When C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards were studying the problems of definition, in the course of writing The Meaning of Meaning, they practiced defining all sorts of words and found themselves using a very limited set of definition-words. This suggested the possibility of inventing a complete language with a very small vocabulary, which would cover all the words outside its own range by describing, defining, or expanding them. Such a definition vocabulary, instead of admitting symbols like anachronism, poltroon, ulterior, verisimilitude,1 would express the notions implied by those words in simpler language, by a larger number of more elementary symbols. Then every English-speaking person would have in this analytical language a check upon his use of full English ; and every foreigner, learning so small a vocabulary very quickly indeed, would have command of a universal tongue.
One of the unanticipated achievements of the twenty-first century was the rapid diffusion of Basic English as the lingua franca of the world.
-- H. G. WELLS, The Shape of Things to Come.
The Purposes of Basic EnglishBasic English has three uses. In the first place it is the most practical and economical international language ever devised. English is already the natural or administrative language of over six hundred million people ; millions of others have learned at least some English in foreign schools -- so that, although one cannot estimate with certainty it seems probably that the number of people in the world who are already equipped to understand Basic at a simple level must be nearer a billion than half a billion. Its future, of course, depends on the fate of democracy ; but that issue will not be in doubt if democracy does not doubt itself. English-speaking countries control so great a proportion of the decisive industries of radio, motion picture, the press, aviation, and shipping that English will certainly spread over the globe with greater and greater rapidity. Babel will be overcome by the English language.
A Definition VocabularyAny three persons who started out to write, respectively, a description of the system of Basic English, a history of its invention, and a manual of instructions for using it would find themselves covering very much the same material. To learn Basic easily one needs to know something of its theory, and one understands that theory twice as well after learning Basic. Readers who mean to follow this chapter's Practice Exercises, and learn how to write and speak Basic -- and I urge you to put your semantics to work in this way -- should take careful note of this chapter.
Sixteen Verbs in BasicIn Mr. Ogden's terminology, there are no verbs in Basic English. A verb is a telescoped word, with a complex meaning that implies direction or position as well as action. To disembark is to get | off | a ship. Basic keeps such acts and directions apart, and needs the names of only sixteen fundamental acts which function as verbs.
penetrate < climb / enter \ ^ < leave <-- GO <-- approach / V emerge < descendWhich seven direction-words in conjunction with go will replace those verbs? Prepositions, those operators which symbolize positions and directions -- in, out, to, from, with, by, and others -- are getting more and more work to do in standard English ; and in Basic their functions must be thoroughly understood. Simple drawings of the relations they symbolize in physical space will establish their root senses, and their metaphorical wanderings, in time (on Tuesday, in May), and among Fictions (under a misapprehension, out of danger), and their idiomatic uses must not be allowed to lose all connection with their senses. If this sounds complicated, let us put it another way. In speaking Basic, we must use only the 850 words, and we must not use even those too slangily or colloquially or idiomatically. Though C. K. Ogden has graded our commonest idioms according to their difficulty, in the last resort the speaker of Basic must judge for himself whether or not to use any given idiom. His decision will base itself upon his particular audience -- is it likely to know the idiom? If not, could the meaning be inferred from the context, or from the root senses of the separate words the idiom contains? If he uses it, and finds he has guessed wrong, then he must call upon his techniques of definition.
Why Learn Basic ?There is a mysterious idea afoot that foreigners can learn Basic English very easily, but that those who know English already find Basic very had to learn. This is erroneous -- one can learn to write or talk Basic in a day. The Basic machinery works a bit stiffly at first, but only the lubrication of practice is necessary.
Chief PointsBasic English is a language of 850 English words. It was designed for three purposes : as an international language , as a first step to complete English , and as an instrument for getting our thoughts clear. Learning the use of Basic is good training in semantics and a help in the writing of clear English.
HOW TO WRITE BASIC ENGLISH
FIRST STEPThe first and most important trick in Basic is to lean to use only 16 verbs and still not neglect the -ing and -ed possibilities explained above. Write something and check it very carefully for illegal verbs and illicit auxiliaries, and do not leave this step till you can do it well.
SECOND STEPHaving perfected the first step, now write something using no prepositions, conjunctions, etc. not given below. Do not worry about pronouns, because all of them are in Basic.
THIRD STEPWhen this is mastered, the rest is child's play. The third step is to use only the 400 General Names -- concrete nouns may still be used freely.
FOURTH STEP1 . Pictured names No restriction.
FIFTH STEP1 . Pictured names Use only those names of things that can be pictured :
A SUMMARY OF POINTS TO REMEMBER1 . Start writing Basic before trying to memorize all the details about its use. If uncertain about any point not mentioned in this book, study examples in books mentioned in this book, study examples in books mentioned in this chapter or write for information to The Orthological Committee, Cambridge, Massachusetts, or the Orthological Institute, London, England. Or, Basic English Institute. I am indebted to these institutions for permission to use these Basic materials, which should not be reproduced without their permission.
Alphabetic List of the Words of Basic English
a , able , about , account , acid , across , act , addition , adjustment , advertisement , agreement , after , again , against , air , all , almost , among , amount , amusement , and , angle , angry , animal , answer , ant , any , apparatus , apple , approval , arch , argument , arm , army, art , as , at , attack , attempt , attention , attraction , authority , automatic , awake .
baby , back , bad , bag , balance , ball , band , base , basin , basket , bath , be , beautiful , because , bed , bee , before , behavior , belief , bell , bent , berry , between , bird , birth , bit , bite , bitter , black , blade , blood , blow , blue , board , boat , body , boiling , bone , book , boot , bottle , box , boy , brain , brake , branch , brass , bread , breath , brick , bridge , bright , broken , brother , brown , brush , bucket , building , bulb , burn , burst , business , but , butter , button , by .
cake , camera , canvas , card , care , carriage , cart , cat , cause , certain , chain , chalk , chance , change , cheap , cheese , chemical , chest , chief , chin , church , circle , clean , clear , clock , cloth , cloud , coal , coat , cold , collar , color , comb , come , comfort , committee , common , company , comparison , competition , complete , complex , condition , connection , conscious , control , cook , copper , copy , cord , cork , cotton , cough , country , cover , cow , crack , credit , crime , cruel , crush , cry , cup , current , curtain , curve , cushion , cut .
damage , danger , dark , daughter , day , dead , dear , death , debt , decision , deep , degree , delicate , dependent , design , desire , destruction , detail , development , different , digestion , direction , dirty , discovery , discussion , disease , disgust , distance , distribution , division , do , dog , door , doubt , down , drain , drawer , dress , drink , driving , drop , dry , dust .
ear , early , earth , east , edge , education , effect , egg , elastic , electric , end , engine , enough , equal , error , even , event , ever , every , example , exchange , existence , expansion , experience , expert , eye .
face , fact , fall , false , family , far , farm , fat , father , fear , feather , feeble , feeling , female , fertile , fiction , field , fight , finger , fire , first , fish , fixed , flag , flame , flat , flight , floor , flower , fly , fold , food , foolish , foot , for , force , fork , form , forward , fowl , frame , free , frequent , friend , from , front , fruit , full , future .
garden , general , get , girl , give , glass , glove , go , goat , gold , good , government , grain , grass , great , green , grey/gray , grip , group , growth , guide , gun .
hair , hammer , hand , hanging , happy , harbor , hard , harmony , hat , hate , have , he (it, they, etc.) , head , healthy , hearing , heart , heat , help , here , high , history , hole , hollow , hook , hope , horn , horse , hospital , hour , house , how , humor .
I (us, our, etc.) , ice , idea , if , ill , important , impulse , in , increase , industry , ink , insect , instrument , insurance , interest , invention , iron , island .
jelly , jewel , join , journey , judge , jump .
keep , kettle , key , kick , kind , kiss , knee , knife , knot , knowledge .
land , language , last , late , laugh , law , lead , leaf , learning , leather, left , leg , let , letter , level , library , lift , light , like , limit , line , linen , lip , liquid , list , little (less ,least) , living , lock , long , loose , loss , loud , love , low .
machine , make , male , man , manager , map , mark , market , married , match , material , mass , may (might) , meal , measure , meat , medical , meeting , memory , metal , middle , military , milk , mind , mine , minute , mist , mixed , money , monkey , month , moon , morning , mother , motion , mountain , mouth , move , much (more, most) , muscle , music .
nail , name , narrow , nation , natural , near , necessary , neck , need , needle , nerve , net , new , news , night , no , noise , normal , north , nose , not , note , now , number , nut .
observation , of , off , offer , office , oil , old , on , only , open , operation , opinion , opposite , or , orange , order , organization , ornament , other , out , oven , over , owner.
page , pain , paint , paper , parallel , parcel , part , past , paste , payment , peace , pen , pencil , person , physical , picture , pig , pin , pipe , place , plane , plant , plate , play , please , pleasure , plough/plow , pocket , point , poison , polish , political , poor , porter , position , possible , pot , potato , powder , power , present , price , print , prison , private , probable , process , produce , profit , property , prose , protest , public , pull , pump , punishment , purpose , push , put .
quality , question , quick , quiet , quite .
rail , rain , range , rat , rate , ray , reaction , red , reading , ready , reason , receipt , record , regret , regular , relation , religion , representative , request , respect , responsible , rest , reward , rhythm , rice , right , ring , river , road , rod , roll , roof , room , root , rough , round , rub , rule , run .
sad , safe , sail , salt , same , sand , say , scale , school , science , scissors , screw , sea , seat , second , secret , secretary , see , seed , selection , self , send , seem , sense , separate , serious , servant , sex , shade , shake , shame , sharp , sheep , shelf , ship , shirt , shock , shoe , short , shut , side , sign , silk , silver , simple , sister , size , skin , skirt , sky , sleep , slip , slope , slow , small , smash , smell , smile , smoke , smooth , snake , sneeze , snow , so , soap , society , sock , soft , solid , some , son , song , sort , sound , south , soup , space , spade , special , sponge , spoon , spring , square , stamp , stage , star , start , statement , station , steam , stem , steel , step , stick , sticky , still , stitch , stocking , stomach , stone , stop , store , story , strange , street , stretch , stiff , straight , strong , structure , substance , sugar , suggestion , summer , support , surprise , such , sudden , sun , sweet , swim , system .
table , tail , take , talk , tall , taste , tax , teaching , tendency , test , than , that , the , then , theory , there , thick , thin , thing , this , thought , thread , throat , though , through , thumb , thunder , ticket , tight , tired , till , time , tin , to , toe , together , tomorrow , tongue , tooth , top , touch , town , trade , train , transport , tray , tree , trick , trousers , true , trouble , turn , twist .
umbrella , under , unit , use , up .
value , verse , very , vessel , view , violent , voice .
walk , wall , waiting , war , warm , wash , waste , watch , water , wave , wax , way , weather , week , weight , well , west , wet , wheel , when , where , while , whip , whistle , white , who (what, which, whom, whose) , why , wide , will (would) , wind , window , wine , wing , winter , wire , wise , with , woman , wood , wool , word , work , worm , wound , writing , wrong .
year , yellow , yes , yesterday , you (your) , young .