The System of Basic English
General Account, p.8
10 . WHAT IS BASIC ENGLISH LIKE?
A Sample, and a Summary
Here is the material, for a short podcast, of what we have said so far; making use of no other words than the 850:
Basic English is an attempt to give to everyone a second, or international language, which will take as little of the learner's time as possible.
It is a system in which everything may be said for all the purposes of everyday existence: the common interests of men and women, general talk, news, trade, and science.
To the eye and ear it will not seem in any way different from normal English, which is now the language of 500,000,000 persons.
There are only 850 words in the complete list, which may be clearly printed on one side of a bit of note-paper. But simple rules are given for making other words with the help of those in the list; such as designer, designing, and designed, from design, or air-plane from air and plane.
The word order is fixed by other short rules, which make it clear from an example such as
"I will put the record on the machine now"
what is the right and natural place for every sort of word.
Whatever is doing the act comes first; then the time word, such as will; then the act or operation, such as put, take, or get; then the thing to which something is done, and so on.
It is an English in which 850 words do all the work of 20,000, and has been formed by taking out everything which is not necessary to the sense. Disembark, for example, is broken up into get off a ship. I am able takes the place of I can; shape is covered by the more general word form; and difficult by the use of hard.
By putting together the names of simple operation -- such as get, give come, go, put, take -- with the words for directions like in, over, through, and the rest, two or three thousand complex ideas, like insertt which becomes put in, are made pert of the learner's store.
Most of these are clear to everyone. It would be hard, for example, to go wrong about the way to put disembark, or debarquer, into Basic English. But in no other language is there an equal chance of making use of this process. That is why Basic is designed to be the international language of the future.
In addition to the Basic words themselves, the learner has, at the start, about fifty words, which are now so common in all languages that they may be freely used for any purpose. Examples are radio, telephone, bar, club. Records like the one now on your machine will make it clear what the sounds are to be like.
For the needs of any science, a short special list gets the expert to where international words are ready to hand.
Those who have no knowledge of English will be able to make sense of a Radio talk, or a business letter, after a week with the wordlist and the records; but it may be a month or two before talking and writing are possible.
An American or an Englishman will make an adjustment to Basic ways of thought in. a very short time, but at first he will have to take some trouble to be clear and simple.
In fact, it Is the business of all internationally minded persons to make Basic English part of the system of education in every country, so that there may be less chance of war, and less learning of languages -- which, after all, for most of us, are a very unnecessary waste of time.
This was done with 150 of the 850 Basic words, worked according to the rules. We have therefore answered, at least roughly, the question: What is Basic like? And in the light of general outline we may now proceed to take up various special points.
11 . WHAT ABOUT ESPERANTO?
Esperanto is an attempt to solve the problem of an international auxiliary language, based on the common factors in certain of the main European languages. It retains the essentials of the verb-system and relies largely on inflection together with some fifty prefixes and suffices.
From the standpoint of an Eastern learner, therefore, it is just one more European dialect, closely akin to Spanish or French, however much it may be simplified and systematized. If China were to offer world a form of Cantonese,
unintelligible as such either in China or Japan, though similar in many points both to Chinese and Japanese, the rest of the world would hardly regard it as neutral; and in the same way the claim of Esperanto that it provides a neutral solution has no justification.
When Esperanto was constructed by Zamenhof, more than forty years ago, the challenge of the East was only a small cloud on the horizon. Today, with the entire Pacific area., to say nothing of India and Africa, in the forefront of the international picture, we can no longer regard a fully inflected system of European roots as an international solution.
After nearly half a century Esperanto has secured only a few thousand scattered adherents. English meanwhile has become the second language of the Ease and has continued to gain favor in all the educational systems of the world. For Basic, then,
Esperanto with its numerous competing offspring -- Ido, Novial, Occidental, and the rest -- is no more than an interesting psychological experiment.
12 . WHY NOT LATIN?
Five hundred years ago Latin was the literary language of Western Europe. Its downfall was due to the awakening of the masses, to their revolt against the routines and dictates of a caste. Today the English schoolboy can acquire no more than a smattering of its complexities after ten years' intensive misery; the scholar still writes slowly and faultily after twenty years of practice. Outside of Italy, even in the universities, Latin is losing all along the line. As the language of Radio, the language of Africa, the language even of American business, its mere advocacy demands the faith of a fanatic. When Professor Piano's 'Interlingua,' or Latin without inflections, has secured a thousand adherents outside the Latin countries, it will be time for Basic to regard some form of Latin as a possible rival.
13 . CAN BASIC BE LEARNT BY CHILDREN?
The absence of grammatical pitfalls and idiomatic subtleties makes Basic an ideally simple language for the child. Moreover, its emphasis on the purpose of words rather than on purely formal structure gives it a unique educational value as an approach to linguistic problems.
The fact that it is an adequate medium for the complex needs of adult communication, and links up successfully with technical requirements, may create the impression that the vocabulary itself is made up of long and difficult words. what is overlooked is the extreme simplicity of the instrument that achieves so much. Over two-thirds of the Basic words are used freely by the preschool child, and there is not one among the whole 850 which need be unfamiliar tot he boy or girl of seven or eight. As a well known education, Miss Ruth Shaw, the inventor of Finger Painting, has said (in Basic) :
"Most important of all is the right selection of words; and in my opticon, the 850 words of Basic English are the best for the purpose -- because all the root ideas are covered by them. For the young, words take the place of simple pointing. Your baby makes signs by pointing; sometimes at things and sometimes at simple feelings. Later come the words; and those words are frequently not at the right level for the young mind. A mist of words clearly has a bad effect. That is why it is necessary for the words to be so simple."
Basic, like any other language, is necessarily a limited instrument in the hands of a limited intelligence. For this reason, elementary graded courses are being built up with a 500-word nucleus for use in schools. This nucleus, even when operated with a similarly curtailed range of idiom and metaphor, forms a level at which varied and extensive reading material can be provided -- on the lines of the simplified version of Robinson Crusoe which has already been published. Even at the highest levels of science, however, it is possible to go back to the simple pointing words which are the natural instruments of the young ; based as they are on the senses, and on the first behavior reactions of the hand and the body, before the birth of those complex fictions which give us so much power and knowledge of a different sort.
14 . HOW DOES BASIC DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM OF IDIOM?
Idiom has naturally been considered in very great detail throughout the research which led to the formulation of the system. It is easy to select 850 useful words as an introduction to English which would be quite unworkable by foreigners except in their simplest senses. any such selection (and there are many) would break down when called upon to cover the international field ; for it would be relying on combinations of words which only the English-speaking adept could fully utilize.
For more than two years all possible idioms arising from combinations of the words in the Basic list were studied and analyzed. Any use which might give trouble to the learner was classified and graded, always in relation to the explanations given of the Basic words themselves. Any use which would come so naturally to the lips of an English or American speaker that he might have difficulty in avoiding it was weighed from the point of view of, say, a Japanese teacher who had mastered only the simple senses of the words. In the final analysis, about a thousand possibilities had still to be regarded as in the running.
Of these, the essential 500 were found to fall into two groups :
1. The 250 necessary for working purposes.
2. A further 250, which English and American translators need not avoid, because (although unnecessary for the learner) they would for the most part be intelligible from the context.
Of the 250 first-level idioms (indicated in The Basic Words and listed as such in Part Two [pages 115-123], which deals with the A B C of Basic), only 50 are recommended to the learner's attention before the stage of literary effort is reached. So that there is every justification for the claim that, in spite of its exploitation of the most characteristic elements of so-called 'idiomatic' English, the problem of idiom in Basic is reduced to negligible proportions.
15 . WHAT IS THE BASIC POLICY AS REGARDS SPELLING REFORM?
Standard English obliges the foreigner to learn at least 10,000 words before he can feel at home with a newspaper. The irrational spelling of these words imposes a grievous burden even on those whose natural language is English ; that the Eastern learner should be expected to master it is grotesque. As the great philologist, Grimm, observed : "Were it not for a whimsical, antiquated orthography, the universality of English would be still more evident."
On the other hand, there is still no agreement amongst experts as to the next step. Most English educationists will admit that reform is desirable ; but even such harmless American innovations as 'thru' and 'color' have so far met with stubborn resistance both from teachers and the general public. A small international group is nominally in favor of the system known as 'Anglic'; but at present they are making little headway, and dissentients have not yet fully formulated their objections.
Over 200 of the 850 Basic words require no change whatever ; over 500 present no difficulty if considered apart from the general argument against the complexities of normal English. With so small a number of irregularities, the usual objections do not apply. Proper and geographical names, as London and Chicago, Newton and Lincoln, which no one expects to reform, far outnumber the Basic nucleus at the very start. Mr. East and Mr. West, Mr. White and Mr. Black, have traveled so extensively during the past 500 years that scores of Basic words are as familiar as Cook's offices throughout the entire civilized world. More than half of the 850 are found as, or in, proper and geographical names ; and spelling reform will leave Bridge Street and High Street, Lord Act(on) and Lord snow(den), H.G. Well(s) and Thomas Hard(y) untouched for many a century.
Moreover, systems of spelling designed for Europe and America are of little immediate value in the East, where they would merely add one more bizarre script for the beginner to unlearn. In basic there is nothing to unlearn for those who wish to go forward to the English of current literature. Indeed, the very individuality of the eccentric spellings of many of the 850 words may actually be an aid to their memorization. The total number of Basic words is less than that of the Members of the English Houses of Parliament, whose names are impressed on the memory by their individuality ; and such comic words as Cholmondeley and Magdalene are seldom forgotten by any foreigner who has come up against them. So that the 300 of the Basic 850 which seem most whimsical can impress themselves like the peculiar characteristics of old friends. With another 500 oddities the confusion would be greater ; add 5,000 and the argument would lose its force. but enough has been said to show that Basic, as such, need not trouble itself greatly with this particular bogey.
This, however, is no argument against spelling reform ; and every advance the movement can make will be welcomed by all who have the cause of clarity and simplification at heart.
Basic can best make its way independently of all such movements, but as a matter of practical policy certain recommendations may be urged even now.
1. Wherever possible, without arousing unnecessary prejudice, the changes already achieved in America should be extended to the rest of the English-speaking world. Behavior, color, harbor, humor, plow, tho, thru, fixt, and the like have come to stay. Nite, in electric signs, is already familiar to millions.
2. Many another first-line choice of the Simplified spelling board is already knocking at the door -- til, anser, iland, wether are examples.
3. Let the teacher be encouraged to deal leniently with ajustment, aparatus, atempt, succes, and other innocuous innovations of youthful common sense. No harm is done ; unorthodoxy is not illiteracy. Many eminent scholars and scientists have never learned to spell.
4. Let the press and the talkies be supported by educationists in local or national attempts to ease things up. If an enlightened organ with a world-wide public, such as the New York Times, were to regularize ten selected offenders every year, Basic would be almost unimpeachable in a generation. The rest would follow automatically.
16 . HOW HAS BASIC BEEN RECEIVED ABROAD?
Basic has been welcomed enthusiastically wherever the need for an auxiliary language is most urgent. It was developed in response to the world demand for a simple form of English for that purpose. The spontaneous growth of different forms of Pidgin-English in the East (which as of no value for educational purposes) and numerous foreign presentations of World English in regularized spelling (which left the normal vocabulary and its irregularities unaltered) are sufficient evidence of this demand.
Basic was followed with attention by foreign Education Departments from the start. Experimental classes were started in a number of countries in 1931, and during 1932-3 the Research Headquarters of the Orthological Institute were in close contact withmore than a dozen official representatives of non-English-speaking peoples. Before the end of that period, English was made the first educational language of Turkey and of Germany -- replacing French, with its traditional resistance to simplification and its rigid grammatical techniques.
By the end of 1933, hundreds of friendly notices had appeared in more than fifty languages ; representatives had volunteered their services in thirty countries ; and translations had been prublished or were im progress in most of the leading languages of civilization. . . .
. . . ( more ) . . .1-1/2 pages, mostly names of persons.