Design for Escape
World Education Through Modern Media
by I. A. Richards
In response to alarming statistics that show world population outstripping productivity, I. A. Richards here presents nine points that offer urgent counteraction through world education. Things are getting worse, argues Professor Richards, largely because we lack "effectively capable people" ; we can produce effective people only through education ; education must use language ; the best available language for the purpose is some form of English. Following an introductory essay, three of his points are further amplified : "Grounds for Responsibility" discusses a fundamental policy for education ; "Basic English : the Forerunner" presents a simplified auxiliary English ; and "Learning and Looking" explores depiction as an instrument of teaching, especially in conjunction with the resource of films, television, and computers.
Professor Richards believes we are prisoners of a world situation that, through planlessness, we have allowed to entrap us. This is his manifesto for escape.
Copyright © 1968 by I. A. Richards
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 68-25370.
Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. 757 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017.
All the words in my title are evidently in need of the semantic investigations, "trackings", in aid of which the Specialized Quotation Marks which immediately follow were devised.
'DESIGN' -- not only a "plan" but the name for the concept : "to purpose, intend a person or thing to do or be something', of which a 'sketch' is offered.
'ESCAPE' -- from what ? Is Man the prisoner now of a world situation he has, for lack of design, allowed to entrap him ? Is not this situation able to destroy or maim him unless he can free himself in time ?
'WORLD' -- all of it, including the underdog majority.
'EDUCATION' -- something different from, indeed cleanly opposed to, the age long degradation of the traditional fear-haunted classroom.
'THROUGH' -- via, "road, way to", perhaps the only way.
'MODERN' -- not only "present day" or "recently discovered". More than that : such that the trend of development, critically examined, would lead us to see it as coming. "MODERN' thus carries threatening a well as encouraging possibilities. What may not happen in 'World Education' if the appeals that sell fastest and the cries most widely heard (nationalist brayings) overcome the concerns that best support our sanity.
'MEDIA' -- All the theory of channels is relevant here : of what can and what cannot be transmitted through a given channel, of how the channel must limit, sift, screen, and warp what it can carry.
The book is an exploration of those meanings in their interconnections : an exploration which tries to take account of the conditions under which it should itself work. The DESIGN is the result of reflection on the various meanings of these seven words. It will be seen to offer, as ESCAPE, no "mental distraction or relief from reality". To "escape" is here "to find a way out, to get off safely, to go unpunished". It is put forward as a practicable antidote not only for the
population-productivity threat figured on page 6, the prime example of what comes of planlessness, but for the almost equal dangers from self-centered designs, 'schemes of attack", hopes of "conquest', out-of-date delusions of power fiends.
A design in nine steps is compactly presented. These points are then explained, possible misapprehensions are guarded against and the urgency of the action they recommend is stressed. Three of them call for fuller treatment : Point Two, the concept of responsibility on which policy in education must rest, Point Three, the design of a simplified auxiliary English ; and Point Five, the powers available through a more studied use of depiction in instruction, above all via film, TV, and Internet. These three topics are explored in the following essays : "Grounds for Responsibility," "Basic English : the Forerunner," and "Learning and Looking." The design is, I believe, much strengthened by the considerations there offered.
I. A. R.
1 . THE DESIGN
I have nine chief points to put to you : nine calls on your concern.
1) Things are getting worse with the world, not better -- largely because of a decreasing supply of "effectively capable" people.
2) The only known way of producing enough "effectively capable" people is through something that has to be called "EDUCATION".
3) This "education" must use language : language effectively geared into actuality and action.
4) The presently available means for such a world-wide development is some form of ENGLISH.
5) Our two chief senses, eye and ear, must be used together if the teaching needed is to be developed.
6) The most capable channels for such teaching are film, film-strip, tape, records, pictures, text, TV, Internet -- modern media, extant or to be -- computer-handled.
7) Design of instruction via these media can be developed quickly and wisely enough only if it is controlled by precise feedback from the outcomes -- as in any advancing technology.
8) The sovereign incentive for all learning is the learner's awareness of his own growing power.
9) Increase in the effective capacity of such instruction could match even the current advances of space vehicles -- given adequate allocation of brains and resources.
Perhaps you are already saying in your hearts : It can't be done ! Quite fantastic ! May I suggest that we will be wise to hesitate before thinking so -- even of very tall projects -- NOW, IN THE SPACE AGE ?`
Of these nine points the novel one and the enabling one is the middle point, Point 5, on the powers of the ear and eye -- suitably used in combination. The key point is that the ear and eye used together can make more than twice as much sense as either of them alone.
To comment now on each of these points :
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Point 4 . Why English ? This can be dealt with simply. There are three main reasons : (1) No artificial language is presently available, is currently at work on the frontiers of science, technology, creative literature and philosophy, or can serve as channel for all the diverse traditions from manifold cultures that are being continually woven together in English. (2) As against other natural languages English has the advantage that an effective minimal outfit of English can be acquired more easily and can do more for the acquirer than an outfit of equivalent scale from any other language. That is what C.K. Ogden showed with his Basic English, a design to which Winston Churchill and F.D.R. gave their unexpectedly paralyzing support : a design that has had enormous influence already -- somewhat as the early model Fords had on automobiles design -- and will have more influence still as the need increases. (3) The third reason is that English can in fact put a newcomer to it more widely in touch with the rest of the world than other languages can.
English exists in a rich variety of dialects : American, African, Australian, British, Canadian, Chinese, Danish, French, German, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Russian, West Indian . . . With even present resources of linguistic analysis and of radio and recordings, making these dialects more intelligible one to another could be an interesting and useful assignment in phonological organization and creative instructional design.
It may well be advisable to experiment with sets of maximally discriminable vowels and consonants to serve in a commonly intelligible introductory dialect design for beginners ; something like a form of Scots perhaps and nearer to Chaucer's speech than to any received major English dialect at present.
A discussion of the policy and design problems of a world auxiliary English
is presented in 3 . Basic English : The Forerunner.
Point 5 . the central and major point : the power of planned cooperations of eye and ear.
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II . GROUNDS FOR RESPONSIBILITY
In dreams begin responsibilities -- W. B. Yeats
As general background and frame for Point Two and indeed the whole design. I use my opening address t the Thirty-second International congress of P.E.N., Oslo, June 21, 1964, with some comments made as the discussion developed.1 It is an attempt to sketch some of the fundamental assumptions on which communications may be criticised.2
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III . BASIC ENGLISH : THE FORERUNNER
As more billions of new humans arrive and occupy our planet their need for a common second language will inevitably increase. It is needed baddy enough already ; and the need is very steeply going up. Without it, peoples become more and more likely to be dangerous to one another, and less and less ready for reductions in the pressure-tensions that are imperiling the entire venture.
The case in fact for a world auxiliary language no longer requires argument. Carefully behind "the scenes" (the current theatrical displays of news and views) many bold and imaginative proposals are being worked upon. Crucial to many of them is this linguistic communications problem.
Three possible remedial measures suggest themselves.
- Machine translation . Unlimited expectations have, very naturally, attended the rise of the computer, so the decline in hopes on the mechanical translation front through the last decade is remarkable. The attempt to design such translation has taught the designers much that they should have known before about language : a considerable gain.
- Better language teaching on current lines . Fatal shortages of adequate teachers prepared to undertake the task coupled with the progressive rise in the numbers of those to be taught -- these two factors preclude reasonable prospects of relief through efforts made in the traditional fashion. Costs in time and trouble to the learners are too high ; supplies of competent teachers are too low.
- A new type of auxiliary language designed to be maximally learnable as well as maximally useful . We turn for this to one already widely used world-auxiliary language, to be made, by what may be called linguistic engineering, into a medium of higher efficiency and lower learning cost than languages as currently taught in schools. The production and diffusion of such a medium require considerations of a somewhat novel and challenging kind. Very many of these, the joints most relevant to the design of any high-utility, low-cost limited language, were originally raised to connection with Basic English. and further work on the design of such languages will inevitably be deeply influenced by C. K. Ogden's experimentations. So too with the discussions of the aims, hopes, fears, hazards of such work : in all this discussants will find themselves going over ground that has already been extensively as well as minutely studied in connection with Ogden's work.
It seems therefore appropriate to use here a number of up-dated excerpts from my Basic English and Its Uses,1 a book written at the time when Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were delightedly discovering that they both were equally enthusiastic2 as to the possibilities of Basic. In the passages that follow are included brief but authentic accounts of Basic's external and internal problems, of the political, psychological, and linguistic positions which determined its design and of its originator's reasons for deciding as he did. This 1943 presentation has long been unavailable. Written from an independent standpoint, it yet had the benefit of Ogden's critical comment. The comments now added after twenty-five years will show compactly how certain emphases may now seem to invite adjustment in view of later experience. Ogden's own original exposition is now reissued.3
1 . London :
2 . Church at Harvard, September 6, 1943 :
3 . Basic English
From Basic English and Its Uses
This is a reconstruction book. It looks to the future and assumes
that the reader enjoys a moderate faith in man. It is sustained by
the thought that even the immense collective crimes of the present
have their encouraging side. In committing them and combating
them, men are exhibiting immense virtues -– intelligence, courage,
steadfastness, initiative –- in degrees which should daunt us all.
Man's powers to invent, to organize, to dare, and to persist seem
indeed almost too much for him. It looks as though, which
enough incentive, nothing were too hard. The first mental task of
reconstruction is to clear our incentive and choose more positive
and permanent goals.
[ Comment . A. N. Whitehead used to wish that he might be allowed to revisit the earth for a fortnght every twenty-five years if only to see how the hopes and anticipations he formed on each visit would work out : a gallant, not to say heroic program of speculative adventure. Among the advantages of using here a pre-Bomb, pre-U.N., pre-rocketry rather than a 1968 account of Basic are the diillusionments that may thus be brought out. They may help us to ask more soberly and more searchingly why reasonable concern for the human future must be prepared for stiff-necked obstruction and why expenditures of energies should so often be inversely proportional to the possible utility of their outcomes. We may be helped too to realize that though styles in our forecasts may change, some dangers remain fundamental. Among these are separation between peoples and betweeen segments of society due to the mutual unintelligibility of their moral and political prepositions. ]
It would be silly, of course, to regard such
separation as the only cause of wars; sillier still to think that
differences of language are the only or the chief barriers between
nations. Nonetheless, linguistic barriers have their share in the
responsibility. No one who knows Central Europe doubts that a
common secondary language of discussion -– free from partisan
charges -– would aid immensely in ironing out boundary tensions.
No one who knows the Far East doubts that China and Japan
must find linguistic access to the thought of the rest of the would if
they are to join it in any real fashion. A common medium of
communications between peoples rather than between
governments is becoming an evident necessity.
The sudden growth of physical
communications has sharpened the moral. The plane, after the
war, will mix us all up to a degree we have not yet imagined. The
radio mixes us up already. And the radio has already been a
chief instrument in cultivating those sentiments -– of exclusive
loyalty to the group, of disloyalty to the planet -– which plunge us
into wars. It is indeed these technological innovations, or rather
their misuse, which we are suffering from. Without canned food,
modern metallurgy, and oil, there could be no global war. These
new inventions have not been balanced by equal developments in
the means of mental transport -– and thereby in the spreading of
the common truths which would make antagonism and disloyalty
harder to cultivate. But these other discoveries are ready to hand
–- as these pages will attempt to show. . . .
ON THE CHOICE OF A SECOND OR WORLD LANGUAGE
Chapters One and Two and much of Three of Basic English and Its Uses is reproduced at this point. You will link to the original text. Click on the symbol ◮ when you see it to jump past parts that are to be skipped.
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A few paragraphs in Its Uses are not included in Design for Escape. That text has a slight gray added so as to be unintrusive to readers of the original test. You can skip over the dark gray paragraphs.
BASIC ENGLISH AND ITS USES
From Basic English and Its Uses page 63 , ending with . . . Such is the technique of controversy.
[Comment . These misrepresentations are still being circulated, often with an air of authority in amusing contrast to the utter lack of knowledge revealed. Thus a university instructor in ' Applied Linguistics,' who has evidently not taken the trouble to consult any of the informed expositions, writes (December 29, 1967) to a responsible inquiring official :
In the first place learning Basic English apparently involves no more than the learning of 850 words and this would appear to be a simple task. Unfortunately, however, most of these words have more than one meaning so that the actual learning burden is much greater than 850 items. Fries and Travers (sic) calculated that the 850 words of Basic English represent 12,425 different meanings and although it is true that Basic English does not try to teach all these meanings, the learning burden of Basic English is misrepresented by a figure such as 850. The learning cannot be complete until all those meanings have been assimilated and not just the forms of the words.
To those who know what Fries and Traver actually wrote (see above) this will speak for itself. The writer's conceptions of "those meanings" and of language and of learning will be noted too. He goes on to say :
The meaning of "give-up" cannot be deduced form knowing "give" and "up."
Such collocations as "got about," "get at," "get over," "get up" and so on should strictly speaking be added to the figure of 850 since their meaning cannot be said to be contained within the meanings provided by those 850 words.
Who has said they can ? Now for a flat misstatement:
In fact Basic English attempts to simplify the grammar of English by restricting the morphological forms. This inevitably means the creation of forms which do not exist in English. All comparatives are formed with "more," for example, so that we could produce the form "more high" and it would be acceptable in Basic English. In natural English this is unacceptable and there would hardly seem much point in teaching the learner this if he has to "unlearn" it later.
In fact, Basic teaches ["high",] "higher" and highest." See The Basic Words and The ABC of Basic English, where these questions are analyzed and dealt with.
Basic English is only concerned with written English.
Whose ridiculous assumption is this ? Basic is the introduction to English which best serves aural-oral learning. It has also been singularly successful in literacy teaching.
It should be clear from the above that the linguistic evidence is strongly against Basic English.
No evidence, linguistic or other, has been offered. In its place appear only uniformed surmises and erroneous assertions. Linguistic evidence form test data of the program concerned will be found in the Appendix, "Outcome Reports." The British Association for Applied Linguistics should surely be particularly concerned about such response to official inquiry. )
"Meanings," of course, cannot be counted without a systematic method of deciding which "meanings" for a word are distinct, which not distinct, and when. What matters, for the learner, is not whether two uses of a word are different but how they are connected, and how readily an understanding of one use leads to the understanding of others. How many "uses" or "meanings" or "senses" we choose to say that a word has will depend, of course, upon how fine is the network of distinctions with which we analyse. Any system for teaching English (or any other language) that avoids this problem builds upon quicksand. The only thing to do is to face it and make a lexicographic analysis expressly for the purpose in hand. Parallel to the choice of the recommended words, there has to be an ordered selection of senses (and extensions and specializations) for them. In fact, the two undertakings, if systematically carried through (as in The Basic Words8 require and imply one another. The simplification of vocabulary and the limitation and ordering of the meanings of every word i it are two branches of the same inquiry. To progress, for example, to be "concerned with the simplification of teaching, not with the simplification of language9 is to forget the problem. That is the old and wasteful endeavor to tech English without deciding what English is to be taught. Every stage in a learner's advance represents some degree of simplification of the language. The question is whether it was an intelligent and helpful simplification or not. ]
The above excerpts have been chiefly concerned with Basic as a low-cost, high-efficiency entrance to English for newcomers. We have also to consider it uses for native speakers and for others with an extensive knowledge of the language for their needs -- in communicating with those who have less English and in critically examining their own uses of English -- is Basic the best answer ? Might not a more powerful selection from English be less strain upon them and generally more efficient ? For example, might not the 300 or so regular verbs which in Basic are used only as nouns (with -er, -ing, and -ed derivations) be given full verb freedom ? Might not some or all of the verbs contained in the "general names" -- e.g. ADD, ADJUST, ADVERTISE, AGREE, AMUSE, APPROVE -- have their suffixes made removable ? Might not CAN and MUST and SHOULD ; BUY and SELL, ABOVE and BELOW, be added ?
Such proposals10 have often been made and have in fact received no little study. What seems a reasonable outcome may perhaps be summed up as follows.
A world auxiliary designed to serve the wide range of purposes we have been considering cannot, any more than the automobile, receive any universal and finally fixed specification. New models will and should compete in offering this and that advantage. On the other hand a considerable standardization is necessary in such a facility, if only to make distribution and experimentation feasible. Basic English was given, and rightly, a strictly defined formulation. Any informed person can say without uncertainty whether any sentence conforms to it or not. In its role of a forerunner, setting up a problem and offering a solution, this clarity and rigidity were desirable ; indeed necessary. They were the conditions which made further work fruitful. Part of the fruit, however, has been in the realization that choice between this and that modification is not a matter that should be settled by linguistic or literary intuition, however acute or accomplished. What is required is a sufficiency of experimentation controlled by enough properly analyzed feedback. (Point 7 of "The Design" [Page 277 of this vol.] As that section insisted, the technical means for such control are only now developing in the resource of data processing).
Among the necessary preparations for such experimentation however are sequenced courses11 in the detailed comparing of the abilities of different models of our world auxiliary. as these courses are built up -- for example, through sentences and paragraphs to be re-written (or verbally paraphrased) in Basic or expanded Basic -- it becomes apparent that what is developing is a new and highly promising type of instruction in their own English for English speakers. The critical design of a simple enough universal English -- so baffling a problem before Basic showed the way -- becomes then an enticing exploration of the peculiar powers of individual words, setting alight endless curiosity as to their cooperations. The design of a maximally serviceable yet easily learned Every man's English can be turned thus into a collective endeavor. It can be made a concern in which every student at whatever level can genuinely feel he is participating. Whoever learns this language does not receive it as a ready-made package, certified by a mysterious authority. He arrives at it by finding out -- step by step at first, then by trained and careful looking before leaping -- how one sentence can, better than another, do for him what he wants.
IV . LEARNING AND LOOKING1
Learning . . . and looking. Why not the more usual order :
"Looking and learning" ? Well, for one thing, to suggest that there may be a real problem here and perhaps a big one. Why do I so often look and look and yet totally fail to learn ? Isn't it perhaps that I haven't learned how to look ? May not looking -- in many sorts of situations -- be a skill, an activity which has to be more or less labouriously acquired ? Isn't there an art of looking ? Or, rather, are there not many special arts of looking, into the cultivation of which much more could go than merely a lot of experience and a modicum of interest? Are there not, in many special fields, propitious procedures, techniques of training, already developed, which can help people coming newly into any of them to learn how to look, to profit more and profit sooner from their successes and their failures. And are there not ever, perhaps, general principles to be formulated and tried out and perfected ? Is it not possible that we are letting a good deal of potential ability remain unelicitated by leaving instruction in looking to the chance mercies of undirected Nature ?
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1. A lecture at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, on November 30, 1967.
NOTES ON PRINCIPLES OF BEGINNING LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION1
- We learn a new sentence or sentence elements by seeing how it applies in a situation.
- We teach by so presenting the sentence and the situation together that this is seen.
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1 . Prepared by I.A.Richards for a UNESCO conference in Paris on June 19, 1947.
The Chelsea Closed Circuit Television Project2
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2 . From So Much Nearer, p. 23.
- So Much Nearer, by I.A. Richards
- Basic English and Its Uses, by I.A. Richards
- Basic English : International Second Language, by C. K. Ogden,
edited by E.C.Graham (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), includes his
- Basic English , The ABC of Basic English ,
and The Basic Words.
- Dr. Graham's Basic Dictionary of Science (New York, MacMillan, 1966),
published in England as, The Science Dictionary in Basic English.
- The General Basic Dictionary are invaluable resources in work
with restricted forms of English.
- Basic English and Grammatical Reform, by C. K. Ogden.