BASIC ENGLISH Compiled by Julia E. Johnson
TEACHING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE 11
I rediscovered the English language in all its
magnificent complexity when I began to teach it to
Latin Americans. Aspects of its pronunciation, its
spelling, and, its grammar that have never arisen in
a dozen years of college and university teaching in
the United States become of fundamental and per-
plexing importance to those whose knowledge of
English is limited to "O.K." and an h-less
pronunciation of "hello." How do you distinguish
between the six different sounds of ei in English?
Why do you pronounce "so," "sew," and "dough"
with an o, but "do," "crew," and "through" with a u ?
What is the grammatical form for questions? For
negatives? Why do you say at three o'clock, but on
Sunday and in January? What is the meaning of
"do," "get," "run"?
To most of the questions calling attention to
inconsistencies of pronunciation, spelling, and
grammar the only practicable answer is "It's so
because it's so." The historical account, with its
appeal to phonetic shifts, accidents of orthography,
popular fad, and learned prejudice, would possibly
explain but not excuse. It would be futile to
complicate further the formidable task of learning a
language in which the multitudinous rules are
outnumbered by exceptions.
"Learn the pronunciation of each word separately"
is almost the only rule the teacher can give the
foreigner. What else is there to say when the five
vowels of English, singly and in combination, spell
sixteen basic sounds, and when each of these
sounds has from two to twelve spellings, with an
average of six? The sound of the vowel in "no," for
instance, is spelled in a dozen different ways, as in
"oh," "roam," "foe," "shoulder," "grow,"
"owe," "sew," "yeoman," "beau," hautboy," and
"brooch." The problem would be relatively simple
if it were merely a question of various spellings for
the same sound. But that is only one side of the
story. There are also various sounds for the same
spelling. The spelling o, for instance, is pronounced
in seven different ways in "no,' not, gone, "pardon,"
"women," "do," and "son." It is no wonder that
foreigners, especially adults, find English a difficult
language to learn. The knowledge that we who
speak it as our native tongue must constantly resort
to dictionaries to ascertain what sound is the
legitimate spouse of a particular symbol consoles
them only slightly. When a woman in Latin
American marries, she keeps her maiden name,
adding it to her husband's. So, they feel, it should
be with a language. A symbol should keep its sound
regardless of its associates. As it is, the casual,
intermittent, polygamous marriages of sound and
symbol in the English language convey to the
Catholic Latin not so much a
suggestion of mere linguistic complexity as of illicit
and reprehensive disorder.
To ask a question in English, we use a construction
far more complex than that of Spanish or, for that
matter, of French or German. We can say "Are you
hungry?" but not "Went you to the movie ?" To form
both questions and negatives, we use a construction
with "do," except with "be," "ought," the nine
modal auxiliaries, and "have" used as an auxiliary.
As a main verb "have" is unique. It may be used in
either construction in both interrogatives and
negatives: "Do you have time" and 'l-lave you time
?" "I don't have time" and "I haven't time."
Like any other language, English has a number of
minute peculiarities, such as the substitution of "any"
for "some" in negative statements. Such oddities the
foreigner accepts graciously enough along with the
difficulties in the use of prepositions. But when he
encounters our "two-and three-word verbs" he
gasps once more in bewildered amazement:
The other day when I ran out of something to read I ran over to the
library where I ran into Mary. She ran on about how she had run across a
novel running to nearly a thousand pages that ran far ahead of anything else
she had run up against in a long time. I promised to run through it if I could
run it down. I ran the risk of offending her by running along rather abruptly. I
always have to run away from people who try to run away with the
conversation, running a topic into the ground.
The foregoing passage is strained, but it serves to indicate
an important aspect of the problem of learning
English. Our commonest verbs when combined
with prepositions flaunt a dazzling array of
meanings to many of which the associated
prepositions offer but the slightest of clues. You
can, for instance, run out of supplies and run out of the
house. You can run down the street, run down a
reference, run down a reputation, and run down a
pedestrian; you can also run over a pedestrian and run
All praise to the thousands of Latin Americans who
do not run out of patience when they run into such
finely shaded distinctions. Certainly it is possible to
speak an adequate brand of English with a
vocabulary of only 830 words, but in
the Basic English of Professor C. K. Ogden fifteen of
the eighteen verbs are of the "run" class, though "run"
itself is not included. And, counting only the
numbered meanings distinguished in the New Century
Dictionary, the total runs up to over 14,000 meanings
for the 850 words of Basic English. "Give me a song
if you have knowledge of one" is Basic English; but
perhaps even some native users of English would
have difficulty in understanding that that means,
"Sing me a song if you know one."
Aside from the verb-preposition combinations,
however, the relative simplicity of English verb
structure comes as a welcome surprise to the
foreigner. A regular verb like "walk," for instance,
has only four forms -- walk, walks, walking, walked --
as compared with some fifty forms for a regular verb
in Spanish; and even an irregular English verb like
"eat" has only five forms. Nine modal auxiliaries in
English --"can," "could," "may, ""might," "must,"
"shall," "should," "will," "would" -- themselves
invariable in form, serve in place of many of the fifty-
one verbal suffixes of a regular verb root in Spanish.
And Spanish has three classes of verbs, each with its
set of fifty-odd suffixes.
The lack of grammatical gender in English, the
simplicity of the personal and possessive pronouns,
the lack of the second-person familiar form in both
pronouns and verbs, and the invariability of adjectives
are other grammatical features that facilitate the
learning of English.
But, hard or easy, Latin Americans are determined to
learn English. Teaching it is the primary function of
the approximately twenty-five cultural institutes
established by the office of the Coordinator of Inter-
American Affairs, among which the Centro Colombo-
Americano in Bogota is probably outstanding. A few
months after its doors opened last fall over five
hundred adults had registered for classes -- doctors,
lawyers, engineers, businessmen, people from all
walks of life, firmly convinced that a knowledge of
English is the key to continental solidarity and an
understanding of the democratic world of the future.
11. By James Paul Stoakes. Ceatro Colombo-Americano, Bogota. Columbia.
English Journal. 32:453-4. October 1943.
A SHORT CUT TO ENGLISH 12
Teaching English to those who have come to this
country with no knowledge of our language and
frequently without the power of reading and writing
theirs is a process which takes all the industry and
invention of the teacher. With a view to making it
somewhat simpler for teachers as well as for learners,
there have been numbers of attempts at selection of
those few words which would be of most general
value and would give the learner the best start in the
direction of a clear, smooth, natural use of English.
Most of these lists are based on the idea that the best
words for the purpose are those which are most
frequently used in everyday English. But some words
of most general value for putting across ideas are not
among the commonest, and if the list is to be of the
greatest use with the least trouble in the process, the
words must be tested by other questions than simply
"How frequently do they come into normal talk?" A
given word, before being taken in or kept out of the
list, must be tested for the number of different ways in
which it is used, and for how easily it may be broken
down into other words with no loss to its sense.
(IN BASIC ENGLISH)
The words of Basic English are designed on one hand
to be general enough for any statement at a normal
level of talking, and special enough for the
commonest everyday needs. For the latter purpose it
is important to have some of the most frequently used
words; for the first, words are taken which will do the
most work, covering the widest range of things which
might have to be talked about. In general, the list is
kept as near as possible to the simple physical roots of
language, the names of things and acts, all within the
learner's experience. . . .
It is no loss to anyone to say "go faster" for
"accelerate" or "go up a hill" for "climb a hill," or, in
the same way, "baby-carriage" for "perambulator";
just as it is no loss to us that today all animals have
quite simply "tails" though in Anglo-Saxon days there
was a separate name for every separate tail, as
the "fox's brush and the rabbit's scut." 'The simpler form is quite as good English, both clear and smooth, and once the learner gets the word "put" and the directions in and "out" in his head, there is no need for him to be troubled by "insert" or "eject." If he comes face to face with those words when reading the newspaper, for example, the sense will become clear by the way the word is used in a statement, or it can be made clear by a simple question to the nearest person which, because of the really basic structure of the Basic list, will nine times out of ten be answered in words that the inquirer has learned. With Basic in his mind, the beginner now has the key to the substance and structure of normal English--a key which he will have no trouble in turning because he has already an elastic control over the most important English words.
Simple reading material of interest to an older mind is ready, and more is coming out all the time. The learner will be glad to see how simple and few the rules are, as the forms of words become clear after he has learned the senses of them and do not have to be learned as do the rules of grammar. Teachers may make up their teaching material from the books now out, as those in the six classes under the Massachusetts Department of Adult Education are doing; or if they have not time to do that, they can use books that will soon be coming out giving suggestions for the simplest sort of work, and starting with units of several hundred words at a time, before getting to the eight hundred and fifty of the complete Basic English list.
12 . By Charlotte Tyler, New York; associated with C. K. Ogden in developing Basic
English. Journal of Adudt Education. 6:241.2. April 1934.
THE BASIS OF BASIC ENGLISH 13
The eighteen verbs of Basic English will probably not crowd other verbs from the adman's vocabulary. But Basic English bids fair to be used in many corners of the earth, perhaps in all corners. Thus the source of this idea of a modified vocabulary becomes of interest.
The recent article in Printers' Ink by Ernest S. Green brings together several facts about the early life of Basic. H. G. Wells
attributes it to Professor C. K. Ogden, whose name has been intimately connected with this idea for many years. The first book relating to the subject is mentioned as Meaning of Meaning, published in 1923.
Just before this date, in 1921, officials of the League of Nations hunted for a brief vocabulary of English into which all the papers delivered before the League of Nations might be translated. In preparation for this task, officials of the League consulted with the Berlitz School of Languages in Paris. The Berlitz people turned to their text book on English and worked out a vocabulary of 750 words which was adopted by the League and in which all the circulars of the League of Nations have since been published.
This Paris school was one of the 300 or more which had been established throughout the world following the activities of Professor M. D. Berlitz, who set up the first of his language schools in Providence, R. I., in 1878. They spread rapidly through Europe, very largely because the basis of the instruction was a vocabulary of 500 words, more or less, depending upon the language. This vocabulary had been arranged not only in English, but in every other language in which the Berlitz Schools gave instruction.
Mr. Berlitz arrived at his plan of abbreviated vocabulary after considerable experience as a teacher of ancient and modern languages. As early as 1870 he was instructing a group of theological students at Providence, R. I., having his pupils memorize lists of words. This was a slow and extremely inefficient process. Finally Mr. Berlitz said to himself: "Why not teach these men to speak and understand a foreign language in the same way they learned their mother tongue?"
Following this idea, Professor Berlitz worked out the famous Berlitz Method of teaching languages based upon principles which were revolutionary at that time. The pupil learns the names of objects and speaks only in the tongue he is attempting to master. Grammar is learned by practice in speaking correctly. .eading and writing are taught after oral instruction--not before
--just as a child learns. It is found that this system of basic
vocabularies was equally successful in teaching French or Chinese, Spanish or Arabic.
Proof of the success of the basic vocabulary idea in every language is found in the steady growth of Berlitz Schools. Corporations, government officials and thousands of private mdividuals have found that this method of instruction gives them quickly a working knowledge of the language they desire.
It is not my intention to claim that the excursion of the League of Nations to Paris in 1921 was the beginning of Basic English, but there is no doubt that the study of languages as devised by Professor Berlitz has been anchored to basic vocabularies since 1878.
A student in any Berlitz School learns a basic vocabulary first whether he studies Spanish, French, English or Russian. He enlarges his vocabulary as necessity arises.
13. By Herbert H'. Smith. N. W. Ayer & Son, Inc. Printer's ink. 205:26.
NEEDED : A SPARE-TIRE LANGUAGE 14
World trade, carried on for centuries in sailing ships, has long since abandoned those stately vessels, dependent upon winds and tides, for the modem steamship with its engines independent of the vagaries of the sea; and today the motorship and the giant airplane threaten to make the steamship obsolete. Adaptation and change are always at work to develop methods of saving time in transportation and communication.
On the other hand, the importation and exportation of ideas from one country to another--the outstanding hope of saving civilization--still goes on in the same way as it did in the ancient world whiçh the Mediterranean limited the international market and the oceans were uncharted. Systems of translation and interpretation, with the inevitable delays and misunderstandings involved, slow down the whole, many-sided business of international communications.
The World War served to bring into new prominence many international problems and among them was that of an international
auxiliary language. The idea behind the League of Nations included the desire and necessity for communication among countries and the early meetings of the League and its committees were greatly handicapped by the language barrier. For this reason, in 1921 it gave serious consideration to the possibility of adopting a universal communications medium for use in its sessions but did not decide to do so.
Today, the League is still conducting all its business in two languages. Every speech is given either in French or in English and must then be translated into the other language. From the 58-odd nations which belong to the League, only such delegates are sent as can understand one or the other of these two languages. For those who understand one but not both, there is a language telephone system which resembles that used at the International Assemblies of Rotary International.
This system is called the Filene-Finlay Translator System. On the desk of each delegate or official attendant at the League sessions is a telephone and by dialing, any speech may be heard in translation either in French or in English. An interesting dispatch to the Associated Press from Geneva last June read as follows:
Haile Selassie's appearance today before the opening session of the League of Nations Assembly, when he walked to the rostrum and unfolded the pages of his address, would have meant little or nothing to the great majority of the delegates and the scores 'of members of the press if an Internatjonal Filene-Finlay Translator had not been used to translate his speech from the native Amharic to English, French, and the other languages better known to the various representatives who listened in with earphones.
How much more logical and satisfactory it would be if some language medium which is commonly understood could be used not only at League meetings, but at the numerous international gatherings which take place each year! How many such meetings there are, the average citizen does not realize. Cosmopolitan Conversation, an interesting book about international language
problems, written by the late Dr. Herbert N.. Shenton of Syracuse University, brings out some interesting facts dealing with this point. For example, in 1921 there were only 40 international conferences; by 1931 the number was 216 ! Now there are no fewer than 607 known organizations which deal with international matters.
Amharjc is not the most suitable language for an impassioned speech, for its words are run together so that it is difficult to distinguish them, but the translator, which is a permanent installation in the League of Nations Hall, eliminated all the difficulties presented.
These organizations hold periodic conferences dealing with subjects which vary all the way from international peace to the international control of rats. As to participation in these conferences, Dr. Shenton's analysis based on more than 800 conferences participated in by more than 15,000 people since the World War, shows that France had the greatest representation and the United States the smallest. To those who believe as some undoubtedly do that English will eventually become an official auxiliary language, it would be interesting to point out that French exceeds English as the official language of international conferences by almost 25 per cent.
From this it is evident that the value of a "spare-tire" language, as it has been called, is by no means confined to peace or international-relations workers. In fact, one of the groups which is most deeply interested in the development of an auxiliary language is composed of those who view it as indispensable to the growth of international business.
In these brisk days no one need be told that the radio has become international and that Mr. John Citizen is now able on his home radio to dial a half dozen foreign countries if he feels so inclined. International air travel is rapidly developing. . . .
Bigger and faster steamships are being built all the time and, in short, as it has so often been pointed out, the world is rapidly becoming one family from the point of view of space and time.
All of this points to the increasing need for an international medium of communication. Trade no longer moves in galleons. Man is more mobile than in Viking days, but Babel's curse is still upon us.
To prove the need of an international auxiliary language is much easier than to decide what form it should take. In the course of the last half-century probably a hundred constructive languages have been devised, all of which have had their sincere
advocates. There are also those who would adopt one of the present modern languages-English, French, or Spanish-and make that the auxiliary language. Some would simplify English and this group sponsors a so-called Basic English. . . .
We must note, however, it is sad but true, that advocates of these various language mediums have not always worked in harmony. They have not always been united as they should have been by a realization that they are all working toward a common end, namely betterment of the world.
Happily of late there has been born among some outstanding leaders of the different constructed languages a new spirit of sacrificial desire to come to an agreement. Linguists and inter-linguists are now working together unobtrusively and effectively, animated by the belief that where people disagree all are partly right. They are seeking and finding in each of the languages that has aroused loyal adherents some features that might contribute toward a better form of definitive language.
Among the first to recognize the growing need for an international auxiliary language and the fact that it should be based on scientific linguistic principles carefully studied, was a group of men and women who in 1924 organized the International Auxiliary Language Association (IALA).
Its first president was Earle B. Babcock, who, until his death in 1933, was associate director of the European Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Among others who were active from the first and who still are, are Dave H. Morris, present American Ambassador to Belgium, and his wife, Mrs. Alice V. Morris, who as honorary secretary has devoted a great deal of time and thought to the carrying out of the association's program. Joined with them were also many leaders in the business world. For business, let it be repeated, is coming to recognize more and more that it must for its own sake become more internationally minded.
IALA is endeavoring to introduce a scientific spirit into the movement and to bring together into effective action all those interested in achieving an international language. Meanwhile it has sponsored pioneer researches in linguistics and psychology. Such experts in these respective fields as Professor Edward Sapir
of Yale and Professor E. L. Thorndike of Columbia have directed the work of studying the raw materials of language and the mental processes by which language is learned.
After a decade of this thoroughgoing study and of informal conferences with leaders in many fields, IALA now offers a plan for actually winning, within a definite time, agreement upon one international language.
The plan calls for a series of conferences in which linguists and interlinguists will work out the specifications they regard as essential to a world language. These conferences are to cover a period of about three years and are to be convened and correlated by the Committee for Agreement. The secretary of this committee is William deCock Buning of The Hague, well known in Rotary circles as a past member of the Board and Vice President of Rotary International in 1930-31.
Under the direction of this committee, moreover, a staff of experts is preparing data for conferences and carrying out the detailed recommendations of the various groups. Three conferences have already been held, resulting in agreement on 22 specifications for the international language. The latest was held in August, 1936.
An "International Language Institute," composed of specialists, will formulate the language according to the specifications. IALA expects the language finally worked out to be either a synthesis of existing constructed languages or a modification of one of them which has been selected as a base language. It does not propose to create a new language.
The next step of the plan calls for an authoritative sanctioning body to be created at the request of international organizations and other groups, by action of governments, or other official bodies, when the labors of the Institute are practically finished. Its function will be to select the language and recommend steps for its practical introduction into everyday use in every country.
An 'International Language Academy" would be a great factor in keeping the language standardized throughout the world.
IALA'S plan offers the first scientific attempt from a broad point of view to approach the general subject of an auxiliary world language. Rotary International, as one of the outstanding leaders in. promoting international goodwill and international understanding, is interested in all movements which will further these good causes.
That this is so is shown by action of the Board of Directors in January 1936, at which time a resolution was passed which states in part: "The Board recommends that Rotary Clubs be urged to give continued cooperation to every agency that is endeavoring to find a solution of the problem of an international auxiliary language." It was also shown by the appointment in January 1934, of a committee consisting of Wilfred Andrews of Settingbourne, England, William deCock Buning of The Hague, The Netherlands, Crawford C. McCullough of Fort William, Ontario, and Lester B. Struthers of Chicago, to cooperate with the IALA.
Travelers everywhere are accustomed to the use of what are called "travelers' checks." By means of these checks which pass in all countries, they are able to get even in the smallest and most remote places funds for immediate use. The intrinsic value of their national currency is just as great as it ever was but because of the difficulties and delays of exchange, an international currency medium which is immediately available and which passes at a definitely understood and agreed upon rate, is a great timesaver and aid to travel.
Does not this situation parallel that in languages? By means of an international auxiliary language, man could have the benefit of an exchange of ideas without the delay and inconvenience of translation. The exchange of ideas would then become immediate and in terms which would be commonly understood. The general adoption of an auxiliary international language and the addition of it to the school curricula of all countries would not mean any disloyalty t one's own language. The world could hardly get along today without international travelers' checks. Similarly, it will not long continue to endure the inconvenience caused by a lack of international communication.
To the task of finding out what international language exchange medium is most practical and will most effectively promote better international understanding, IALA has devoted itself wholeheartedly and unselfishly. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that Rotary and IALA have much in common and that they look forward to closer cooperation in the months and years to come.
14. By Walter D. Head, Past Vice President, Rotary International. Rotarian.
50:28-SO. Match 1937.
| toc |