The System of Basic English
Part III. Examples, p.298
X . Stories
3 . The FUTURE OF BASIC ENGLISH
[From The Shape of Things to Come, by H. G. Wells]
One unlooked-for development of the hundred years between 2000 and 2100 was the way in which Basic English became in that short time the common language for use between nations, and the expansion at an even greater rate -- as the outcome of this, and after it had been changed in a number of ways -- of English itself.
The English used by most of us today in talking and writing is a very different tongue from the English of Shakespeare, Addison, Bunyan, or Shaw. It has got away from the signs of such old and complex forms as a 'subjunctive mood'; the form of a word on paper has become truly representative of its sound; everyone gives the same sound to the same word; a number of words and word-groups have been taken over from other languages. No attempt was made at forcing it upon other nations as the Earth. In its natural form it was better for the purpose in a number of ways than the chief languages in competition with it, Spanish, French, Russian, German, and Italian. It was simpler, more delicate, more elastic, and even at the time more widely used, but it was certainly the development of Basic English which in the end gave it the position it now has.
Basic English was the invention of a man whose quick and fertile mind was trained at Cambridge in England. This C. K. Ogden (1889-1990), living long and working hard, gave all his time to the question of getting a simpler relation between language and thought, and specially to the working-out of this one system. It is an interesting fact that he was living at the same time as James Joyce (1882-1941) who, like Ogden, was responsible for the invention of a new sort of English. but while Ogden's work was based on science, Joyce was working as a man of letters for more complex forms and greater powers of suggestion. In the end, his readers, who became less in number every year, were
unable to get at him at all through his knotted and twisted prose which became very like the foolish talk of a man who is off his head. He did, however, get about twenty-five new words into the language which are still in use. Ogden, after working hard for a long time in the opposite direction, came through with an English of 850 words, and five or six rules for their operation which would make it possible for any person from another country who had a ready memory to get to the point of talking and writing quite good English in two or three weeks. Generally it was harder to get Englishmen to keep to the words and forms of the Basic selection than to give outside learners a knowledge of the complete language. It was a teacher of languages, Rudolph Boyle (1910-1959), who first put forward a system by which persons using English as their natural language might be trained to keep inside the Basic limits when necessary.
Basic was taken up in a most surprising way after the First Conference of Basra. It was made the language for all public and government purposes in every country by the air and Sea Control, and by 2020 almost everyone was able to make use of Basic for talking and writing.
It is from the starting-point of Basic English, worked with a system in which the form of a word on paper is representative of its sound, that the language used by us today has come into existence, chiefly by putting back, by slow degrees, the 'verbs' and special uses from the mother-tongue, and by taking over words and groups of word-groups from other languages. today our language has almost 2,000,000 words in it. It is in fact a language formed from other languages, with roots, words, and special uses taken from the tongues of all nations. K. Wang made it clear in a paper a short time back that different word-selections are still made by different groups of persons. On looking at the work of twenty present-day writers of Italian blood, whose names were taken by chance, it was seen that there was a marked tendency to make use of words with Latin roots, in comparison with twenty Eastern Asiatic writers who give special weight to Chinese and American. But they all make themselves clear to one another, and the same art, the same learning, and the same outlook in science and common to them all.
The number of unnecessary words in the new English of today and tomorrow is very small, and where there are two words with the same sense, or words which in the old days were said to be going out of use, or not very frequently used, there is an increasing tendency to give them a new and more delicate shade of sense. All these changes are watched with care by the "Dictionary Bureau," but it lets additions be made where they are of value. We will have little doubt that language is becoming a more delicate and more clear-cut instrument if we make a comparison between a book of today and a book by some great English writer between 1700 and 1900. We are still quite able to make out its sense, but the quality of the writing is so poor, and in places so rough, that it seems half-way back to such limited and badly put together languages as Early English or Gothic.
The greater the number of words the better the quality of the mind. There is very little doubt that in comparison with the brain of a normal man today that of a man living in the
nineteen-hundreds, though in no way different in structure, was far less polished instrument and far less delicate in adjustment. It was damaged by wrong use; it's thoughts were badly sorted, and their connections with one another had little value; it was kept back by complexes which had not been put right. It was like a well-made machine which has got dirty and is not taken care of. There is far more order in the brain of today; it is cleaner and better oiled. It not only has room for far more knowledge, but it makes better use of the wider keyboard of our present language. To the common man today the men of thought of 200 years back generally seem strangely roundabout, limited, and uninteresting. It is not so much that he is in doubt about what is said, but that when at last he gets the sense out of their knotted statements into the light of day, he makes the discovery that his thought has gone all round them.
An interesting group of experts, whose work has been of value and still goes on, first came into being in an early form between 1800 and 1900. The chief person in this group was a certain Lady Welby (1837-1912), who was openly looked on by most of her friends as a dry and uninteresting woman who said very strange things. She sent long and frequent letters to all who would give any attention, her great point being that it was possible to make the relation between language and thought more complete, and that a 'Science of Significs' was needed. C. K. Ogden and another Fellow of Magdalene College, I. A. Richards (1893-1979), were among the small number who took her seriously. These two got out a book, The Meaning of Meaning, in 1923 which is one of the earliest attempts to make the language-machine better. Basic English was produced in the process. The new Science had almost no money at the back of it, only a small number of workers were interested, and in the troubled years which came later it went from view. It came to the front again sometime between 2000 and 2050.
Then Carl Ratan became the most important of a group of workers who had the idea of making English clearer and wider in range and a truly international language. We see the expansion of his work in the complex organization of the Language Bureau in its present form. A comparison has been made between the work of that Bureau and the work of the money experts who at last gave money a true value in relation to goods a hundred and fifty years back. In the same way in which our general material development was kept back for some hundreds of years by the fact that the relation between money and goods was wrong, so we are making the discovery today that we are not going forward in the field of thought as quickly as we might because the relation between language and thought is so loose and so full of error.
An interesting work which has been undertaken, and which seems on the way to becoming a complete history of thought and knowledge, is the Language Discard. This work was started in the first place by the Dictionary Division of the Language Bureau, as a simple account of words which have gone almost our completely out of use and of words which have become greatly changed from their first sense; but when the reasons for these changes and selections and uprootings were looked into it was seen that the way was open for a complete unfolding of the simple processes of man's thought. A group of words, "soul, spirit, matter, force, essence," for example, were worked into the substance of Aryan and Semitic thought almost from the start, and it was only a short time back that the detailed work done by Yuan Shan and his group on these framework words made it clear that the processes of Chinese and Negro thought were far from parallel. In everything but material statement, when things said in one language are put into another
the comparison is necessarily somewhat loose and rough. But parallels between the ideas on which the great writing of Eastern Asia is based or the attempts of Africans to put their thoughts into words and the ideas which are part of the ruling language of today are so rough that to make them at all one has to become almost violent. The forcing together of such opposite tendencies, when we see what is taking place, will probably be responsible for very wide changes in the language of general science and of the special branches of knowledge. The language we are talking and writing today is still in a process of change. A great number of our words and special uses will no more be used in a hundred years' time than we ourselves would go back again to the railway train, the wheel-worked steamboat, and the needle telegraph.
These changes in the system of thought-connection in the brain, which are now in process, put before us -- long before we have any chance of developments in birth-selection -- the hope that an increase in brain-power may be possible on a scale which at present we have no idea of. For this to come about we will have to take control of events which at present we have no control over at all. There was a time when early man had as little power of making a picture or threading a needle as a cow; it was only when his thumb became different from his other fingers that the power of making things and working an apparatus came within his grip. In the same way we may be certain that our attention to knowledge will become much greater and our picture of existence far truer when language, the hand of the mind, gets to a new stage of development.
Not only is the brain becoming sharper and more delicate, but there has been what would be looked on by anyone living a hundred years back as a great increase in the amount and quality of knowledge and in the degree to which it is in our range. At the same time in which every separate brain is getting quicker and more expert, there comes into being a group Brain, the Encyclopedia, the Root Knowledge System, which puts together, gets sorted, and keeps in order in a ready form every fact we have come across. The Encyclopedia organization, which has its chief office at Barcelona, is, with its 17,000,000 workers, the Memory of Man. In one direction it is giving orders to millions of persons who are testing knowledge, looking out for errors, and sending in news; and in another it is working to keep the process of education in touch with the latest developments in the field of thought. It is increasing in size very quickly because every step forward in the producing side of the economic system has the effect of increasing the number of workers who may be used by the organization. The thought-apparatus of man is still in its earliest stage.
Or, let us say, it is in a half-way stage. It is because the mind of man is coming near to full growth for the first time that it has made the discovery that it is young.
Ogden died in 1957, our loss that he could not have contributed for the period which Wells attributed to him.
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