logoOgden's Basic English


    Before our next issue apears we hope to have completed the labourious task of evolving a language which is a once British, American, Scientific, International and Commercial -- in a word, Basic. The project arose as an experimental application of linguistic psychology ; its chances of success will depend on psychological factors concerning whose nature there is at present little evidence. Debabelization has hitherto not be advocated in a practical form, or with social and economic tendencies in its favour sufficiently powerful to attract the attention of more than an enthusiastic minority. A further report on progress will be found overleaf, supplemented by a mechanical addendum on page 111.
    Two more installments of Benthamiana, at pages 39 and 102 respectively, serve to fill in the theoretical background, which will be completed in our next issue. This will also contain the Basic Vocabulary (now appearing for convenience on the inside page of the cover) in a final form -- adjusted that is to say, as regards both international and sciencetific terms.
    The programme of publications has meanwhile been proceeding apace. . . .


    It is not considerably over ten years since the outline of a new solution of the Universl Language problem first began to take concrete form, and two years since the proposal to make a detailed analysis of the theoretical word-minimum was singled out for systematic treatment. So many inquires have recently been received for information about the results since published in Psyche, that a brief summary of he achievements of our Reseach Committee may not be out of place.
    When Henry James remarked that the American people were romping amid the ruins of the Englsih language he left it an open question whether they were there to destroy or to fulfill, From the psychological point of view, at any rate, a linguistic romp may be a highly creditable performance. The antic haverings of a pedantic pedestrianism in quest of Pure English are rapidly producing a new form of Addison's disease -- for Addison was the first to complain that "the late war has adulterated our tongue with strange words."
    But if we are agreed that they are ruins, the case for a newer edifice is all the stronger ; and those of us who are both conservatives and sentimentalists will prefer to build on the old site. We may even be able to preserve some of the old bricks, so that our children's children may say, "This was known to Johnson to Onions", or Here Bentham, here Menchen fought annd won". And in this lies the strenth of Basic English, a scientific attempt to select the the most fundamental words in the current language to form a practical auxiliary language for all nations.
    From one standpoint, that of science and of writers like James Joyce, the 500,000 words of the lexicologist are too few ; from another, that of the occidentalizing oriental, the 10,000 words of the man in the street are too many. The former needs more and merrier, the latter, simpler and slicker. Perhaps, in time, both can be satisfied. If so, English will become not only the International Auxiliary language, but the Universal language of the future.
    To have succeeded in getting on the back of a sheet of notepaper, in legible form, all the words actually needed to communicate idiomatically most of the requirements of international correspondence, science, and commerce, is the claim of those who have spent a decade in compiling the vocabulary first printed in our January issue of this year.
    To read an ordinary issue of the Times newspaper with profit, a vocabulary of over 50,000 words is implied. Actually, many readers get along with 25,000 or less. A conscientious foreigner is apt to have to memorize about 15,000 by way of insurance, before he can understand a particular 1,000 -- even if he will never have occasion to speak or write English himself. Let us suppose that this requires two years' hard labour -- the problem of an Auxiliary Language is to reduce his labour to two months.
    The artificial languages which contrive, with varying degrees of plausibility, to make this claim, cannot as yet attain this minimum ; they are all based on a limited group of languages, quite unfamiliar in type to the millions of orientals who must chiefly be kept in view, and they have not yet studied the problem of simplification systematically.
    Moreover, when learnt, an artificial language still awaits a millennium in which conversion shall cease to be confined to a few thousand enthusiasts ; and here the importance of accurate statistics is once more apparent. It is often stated that English is the language of 250,000,000 people, and this figure is then compared with the figures for French, German, Spanish, etc., with the implication that it would be invidious to be influenced by so small a lead, when the tide of national prejudice is running so high. Actually, however, English is the expanding administrative (or auxiliary) language of over 500,000,000 people, and financial reasons alone should convince even those who resent the fact that it is bound to expand even more rapidly in the near future.
    The five main principles for which novelty may be claimed, in the sense that their application has made so radical a reduction feasible, . . .
    The Basic vocabulary -- composed of 850 words -- is, of course, supplemented by grammatical rules, reduced to a minimum. These will cover both the conjugates of such words as have more than one form (primarily operators and pronouns) and also the uniform formation of various derivatives from 300 of the names. Word-order is explained by a special educational device (the Panopticon) illustrating the essential parts of speech and their relations to one another, by a series of concentric circles on which the words are printed.
    It is obvious that no foreigner could attempt to work the system without the rules designed to eliminate irregularity and ambiguity and to maximize the range of the vocabulary. The English reader, however, can try his hand at translation without the limitations designed to aid and restrain the foreigner. A model will be found in the translations printed at the end of Dr. Hatfield's Automaton (in the "To-day and To-morrow") series). and in our last (July) issue.
    Since any such brief statement as the preceding is liable to misunderstanding, criticism should at least be deferred till reference has been made to the elaborate account on which it is based -- appearing chiefly in the above-mentioned January and July issued of this year. As an example of such misunderstandings the Baltimore Sun provides a good example. Says the Sun after a glance at the 850 word vocabulary " "While the necessary names include 'violin' and 'piano", 'cornet" is not to be found". This, however, is a blow rather for the horn, which the writer had before him all the time, than for the vocabulary. He adds, "and, significantly, while 'war' is among them 'peace' is not. The significance of choosing 'war" as the more fundamental word is that when 'not at war' we have 'peace'; while peace is more naturally described in terms of war "coming to an end' than vice versa. But it is sad to have to explain such things in Mencken's home town. . . . Criticism at this level would only have to run through the other words in the dictionary to score 449,000 easy triumphs. What is more regrettable is that the space occupied by the leading article devoted thereto was worth perhaps L100 and the writer may have received a futher L20 for his labours. For this sum Psyche could have produced three complete volumes on Basic English, for which teachers and linguists may continue to wait indefinitely.
    Similarly the author of Thunder on the Left writing in the Saturday Review of Literature expresses surprise that the presence of the active,Jewish is not compensated by that of Christian. A Christian, however, is (amongst many equivalents) one who has a belief in the religion of Christ, just as a Frenchman is a man from France :-- the equivalent being possible in both cases in terms of proper names. A Jew, on the other hand is neither a man from Palestine nor one who has a belief in the the religion of Moses ; Jewish, therefore, was tentatively inserted in order to test the reactions of the linguistic public -- but will probably not appear in the final version.
    This simple mechanism of substitution is just one of the points which would have been made clear to any reader of our previous issues, where it is also stated that up to ten words in Basic English may legimately be used to define words not included in the vocabulary.


    Before we proceed to further details of Basic itself a few statistical considerations of a general nature may be added to those with which we have already endeavored to enliven our pages. Considerable ignorance seems to exist as to the extent to which Babel actually prevails.
    There are approximately 1,500 languages at present spoken . . .
    Though more than one person in three throughout the entire globe either speaks English or is under English administration, probably less than one Englishman in a thousand could guess more than half the languages at the top of the list (i.e., those spoken by over ten million people). Of one-third he would be unlikely even to recognize the names.
    It is worth noting that in Europe only 120 of hte 1,500 languages are represented ; and though twelve of thse are in the first twenty-nine. less than forty are spoken by more than a million people.
    The above is largely based on the statistics of M. Resniere, in . . .
    The total of 170 millions is made up as follows :--