confusion and schism in the public mind, when this serves some rival purpose. Esperanto lives, and is applied in every field of endeavor. Many thousands of books and over one hundred journals were printed in Esperanto before the war. China, even today, sends out two vivid journals in Esperanto: "Vocoj ci Oriento,' and "Orienta Kuriero." Universal Congresses of Esperanto give living proof of the efficacy of the world tongue, with thousands of delegates from over forty nations participating. In Brazil, Esperanto is the official auxiliary language of a nation-wide governmental department.
    Esperanto's basic vocabulary consists of about a thousand root words, but an infinite variety of new words can be built from this base because of a regularized system of affixes. There are no limitations, circumlocutions, or floundering among definitions, such as characterize Basic English. Esperanto has sixteen grammatical rules, no exceptions, no irregularities. The alphabet is scientifically phonetic-one letter, one sound-and a remarkable approximation to the system of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Esperanto's structure is agglutinative, which makes it closely akin to Asiatic tongues. This explains its steady progress in the Orient.
    -- George A. Connor, Delegate, Esperanto international League; Member of the American Esperanto Academy. Saturday Review of Literature. 0ct. 2, '43. p. 1-11.

    Figures giving simply the numbers of those who use a given language as their mother tongue do not in themselves substantiate the claims of that language to be recognised as an international medium. It is surely equally important (and perhaps more so) to consider the extent to which that language has established itself already in the world as a second language, cultivated not only for utilitarian but also for cultural reasons. In this respect, the privileged position of French cannot be overlooked. . . . The international value, actual and potential, of a language which has "its roots deep in past culture"--and one may add in present culture--cannot be estimated without reference to the quality of that culture, particularly as embodied in literature, and to its contribution to the common civilization.
    Considered on this plane, the claim of the French language to preferential treatment is a very strong one, and there are good reasons why claims of this kind should carry weight in a discussion of linguistic policy within the framework of "postwar planning." Such planning is generally carried out with very little attention to the direct contribution which the different nations are likely to make to the maintenance and development of civilization. Considerations of political stability and economic prosperity are usually over-riding. It would therefore seem imperative that in those limited domains (such as that of language policy) in which cultural values have some chance of being taken into account, their importance should be particularly stressed.
    There is also a more particular reason why the international status of French should be of concern to us. Our country is pledged to restore France "in her greatness" as well as her independence. Let us not forget how much of the greatness of France lies in the hold which her culture has gained in the civilized world, a hold which is reflected and at the same time guaranteed by the "universality" of the French language. If we are pledged to restore that greatness we are surely under an obligation to respect it and indeed to help to preserve it during the time of France's subjection. Any policy which aimed deliberately at replacing French as a second language, either by Spanish or by our own tongue, would be a betrayal of a promise voluntarily--and generously--made in the name of the British people.
    -- Austin Gill, Edinburgh. Letter to the Editor. Spectator (London). Jul. 3, '42. p. 13.

    It is regretable that one working in a scientific field has to know several languages in order to keep in touch with what is being done in other countries. I consider it a blot on the intelligence of men of science that they have not yet come to some understanding regarding a universal language for the communication of their findings and ideas. The resulting multiplicity of periodicals, abstracts, books, etc., in any one branch of learning is to be deplored.
    The suggestion that a 'Basic English" would fulfill the gap is a futile one for several reasons. I will mention two. First, a little examination will show the number of words suggested . . . namely, from 800 to 900, is much too low to express ideas clearly, even when limiting oneself to one topic, and with the addition of the so-called international words of science, which are far too few to be an important factor. I have turned to the article "Colloid Chemistry in the Paper Industry," on page 177 of the [February 19, 1938) issue [of Chemistry and Industry] . . . and I have estimated that at least 250 words would be required to express adequately the ideas contained on one page of that article, leaving aside all such words as cellulose, acid, cation, aluminium. Keeping in mind that a change of topic necessitates an almost new vocabulary, it will be realized how pitifully lacking this Basic English" of about a thousand words would be. How is one ever to cover such fields as colloid chemistry, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, biological chemistry, microscopy, the technology of paper, rubber, textiles, resins, paints, etc., not to mention the other sciences, with a vocabulary of a thousand words?
    Secondly, and this is probably the major reason which militates against the use of, not only English, but any other "living language" for international purposes, is the nationalistic element which can never be divorced from questions of language. However desirable the use of English may be from many points of view, it will be difficult to convince a Frenchman, a German, an Italian, or a Russian that it should be chosen in preference to his own language, particularly so in these days when national feeling is so predominant. For this reason alone, any scientific man who is sincere in- his desire for some common means of communication should forget all personal preferences and look to the use of such a language as Esperanto, which is entirely devoid of any national association. There is so much to recommend it, but one need not mention its advantages at this point. Nevertheless, it is rather surprising to the writer that, so far as he knows, there has been no sound effort on the part of scientific people to study its possibilities.
    -- P. Larose, Rockcliffe, Ont.Chemistry and Industry (London). Mar. 26. '38. p. 301.


Some of the books, pamphlets and periodicals listed by Johnsen will be included. But the font type is small and the many sources not longer available.

An asterisk ( ) preceding a reference indicates that the article or a part of it has been reprinted in this book.
Books in and about Basic English. 3p. mim. Harvard Cooperative 
	Society. Cambridge, Mass.; Barnes & Noble. New York. n.d.
Fries, Charles C. and Traver, A. A. English word lists: bibliography. 
	in their English word lists. p. 95.107. American Council on Education. Washington, 	D.C. '40.
Holladay, Lois, comp. English as an International Language; a selected 
	list of references. 7p. mim. Newbery Library. Chicago. '26.
National Education Association. National Commission on the Enrichment of Adult Life 
	of the Department of Adult Education. Committee report on Basic English for 	Adult Education. p. 64-7. mien. The Association. 1201 16th St. N.W. Washington, 	D.C. '39.
New York Public Library Bulletin. 12:644-57. N. '08. List of works in the New York Public 		Library relating to international and universal languages.
	Alto separate. 14p. The Library. New York.
Pillsbury, Avis M. camp. English as an International Language. 29p. Library. 
	University of Illinois. Urbana. '27. Annotated.
Richards, Ivor A. Selection of books on or in Basic English. In his 
	Basic English and Its Uses. p. 137-40. W. W. Norton & Co. New York. '43.
Crowther, James G. Basic English. In his Osiris and the Atom. p. 216-21.	
	George Routledge & Sons. London. '32.
Dewey, Godfrey. Relative frequency of English speech sounds. 148p. Harvard University 	Press. Cambridge, Mass. '23. o.p.
Five steps to writing Basic. (Notes on Basic English no. 2) 18p. 
	Barnes & Noble. New York. N. '40.
Fries, Charles C. and Traver, A. Aileen. English word lists; a study of their adaptability for 	instruction. 109p. American Council on Education. Washington, D.C. '40.
Goldberg, Isaac. Wonder of Words; an introduction to language for everyman. 485p. 
	D. Appleton-Century Co. New York. '38. See especially p. 309. 458

    (more) 19 pages.

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