Ogden was, I think, a genius. . . . And yet somehow he's almost forgotten. And I think possibly this was because he was too universal. In an age of specialisation he took the whole world for his canvas, and painted on it all.This is, indeed, the theme of my own feeling about Ogden, and I want here, if I can, to redress the balance in his favour. Let us consider briefly something of the scale of his accomplishment in a life of sixty-eight years.
If scientific methods of statement are to be extended to fields such as those traditionally tended by philosophers, certain very subtle dangers must be provided for. Amongst these is the occurrence in hitherto quite unsuspected numbers of words which have been erroneously regarded without question as symbolic in function. The word "good" may be taken as an example. It seems probable that this word is essentially a collection of homonyms, such that the set of things, roughly those in connection with which we heard it pronounced in early years (a - bed, a good kick, a good baby, a good God) have no common characteristic. But another use of the word is often asserted to occur, of which some at least of those we have cited are supposed to be degeneration; where "good" is alleged to stand for a unique, unanalysable concept. This concept, it is said, is the subject matter of Ethics. * This peculiar ethical use of "good" is, we suggest, a purely emotive use. When so used the word stands for nothing whatever, and has no symbolic function. Thus, when we use it in the sentence, "This is good," we merely refer to this, and the addition of "is good" makes no difference whatever to our reference. When, on the other hand, we say "This is red," the addition of "is red" to "this" does symbolise an extension of our reference, namely to sonic other red thing. But "is good" has no comparable symbolic function; it serves only as an emotive sign expressing our attitude to this, and perhaps evoking similar attitudes in other persons, or inciting them to actions of one kind or another. The recognition that many of the most popular subjects of discussion are infested with symbolically blank but emotively active words of this kind is a necessary preliminary to the extension of scientific method to these questions. . . ."But all this is simply a statement of the obvious," you will say. Indeed. But it was written over half a century ago. It is obvious now because Ogden's thought has passed into the general stream of intellectual consciousness.
Man's civilisation would not exist without language. Phonetics, the science that studies spoken language, stands overlooking the crossroads where acoustics, neurophysics, psychology and other disciplines that have something to say about speech, meet. The unacademic world outside little notes the science, because the more spectacular of its concerns, such as computers that can talk or recognise the human voice, are attributed to engineering. However, somebody, namely a phonetician, has to do something to a computer before the engineers can programme it to talk or understand language. But, more fundamental than scientific spectaculars like articulate computers able to proclaim your bank statement at the turn of a key, the most interesting problem in all phonetics, and arguably in all science, is what the human brain is doing when its owner is talking.Ogden's peculiar science of Orthology is almost exactly that, standing, like modern phonetics, at the "crossroads" where psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and a host of other academic disciplines meet. Ogden does not seem to have invented the word orthology (defined by Webster as "The art of using words rightly") though it was extremely rare before he brought it into use, but he certainly invented the science. Why has it not been taken up ? Why is there not a Chair of Orthology at Cambridge (or Oxford, for that matter) ? In fact, of course, it has been taken up, and very widely; but it has also been split up into its constituent disciplines, the modern development of all of them owing much to Ogden, but few acknowledging what they owe because he himself did not belong professionally to any of them. His remarkable quality was to unite them all, but he had no trade-union ticket as philosopher, psychologist, linguist, or anything else. Therefore, he is disowned by all, or grudgingly admitted to be on the periphery of some. No one approaching his range has since appeared to pursue the universality of his studies -- and every academic development since his day inhibits the all-rounder. Specialisation becomes narrower and narrower. To borrow Mr Howard's phrase, what Ogden called Orthology does present the most interesting problems "arguably in all science", but it is not academically respectable for any one man to try to work at them all. The amateur is all but lost to learning.
Thou shalt not kill, but need'st not striveIt is a weird aspect of the general neglect of Ogden. Esperanto, an artificial language of infinitely less practical value than Basic English, is a cult, with meetings of passionate Esperantists held regularly throughout the world. Basic English, which really could help to promote international understanding, is given no official encouragement. Properly used, it could be of enormous help towards a solution of some of Britain's most painful domestic problems -- notably the education of immigrant children. As Ogden himself argued, it can also be of great value to all whose mother tongue is English, by making it "natural and necessary to be clear about what one is saying". If every elementary school in Britain began with a class in Basic English there would be far less need for remedial classes later for those whose lack of comprehension has made their schooling profitless. Ogden's Basic English is a truly wonderful intellectual instrument which has been allowed to rust unused.
Officiously to keep alive
|Notes on Contributors||vii|
|PART A : INTRODUCTORY||1|
|PART B : OGDEN AS EDITOR AND POLYMATH||12|
|PART C : THE INVENTION OF BASIC ENGLISH||133|
|PART D : EXAMPLES OF BASIC ENGLISH||177|
|PART E : C. K. OGDEN AS AUTHOR||187|
|PART F : C. K. OGDEN : A PLEA FOR REASSESSMENT||187|
|Appendix -- List of books edited by Ogden||245|