BASIC ENGLISH: International Second Language
Section Two, Appendix B , p 111
Churchill and Roosevelt
1. From Sir Winston Churchill
The Second World War
Prime Minister to Sir Edward Bridges (Secretary of the War Cabinet) [July 11, 1943]
1 . I am very much interested in the question of Basic English. The widespread use of this would be a gain to us far more durable and fruitful than the annexation of great provinces. It would also fit in with my ideas of closer union with the United States by making it even more worthwhile to belong to the English-speaking club.
2 . I propose to raise this tomorrow at the Cabinet with a view to setting up a committee of Ministers to examine the matter, and, if the result is favorable, to advise how best to proceed. The Minister of Information, the Colonial Secretary, the President of the Board of Education, and perhaps Mr. Law, representing the Foreign Office, would all seem suitable.
3 . I contemplate that the B.B.C. should teach Basic English every day as part of their propaganda, and generally make a big push to propagate this method of interchange of thought.
4 . Let me know your ideas about the committee, and put the matter on the agenda for tomorrow.
2. Extract from the Prime Minister's Speech
Some months ago I persuaded the British Cabinet to set up a committee of Ministers to study and report upon Basic English. Here you have a plan. There are others, but here you have a very carefully wrought plan for an international language capable of very wide transactions of practical business and of interchange of ideas. The whole of it is comprised in about 650 nouns and 200 verbs or other parts of speech -- no more indeed than can be written on one side of a single sheet of paper.
at Harvard University
September 6, 1943 1
What was my delight when, the other evening, quite unexpectedly I heard the President of the United States suddenly speak of the merits of Basic English, and is it not a coincidence, that, with all this in mind, I should arrive in Harvard, in fulfillment of a long-dated engagement, to receive this degree, with which President Conant has honored me? Because Harvard has done more than any other American University to promote the extension of Basic English. The first work on Basic English was written by two Englishmen, Ivor Richards, now of Harvard, and Ogden, of Cambridge University, England, working in association.2
The Harvard Commission on English Language Studies is distinguished both for its research and practical work, particularly in introducing the use of Basic English in
Latin America; and this commission is now, I am told, working with the secondary schools in Boston on the use of Basic English in teaching the main language to American children and in teaching it to foreigners preparing for citizenship.
Gentlemen, I make you my compliment. I do not wish to exaggerate, but you are the headstream of what might well be a mighty fertilizing and health-giving river; for it would certainly be a grand convenience for us all to be able to move freely about the world -- as we shall be able to do more easily than ever known before as the science of the world develops -- to be able to move freely about the world, and to be able to find everywhere a medium, albeit primitive, of intercourse and understanding. Might it not also be an advantage to many races and an aid to the building up of our new structure for preserving peace? All these are great possibilities, and I say: "Let us go into this together. Let us have another Boston Tea Party about it."
Let us go forward as with other matters and other measures similar in aim and effect -- let us go forward with malice to none and good will to all. Such plans offer far better prizes than taking away other people's provinces or land or grinding them down in exploitation. The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.
- - - - -
1. From the London Times, September 8, 1943.
2. Prime Minister was misinformed on this point. Dr. Ivor A. Richards
had collaborated with Ogden in writing The Meaning of Meaning (published 1928), a theoretical work on language, but Ogden was the sole originator of Basic English. - ED.
3. From Sir Winston Churchill
Prime Minister to Secretary of State for India (Rt. Hon. L. S. Aniery, M.P.) [October 8, 1943]
The Second World War
I was shocked to find on my return to this country that the Cabinet committee appointed on July 12, 1948, had
never once met. You volunteered to undertake this task, and I certainly thought you would be admirably qualified for it. Pray let me have a report of your program up to date.
I have received a letter from Mr. Ogden suggesting that a special investigator should be sent to spend a week with him to learn all about Basic English, and I think it would be very wise to accept this invitation so that your committee can be advised on details at an early date.
The matter has become of great importance, as Premier Stalin is also interested. If you feel the pressure of your other duties is too heavy on you I will myself take on the duty of presiding over the committee, but I hope you will be able to relieve me of this.
Answering questions regarding Basic English, the Prime Minister said he hoped to receive the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers on the subject before very long. He continued:
4. From Onwards to Victory: War Speeches by the
Rt. Hon. W. S. Churchill 1943
Basic English is not intended for use among English-speaking people, but to enable a much larger body of people who do not have the good fortune to know the English language to participate more easily in our society. People are quite purblind who discuss this matter as if Basic English were a substitute for the English language.
5. From F.D.R.: His Personal Letters
The White House
Memorandum for the Secretary of State:
June 5, 1944
If in regard to Basic English we get the views of "Competent Government specialists," we shall certainly sound the death knell of Basic English, or anything like it. I never knew of any group of such people to agree to anything really different from the existing system or, for that matter, anything new.
Honestly, I do not want either to kill the idea or pour icy water on it. The reason is that Basic English has tremendous merit in it. The reason is that for practical purposes it is relatively easy for non-English speaking peoples to pick up sufficient vocabulary to carry on a conversation.
For instance, if you and Molotov and Eden had had Basic English and if Stalin, Chiang Kai-shek and I had had Basic English, our conferences would have been infinitely easier and far less tiring than having everything go through interpreters.
Secondly, Basic English is extremely easy for English-speaking peoples and would soon take the place of French as the so-called "language of diplomacy." You or I could learn it in our spare moments.
I wish you would pursue the check-up with the Congressional people first of all. It might be possible for a sympathetic Congressional committee (emphasis on the "sympathetic") to take the matter up with an English committee and see if we can arrive at a complete meeting of the minds that would cover the whole English-speaking world.
If this could be done, I really believe that the other nations would go along with us.
Churchill had discussed the possibilities of Basic English with Roosevelt at Quebec in 1943, and in April 1944 had sent him a British Cabinet Committee report on means of promoting its wider use. The President prepared a reply, which he never sent off, but which concluded: "Incidentally, I wonder what the course of history would have been if in May 1940 you had been able to offer the British people only 'blood, work, eye-water and face-water,' which I understand is the best that Basic can do with five famous words."
[No doubt there were people who took this jocular rendering seriously, but it is hard to believe that a man as acute as Roosevelt could be for a moment unaware of the fallacy on which it was based, namely, the naive idea that translation is simply a matter of word-for-word substitution. It is much easier to think of him chuckling over the joke -- as who did not? -- and enjoying pulling Churchill's leg about it. The actual Basic version of Churchill's words, achieved by entering into the spirit and intention of them, would have been more like:
"All I am offering you is death and pain, bitter trouble and hard, unending work" - ED.]