System of Basic English
I . Introductory
Before entering on the details of the system known as Basic English, it seems appropriate to answer those general questions which everyone hears of it for the first time is naturally inclined to put to its advocates, whether he be the informed general reader or a Professor of Mathematics. How and why the system developed, the principles on which it has been constructed, the needs and purposes which it professes to serve, the methods learned, its value to the individual, its advantages over other systems -- on which all these points questions suggest themselves and the answers here attempted may prove suggestive.
1 . WHAT IS BASIC ENGLISH?
Basic English is a careful and systematic selection of 850 English words which will cover those needs of everyday life for which a vocabulary of 20,000 words is frequently employed. These word are not the words most commonly used, as determined by word-counts; but all of them are common, and more than 600 of them are constantly used by any English or American child of six.
There are 200 names of picturable objects, and
400 other names of things; making
600 nouns in all.
There are 150 adjectives.
The remaining 100 words put these names and adjectives into operation, so that the whole system may work as normal English.
2 . WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE?
Basic English has two chief purposes :
1 . To serve as an international auxiliary language ; that is to
say, a second language for use throughout the world in general communication, commerce, and science.
2 . To provide a rational introduction to normal English ; both as a first
step, complete in itself, for those whose natural language is not English, and as a grammatical
introduction, encouraging clarity of thought and expression, for English-speaking peoples at any stage of proficiency.
3 . WHY 850 WORDS?
The average rate of learning words in a foreign language is about thirty words an hour. The average learner is willing to give an hour a day for a month to learning the fundamentals of a new language. Hence it is possible for anyone whose natural language is not too remote from English to read anything written in Basic in less than 30 hours. The ideal limits are thus roughly fixed below 1,000 words, and more precisely between 800 and 900.
We next discover the number of words necessary to cover the field; that is to say, the essential minimum in which everything of general interest can be talked about. Of the 500,000 words in the largest English dictionaries about 20,000 may be described as common words; and of these between 7,000 and 8,000 are in everyday use. Analysis, over a period of more than ten years, showed that between 800 and 900 are necessary to do the work. So the problem has a practical solution.
Finally, it proved possible to organize the 850 key words into a system; and this number can not only be printed on a single sheet of business notepaper (so that the entire vocabulary is conveniently visible at a glance) but can be spoken on a phonograph record in fifteen minutes (so that the entire vocabulary may be heard by the learner in so short a time that the ear is not fatigued).
4 . WHY ENGLISH WORDS?
1 . Because English is now the natural or governmental language of over 5000,000,000 people. It is already the second language of the Far East; it is compulsory in countries with such diverse interests as Japan, Germany, Argentina, and Estonia; it is the language of more than 800 of the world's 1,400 Radio stations; its structure is simpler than that of any of the other great natural languages.
2 . No other existing language can be simplified to anything like the same extent. The chief difficulties of normal English are eliminated in Basic. One result of this analysis and simplification of normal English is that Basic is very similar in character to Chinese -- which gives it a special claim as a medium of communication with and in the East.
5 . WHAT ABOUT GRAMMAR?
The primary principle of Basic, which made the reduced vocabulary possible, is the elimination of the verb; so that the main difficulty of language-learning is also reduced to a minimum. There are only five grammatical rules, which enable the learner to get the most out of the vocabulary; one of these is concerned with derivatives in -er, -ing, and -ed from 400 of the nouns, an important extension for the purpose of an effective style. The exceptions to these rules are few and unimportant; the entire conjugation of the verb-forms and pronouns occupies a single page; and the construction of sentences follows a few simple models related to the natural sequence of events.
6 . HOW CAN YOU GET RID OF VERBS?
Basic English asks you to make a distinction here. It, depends on what you want to call a 'verb.' The usual account of verbs covers two quite different sorts of word.
Take the verb 'enter' for example. It clearly means the same as 'go in.' That is to say, it can be analyzed into the name of an act or movement and the name of a direction or position. So, to climb a tree is to 'go up' a tree, and to descend it is to 'go down.' Basic English gets rid of all those verbs which contain the names of directions, and retains only the fundamental names of acts together with a few other verb-forms, which enable it to complete the job without doing violence to common usage. Thus, for all practical purposes, the verb is eliminated.
Although, therefore, you may if you like insist that sixteen verbs are left (out of more than 4,000), it seems more reasonable to suggest a new name, such as 'operator,' for the sixteen fundamental words which cover the essential acts or operations. The names of directions with which these sixteen are combined (to provide equivalents for, say, 3,984 common verbs) are generally known as 'prepositions.' But language-learning is made more simple both for English-speaking people and for international purposes, if these old Latin traditions are frankly abandoned. Basic suggests, therefore, that the accurately descriptive name of 'directives' be given to all prepositions. So that one can learn the names of the sixteen basic operations and the twenty basic directions -- and thus avoid some of the chief mysteries of grammar. At the same time, the style of Basic is natural; and the essentials of the language are preserved without prejudice to further progress in normal English.
7 . HOW DOES BASIC DEAL WITH TECHNICAL MATTERS?
One of the starting-points for Basic research was the fact that in general talk as well as in all the sciences large numbers of words are already international. Thus 'Radio' and 'alcohol' are types of words which are universally understood; H2O and formica prateasis are equally international for those who are specially concerned with chemistry or with entomology.
When these internationals have all been determined -- the first group by radio experts and the scientific terms by the experts in the different sciences -- they too are available; and Basic, from this standpoint, will provide as it were the cement.
Only fifty international words have so far been listed for general use with
Basic system; and each branch of 'science is allowed its own fifty to enable it to link up with its own internationals. These special vocabularies do not concern the layman,
and the sciences themselves are now so specialized that what goes
on at one international congress does not greatly concern the experts at another. So the problem of standardization in technical fields is much simpler than might be supposed, though Basic may have to wait awhile before some specialists are ready to set their international house in order. In fact, the Basic nucleus will, as it were, operate the international vocabularies of science.
More than a thousand words with strong claims to universality are still under consideration; and the fact that several hundred of them are fairly certain of final authorization accounts for a number of omissions in the Basic 850, though none of these is essential for practical communication. It is worth recording that between 4,000 and 5,000 English words have already gained a foothold in the Japanese language, and are listed in their Japanized forms in Dr. Arakawa's dictionary of adopted terms. Similarly, on the scientific side, the entomologists have standardized over 15,000 names of ants; so that any scientist writing about these creatures already needs only the Basic 850 to make himself completely intelligible to his fellow-workers throughout the world.
8 . HOW WILL SPOKEN BASIC BE STANDARDIZED?
The idea of Basic is made practical by two of the great mechanical developments of modern times. The first is the phonograph, whereby, even without a teacher, anyone can master the spoken material with the aid of half a dozen records. Secondly, there is Radio, the most powerful standardizing force the world has yet seen. Over 800 of the world's 1,400 stations already make use of English alone; and Radio itself offers the best means both to teaching Basic in special courses, or of learning it through International Basic News. These developments, all making for a greater degree of standardization, are now almost inevitable in a rapidly shrinking planet which grows ever more conscious of the
wastage caused by the obsolete barriers of language.
9 . HOW WILL THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLES LEARN BASIC?
It is not necessary for a foreigner to know any language' thoroughly in order to understand what is said to him; so that the English speaker only needs sufficient of the Basic technique to make himself understood. Experience shows that this technique is very easy to acquire for international purposes.
But Basic is more than a convenient international medium, to be learned for purposes of communicating with foreigners who limit themselves to the 850 words. It is also a scientifically constructed introduction to normal English, which may profitably be made a basis of normal English teaching either for children or for adults. It provides a substitute for the old-fashioned grammar in all its essentials, and at the same time it constitutes a sort of minimum second language by which normal language habits may be tested and clarified. So that as an instrument for attaining greater clarity of thought and experience, and at the same time of developing an insight into the principles of comparative grammar, it will prove invaluable. There is thus every reason for assuming that it will gradually be adopted into the orthodox educational system, so that the English speaker will eventually no longer be content only approximate; he will be as well equipped in the international field as the most gifted foreign learner.