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Critique of the Critics

    I have come across two critiques of Basic English, along with the previously known rejection by the BBC, that really cause extreme agravation. All agree that Ogden's goals are ideal and none offer even a comprehensive suggestion of how to accomplish it. Ogden sets a standard that others can safely attack without a plan of their own for comparison.

    All critics wrap themselves in the mantel of wanting to keep English pure and to not create separate sub-languages. "Pure English" is defined as whatever vocabulary and grammar that the writer himself uses with the full richness and complexity loved by a writer or educator. The common theme is that none consider Ogden's simplifications and back-to-the-basics approach as acceptable. All persist in trying to evaluate Basic for literary merit, completness or for teaching of the full language they love, without any limit or discipline. I wonder if they equally hate elementary schools where language is restricted, yet good, simple English is taught, in the same manner as that of Basic.

    While Ogden introduces new concepts within the structure of 850 words, they complain that it inhibits growth, whereas Ogden is trying to maintain a simple language usable throughout the world that is without the enhancements and complexities that linguists enjoy.

    Whereas Ogden selects common, but multi-goaled words, one critique representing his government says that certain words are not within the normal vocabulary of a first grade student - well, it may not be until it is taught, which is what education is all about; how stupid - yet this was the key reason stated for the rejection of Basic as the teaching method in the schools of India. That and that the British government would not subsidize the textbooks. There may have been some politics involved here. India remains a country with 24 major languages in use with over one million persons each and numerous other languages and dialects. A common auxiliary language of Basic's simplicity could have saved this 3rd world country millions in expenses and provided a common means of communication for interchange in all aspects of human activity.

    These critics completely miss the point when Ogden keeps the limited vocabulary in the face of opportunity to expand the students vocabulary - but if non-Basic aspects are added, then it is no longer Basic. Whereas the intent of an international auxiliary language is to allow the practioner of Basic can speak with and understand a herdsman in Afghanistan, can converse with a shopkeeper in Nigeria, and an office worker in Canada. Once enrichment sets in, the student might converse more succinctly with the critic, but not with the common base of the world population that should speak Basic.


1. The number of words considerably exceeds the 850 that Ogden says.

    Yes, it is amazing how many extensions that these 850 words can perform with compounds, with the few allowed affixes, and with idiom. A bunch of words are not counted. "International" words have essentially worldwide understanding - chauffer, champaign, internet - that Ogden considers can be freely used without counting as uniquely Basic. "Vodka" is not a word required by the structure of Basic, but is understood around the world, why not use it? Ogden also considers that all proper nouns and names (essentially anything capitalized in standard English) are freely usable. Words and expressions in quotes were used with special meaning and jargon are assumed to be used in context with the audience - as is true of normal English. Also anything with international standards such as weights, measures, arithmetic, and time are clearly established and incorporated into correct Basic. The breath of Basic is clearly shown by the spell checking wordlist -- Basic is powerful!

1. a. Ogden's onomatpoeia words are not truely international, "purr", etc.

    Granted. I suspect Ogden wanted to use animal sounds in children's books and honestly presented some that his correspondents said would be understandable to children in their countries.

1. b. Many derivative forms (-ed, -er, -ing, etc.) are meaningless or with a different meaning than the root Basic word.

Deriviative forms are allowed on specified Basic words. Ogden did not take the space in his first dictionary to differentiate which derivative forms are meaningful. Obviously, meaning not derived from a Basic word meanings are not Basic.

2. While the number of new words is limited, the number of items developed from them is not.

    Limiting the number of words with maximum utility is evidence of the effort and genius of Ogden in creating Basic English. A limited number of words need to be learned, pronounced and spelled. Words have multiple meanings in English that increase the power of Basic with little additional effort of learning. An unabridged dictionary might have 45 definitions for " run", while Ogden considers only two of them. This is the terminal level of Basic. For the student whose interest is to progress into full English, once the general idea of "run" is established, the other 40 plus meaning quickly become available to the student without relearning new words, pronunciation and spelling. From an electronic office perspective, the spell checking software cannot distinguish meanings and any use of "run" will be accepted. The full flavor of "run" will be exposed to those reading works written in Basic.
    We can take the opportunity to clarify the expression "new words". Basic is made up of carefully selected common English words. Although new to the foreign learner, all writings in Basic are clearly understood by the general public capable of reading standard English, as in newspapers or government publications. Without condescension to the native English reader, the text is also clear to the international learner of Basic, be he in Ohio or Afghanistan. Basic words are not artificial creations such as Esperanto that are oblivious to the general public.

3. Instead of developing increasing vocabulary, this system attempts to develop an increasing accuracy always at the same level of vocabulary.

    The key to obtaining the desirable results of an international auxiliary language is in its simplicity, ease of learning, while retaining full compliance with standard English. Basic is a fully compatible subset of standard English and Basic is a clearly defined subset. To go beyond the defined limits of Basic is no longer Basic, but a step in the direction of full English. The student of full English can profitably learn Basic as a quick way to develop usage of Basic English for daily life, commerce, education and enter into mainstream intercourse in an English speaking country and in international communication. His ultimate goal may be to progress to full English and expand his vocabulary, but then he is no longer speaking Basic English, but rather intermediate English.. A glory of Basic is that there is no unlearning required while expanding ones vocabulary and sentence structures. Full English is more compact, complete and colorful, but may not be understood in international setting where the international auxiliary language is used or with those people who learned Basic. In anticipation of using Basic as an introductory path to standard English, Ogden went to the trouble of recommending a progression path with selected words to carry the student to the 2,000 word level, at which point Ogden considers that a level of standard English has been achieved and the learner can continue on his own. To criticize Basic for not including more words is pure stupidity or misunderstanding the goals of an international auxiliary language.

3. a. The student will attempt word for word translation of his native language into Basic which will not be good English.

    Answer: No shit? This is a surprise. No wonder it is not taught that way in Basic. Translation is a major effort in the computer community -- often with humorous results.

4. Basic requires learning not just 850 words, but 3,000 meanings of these words.

    The idea being that 3,000 unique words would be better. Take an example. An Iraqi businessman needs to communicate with international contractors. The de facto international language is English. Which will be of most value to the person needing to speak the common language _- the 850 full service words of Basic, or 3,000 unique, special situation words? Ogden takes the position that mastery of a limited number is more rewarding, more likely to be undertaken, more likely to be accomplished, more likely to be mastered in usage, pronunciation and spelling.

5. While Mr. Ogden has exercised some care in selecting words, he has taken no precaution with the items developed from them.

    So what? Edison made electricity available ; that MTV and other junk TV is one result is no slur upon great innovation.

6. It is claimed the words are equally applicable to every age of learner, country, and culture. This is not a fact.

    Certainly not just a fact, Basic is an important step to the creation of international understanding (towards peace), the improvement of conditions in all parts of the word (create wealth and health). That it will aid people to participate in trade, education, and, in native English speaking countries, to quickly enter into full participation of all aspects of life (no ghetto) with no burden placed upon the native population (my taxes).

7. Considered merely as a reading vocabulary it would be difficult for an English writer to use and impossible for a foreign reader to understand.

    The first part is true. We cannot expect a newspaper writer to learn Basic. What is required is translation software wherein the bulk of the text is converted and the writer is only required to assure the Basic text thus created says what is intended. Thereby, articles of interest to an international community, even in a multilingual environment, can be converted to one Basic article that is readable by all -- immigrants and native English speakers alike -- with total transparency to all readers. Foreign language supplements and separate publications are no longer required. In the area of public services, multilingual requirements are addressed with equal applicability to all and with minimal expense -- considerable to towns of all sizes.
    The second point is false. Basic is good, but simple English. The text is clear to those with any reading level : everyone -- Basic and normal English readers. There is no social implication, differentiation, or extra expense. Basic is a win-win system.
    As this is being written, I have slept on the latest critique and am still pissed. The critique is presented in a book without an opportunity for discussion. The critics are educators faced with disruption of their status, probably funded with ESL premiums paid to schools for prolonging the learning of English even tho it means students are keep out of the mainstream for years. I feel compelled to provide some thoughts for rebuttal for consideration by others when presented with such arguments. I find the criticisms of Basic to be not just stupid, but uninspired, self serving (status quo) and unfair in that they offer no alternatives.
    There are constructive alternatives for your comparative review at the Basic-English Institute, 21st Century area.

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