Ogden's Basic English
Arms and the Man
A humourous play about bourgeois competence and mendacity.
by George Bernard Shaw
Put into Basic English by L. W. LOCKHART
Published for THE ORTHOLOGICAL INSTITUTE
by THOMAS NELSON AND SONS, LTD, 1936
Act I |
Act II |
TO THE READER
In Basic English
Though the books of Bernard Shaw have probably been printed in more languages than those of any other living writer, and his plays have had their 'first nights' in almost every country in Europe, this attempt to put Arms and the Man into another sort of English may come as a surprise.
The new language is Basic -- a simple form of English which, though it has only 850 words, seems to the eye and ear in every way like normal English. With these 850 words it is possible to say almost anything which is not part of some special branch of learning, and what is said will be clear even to those with very little knowledge of English.
There may possibly be some doubt as to the value of the undertaking, and there will certainly be general interest in the reasons why Mr. Shaw has let one of his plays be put into the narrow limits of Basic's 850 words. In view of these facts, a clear statement of the purpose of the book seems to be needed.
First, let there be no error on one point. The Basic play is not in any sense in competition with the play in its normal English form, but is designed to put readers with only a small knowledge of English in a better position to take pleasure in Arms and the Man as it came from Mr. Shaw's pen. In more ways than one Basic is a better bridge between such readers and the works of the great English writers than another full-dress language would be. When a book goes smoothly into another language, there is a tendency for it to be looked on as a work of art in itself. Though most English persons of any education have quite a good knowledge of German and French, only a very small number of them have gone to the trouble of reading Goethe or Voltaire in their natural tongues. But even with two languages as like one another as French and English the outlook is very different, and the effects produced are not so much the same as parallel. So that the reader of a work which has undergone the change from one language to another may get an experience unlike that which would be produced by reading the work in its first form. When, however, a book in which the quality of the writing is important is put into Basic, the reader will naturally be in no danger of tasking the pleasure he gets from it -- however great this may be -- for the complete experience, which is clearly dependent on the full range of a living language.
Basic gives a learner the desire to go forward from the simple to the more complex material, while placing in his hands the key which will make it possible for him to do so with profit.
For those whose language and point of view are as different from ours as those of the Chinese, the value of coming to English Letters through Basic is even greater. Here the process of turning English into the other language makes a change not only of feeling but very frequently of sense, and the danger of serious error is great. Dr. I. A. Richards has given some surprising example of these errors in Basic in Teaching. The use of Basic -- a language of the West -- is a help in keeping the Chinese mind from twisting European ideas into a design more natural to the East, and at the same time make it possible for those ideas to be put in a form simple enough not to give trouble. The fact that there may be some loss in forcing great writing into 850 words is not important if Basic is looked on not only as an international language but as a possible step to reading normal English with pleasure.
With certain sorts of writing it may be hard for Basic to do much more than give notes making clear the senses and relations of the words. It gets the complex structure of thought and language broken down, but the process of building up is dependent on words of power which have no place in the 850. The nearer a writer gets to the verse-form, the harder it is for his effects to be copied in Basic.
There would, for example, be very much greater loss in putting Back to Methuselah into Basic than there has been with Arms and the Man, which is in straight-forward, everyday English. In such a play as this, the humour and interest are dependent less on language than on thought and event, and the loss is chiefly in the smooth and natural turns important for acting.
Lastly, it has to be kept in mind that there are hundreds of millions for whom any attempt to get its full value from the language of Arms ad the Man as it came from Mr. Shaw, with his wide range of words.1 would be the work of years, and for them Basic may at least be a first step to the ideas in which Mr. Shaw is specially interested.
C. K. OGDEN,
The Orthological Institute,
10, King's Parade,
1 Such a play is probably representative of a store of more than 30,000 words. There is nothing in Shakespeare which would give trouble to the Shavian public ; and Shakespeare made use of more than 20,000.
NIGHT : A Woman's bedroom in Bulgaria, in a small town near the Dragoman Pass, late in November in the year 1885. Through a open window with a little railed walk outside ...
she is in her nightdress,
THE sixth of March, 1886. In the garden of Major Petkoff's house. It is a clear spring morning ; and the garden is looking bright and beautiful.
IN the library after the middle day meal. It is a very poor library. It has one fixed shelf full of old paper-covered books of fiction ... : the rest of the wall space being being taken up by firearms and horns.
Compare the normal English version at Project Gutenberg.
Basic English is an attempt to give to every one a second, or international language, which will take as little of the learner's time as possible.
It is a system in which everything may be said for all the purposes of everyday existence : the common interests of men and women, general talk, news, trade, and science.
To the eye and ear it will not seem in any way different from normal English, which is now the natural language or the language of the Governments of more than 500,000,000 persons.
There are only 850 words in the complete list, which may be clearly printed on one side of a bit of note-paper. But simple rules are given for making other words with the help of those in the list ; such as designer, designing, and designed, from design, or coal-mine from coal and mine.
The word order is fixed by other short rules, which make it clear from an example such as
what is the right and natural place for every sort of word.
" I will put the record on the machine now "
Whatever is doing the act comes first ; then the time word, such as will ; then the act or operation (put, take, or get) ; then the thing to which something is done, and so on.
It is an English in which 850 words do all the work of 20,000, and has been formed by taking out everything which is not necessary to the sense. Disembark, for example, is broken up into get off a ship. I am able takes the place of I can ; shape is covered by the more general word form ; and difficult by the use of hard.
By putting together the names of simple operations -- such as get, give, come, go, put, take -- with those for directions like in, over, through, and the rest, two or three thousand complex ideas, like insert which becomes put in, are made part of the learner's store.
Most of these are clear to everyone. But in no other language is there an equal chance of making the use of this process. That is why Basic is designed to be the international language of the future.
In addition to the Basic words themselves, the learner has, at the start, about fifty words which are now so common in all languages that they may freely be used for any purpose. Examples are radio, hotel, telephone, bar, club.
For the needs of any science, a short special list gets the expert to a stage where international words are ready at hand
Those who have no knowledge of English will be able to make out the sense of a radio talk, or a business letter, after a week with the word-list and the records ; but it may be a month or two before they are talking and writing freely.
In fact, it is the business of all internationally-minded persons to make Basic English part of the system of education in every country, so that there may be less chance of war, and less learning of languages -- which, after all, for most of us, are a very unnecessary waste of time.
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Last updated March 20, 2012.