logo Ogden's Basic English


Prepared for the
of the
Professor of English, University of Michigan
with the cooperation of
University Fellow, University of Michigan

Table of Contents

Front Cover text
Title Page on page number iii
Copyright on page number iv
Table of Contents on page number ix
Section 2 on page number 4   Word Counts to Aid Stenographers and the Blind 4
Section 3 on page number 10 Word Lists for the Teaching of Spelling . .10
Section 4 on page number 19 Reading Vocabularies
Section 5 on page number 33 Modern Foreign Language Word Counts
Section 6 on page number 42 Lists for English as a Foreign Language
Section 7 on page number 50 ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
Section 8 on page number 73 NOTES ON SEVEN ENGLISH WORD LISTS
Section 10 on page number 95 Bibliography. A Selected List.
Bibliography on page number 106
Bibliography on page number 107

Page iii
English Word Lists

Page iv

Page ix
I. Introduction. Early Limited Vocabularies . 1
II. Word Counts to Aid Stenographers and the Blind 4
III. Word Lists for the Teaching of Spelling . .10
IV. Reading Vocabularies 19 V. Modern Foreign Language Word Counts . 33
VI. Measures of Vocabulary Size 42
VII. Lists for English as a Foreign Language ... 50
VIII. Notes on Seven English Word Lists .... 73
IX. Some Conclusions Concerning English Word Lists 87
Bibliography. A Selected List 95

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THE first essential step in a critical study of English word lists seemed to be a survey of experience in creating such lists as well as experience in their use. It was expected that such a survey would bring out -- It was deemed necessary to understand the experience of the past in order to study the possible usefulness of the materials now available, for criteria of judgment must include matters of practical usefulness as well as matters of theoretical linguistic soundness. Unfortunately it has been impossible to procure any direct or satisfactory evidence of actual success or failure in the use of these lists. One might perhaps assume, however, that the continual attempt to find new approaches to the selecting of materials and the building of word lists arises out of the unsatisfactory nature of the word lists that have been created. Perhaps one can also assume that the particular point of change in the method of a new list indicates the special place in which an older list was felt to be unsatisfactory. A history of the approaches to the making of word lists should, therefore, reveal many matters that must be considered in the evaluation of the word lists which we have.
The effort to supply those English people wishing to master a foreign language with a "beginner's vocabulary" goes back to the very early periods of English history. Although the earliest glosses dealt with the more learned and more difficult words primarily, there were 15th century vocabularies of the very common and simple words. ...


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Within the past ten years several important vocabularies for the general purpose of teaching English to foreigners have appeared; each has been established by means of a different technique, and each has had a different special purpose.
The vocabulary established by C. K. Ogden and called "Basic English"1 was constructed not on a quantitative, frequency-range basis, as were the modern foreign language vocabularies, but upon a logical or philosophical basis.2 Ogden's purpose was primarily to establish an international language;3 he favored the simplification of an already existing language as an international medium rather than the construction of an "artificial" language such as those advocated by Professors Sapir and Jespersen.4 Ogden chose English for his experiment because it is already the natural or administrative language of over 500,000,000 persons. It has reached an analytic stage which makes it possible to select a simple and regular nucleus of 850 words in which almost everything can be said. No other language is capable of similar simplifications -- which provides in the most natural way an international language and makes the construction of any artificial system unnecessary.5 -51-
The philosophy underlying Ogden's simplification is based upon Jeremy Bentham's Theory of Fictions and upon his idea that the verb system might be "broken up" for international purposes.6 In Ogden's words, Basic English is a careful and systematic selection of 850 English words which will cover those needs of every day life for which a vocabulary of 20,000 words is frequently employed. These words 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. 7
The chief principles which have been laid down for the reduction are (1) the elimination of verbs, by the substitution of "10 main operators and 20 spatial directives which replace them in universal grammar";8 (2) a systematic theory of definition, "eliciting the conjugates of any word under 30 heads . . (3) "the projectional interpretation of emotive adjectives in descriptive terms . . ."; and (4) "the development of Bentham's theory of Fictions in the treatment of metaphor."10 More briefly stated Ogden's basis of simplification is an elimination of what he believes to be "vocabulary unessentials" and a concentration on the "regularities" in usage. Just as the vocabulary can be reduced from 20,000 to 1,000 words, so can the idioms be reduced 90% "so that word-order and word-combinations are amenable to simple rules."11 Sentence construction "follows a few simple models related to the natural sequence of events."12
The 850 items of the Basic English vocabulary are classified as follows:13 200 names of "picturable objects" 400 "general" names 150 "qualities" 100 "words that put these names and adjectives into operation"
The operators consist of 18 verbs, and 22 prepositions, pronouns, adverbs, etc. Ogden has omitted from the list the numerals; names designating currency; internationally known terms (club, bar, coffee, dance, telephone, tobacco, Algebra, Zoology, etc.);14 names of local plants, animals, and food; names designating divisions of the calendar; scientific terms; and proper names, both personal and geographical. Words were included on the list if they passed the range test on the "Panoptic Conjugation diagram," and excluded by means of definitions based on a "hierarchy of referential categories" founded on Bentham's system of Dichotomy.15 E Ogden claims that the 850 words, covering given fields of reference, are sufficient for needs of ordinary conversation, while 150 additional words make it possible for "scientists and technicians" to "communicate without embarrassment."16 The 150 additional words consist of 100 terms for general science, 50 words from the particular field of science under discussion.18 -53-
The Basic Dictionary19 has been designed "to provide Translators with Basic equivalents for all the ordinary words of Standard English."20 There are 7,500 entries in the dictionary--"words which everyone knows," and according to Ogden "by specialization and extension," these 7,500 cover 10,000 further meanings. The total (18,000 and more) employ 10,000 linguistic "turns and twists," a total of 30,000 items. In the dictionary these 30,000 are translated into their 850 Basic equivalents. 21
The general Basic list is attached to the front of each volume printed on or in Basic. In addition, the attached "sheet of notepaper" has a summary of rules for the use of the words-rules for plurals, derivatives, comparison, questions, and a "sample" of word order.
The ABC of Basic English 22 was designed as a simple guide in three stages (A, B, and C), covering all the chief points in Basic English ...: (1) The 850 words and their order. (2) Expansions of the words in form and sense. (3) Special uses of the words, and their use for special purposes.23 respect, reward, shake, shame, trick, wound, beautiful, hollow, responsible, waiting, board, clock, carriage, chest, skirt, tree. In their place Ogden has substituted the following: what, beat, beef, dance, furniture, garment, hollow, lump, mesh, piece, police, sport, surface, vibration, waiting, direct, latent, trained, bull, cigarette, float, lemon, lung, spider, violet, international. The scientific terms have been chosen by a consideration of (1) frequency of occurrence (2) difficulty of definition (3) instrumentality in the definition of other words See Basic English Applied, p. 9. "Ogden stresses the completeness of the Basic minimum vocabulary and its extensions into special fields -- its adequacy as a means of communication. It is, he writes, "a system in which everything may be said for all purposes of everyday existence: the common interests of men and women, general talk, news, trade, and science."--Debabelization, p. 9. "C. K. Ogden, op. at., Psyche Miniatures, London, 1932. See also The Basic Words, Psyche Miniatures, London, 1933. This volume lists the Basic words and their uses including the international words and names, the complex words (i.e. compounds), the irregular forms of comparison, and "words based on sound effects." Each entry is followed by a phonetic transcription, the part of speech, French and German equivalents, and normal English usage. The book is designed "to give an idea of the way in which the 850 words may be used."--p. v. "Ibid., p. v. "Ibid., pp. vi-vii. "C. K. Ogden, op. cit., London, 1932. 23 Ibid., pp. vii-viii.
The book is really a grammar of Basic English which describes and explains the methods by which the Basic vocabulary can be put into operation.24 Ogden maintains that the generalizations and analogies which are permitted in Basic English in order to eliminate irregularities of the Standard English should not "trouble or disturb English-speaking people whose own language deviates so consistently from the standard."25
The advantages of Basic English, as stated by Ogden, may be summarized as follows:26 (1) An elimination of sound confusions (e.g. bear--bare). (2) Simple grammatical structure. (3) Analytical nature resulting in "high translatability." (4) Great flexibility (intelligibility is the only criterion). (5) Many European language affinities. (6) Basic carries forward to a further analytic stage the habits of the past. (7) It is specially designed for mechanical transmission (radio, etc.). (8) There are no supersigns (accents). (9) The spelling difficulties of English are eliminated because the vocabulary is small. (10) There is no case system. (11) The vocabulary consists of short words. Only 16 have more than 3 syllables.
Since the first appearance of Basic English there has been a great deal of controversy regarding its merits and its weaknesses. It has been warmly supported by I. A. Richards, S. A. Leonard, and many others.27 It has been claimed in favor of such a technique of selection, i.e. selecting a necessary set of ideas and covering them with the smallest number of words, while avoiding all synonyms, that it results in a small vocabulary capable of expressing a wide range of ideas; and that while this method tends to the slighting of structural items, it is on the whole of great
value.28 On the other hand, critics of Basic point out what they consider very definite weaknesses in Basic English.29 Practically the entire controversy, however, has centered about such details as Ogden's style of writing and presentation, the numerical accuracy of his figure 850, his "evasion" of localisms, his ethics in taking out a copyright, the actual number of "learning-items" in Basic, his criteria for the selection of international terms, his omission of numerals, his extension of un- as a prefix, or criticisms of English books which have been translated into Basic.30
One of the few definite attempts that have been made to test objectively the efficacy of simplified English was that of Karl F. Nolte who carried out a measured experiment to determine the extent to which simplifications of reading material might affect comprehension.31 He tested the comprehension of groups of sixth grade students on selections from literature rewritten in Ogden's Basic vocabulary and in Thorndike's first 2,500 words. The test was administered to English-speaking children, and is perhaps not particularly significant with regard to the two lists as applied to the comprehension of English by foreigners, but it is interesting to know that the author concludes, concerning the results of the investigation, that keeping other elements constant, the simplification of vocabulary does not materially facilitate pupils' understanding of material read. Only in a limited number of instances did the substitution of known words for unknown words aid pupils' comprehension. On the other hand, there were times when other structural elements were made more difficult.32
In a few of the test items, the investigator asserts that there were more significant differences in favor of simplification by Basic English than by way of the Thorndike Word Book. Skip some non-Basic pages.
Another vocabulary established for teaching English to foreigners is the 3,000 word vocabulary upon which Harold E. Palmer has based his texts for teaching English in Japan.33 There are two methods of grading reading material, according to Palmer: one is the "progressive grading" (such as is found in Dr. Michael West's New Method Readers and the Standard English Readers composed by the Institute for Research in English Teaching, Tokyo), and the other is the "static type" of grading found in texts that are composed within the limits of a vocabulary radius determined in advance.34 Examples of the "statically graded" texts are furnished by West's Supplementary Readers and the material written in Ogden's Basic English. On the whole, Palmer prefers the latter sort of grading, in as much as he believes that simplified texts written within the limits of a definite vocabulary radius (e.g. his own 3,000 word radius) tend to act as correctives "to abuses of stylistics, or in other terms, tend to cure lapses into 'foreigner's English' "35
Palmer's 3,000 word vocabulary36 was based upon the frequency word lists of Thorndike, Horn, and Dewey as a starting point.37 Palmer found these so-called "objective" lists alone insufficient for several reasons: (1) the literature analyzed for the
counts is chosen subjectively; (2) semantic varieties are not determined; (3) "environmental" terms are lacking; and (4) at best, they represent only a limited amount of material.38 Therefore, he believes that subjective judgment and the empirical evidence of teachers is of invaluable assistance in compiling word lists that will serve more adequately than lists based upon objective findings alone. "Environmental" words should, he insists, be added by the subjective and empirical method, and special lists of classroom words should be so prepared. The General List of 3,000 vocabulary units consists of single words possessing no derivatives or single words together with their chief derivatives. It was decided to divide this list into six lists of a 500 word radius each, or into five lists of a 600 word radius. The first 500 words39 were based on objective findings as long as these findings were not invalidated by defects of range.40 Where such defects occurred, the vocabulary item was dropped in favor of words with lower frequency but of a better range credit. The second 500 words41 were established in much the same way; however, range defects occurred more frequently. The number of narrow-range or environmental words increased as the number of wide-range or general words decreased. To remedy this situation the words of narrowest range were removed. These first two lists were added together, and the resulting list of 1,000 words, with the derivatives, was recommended for the composition of simplified texts. Another list of 600 words for use in the classroom42 was based on objective quantitative statistics supplemented by classroom requirements. The 242 words in this list marked with asterisks do not appear in the first 500 most frequently used English words. As early as 1917 Palmer discussed the matter of defining the word." Language consists essentially, he wrote at that time, of
18 Ibid., pp. 24-31. "The First 500 English Words of Most Frequent Occurrence (leaflet), I.R.E.T., Tokyo (no date). 40Ibid., p. 3. "The Second 500 English Words of Most Frequent Occurrence (leaflet), I.R.E.T., Tokyo (no date). "The First 600 English Words for a Classroom Vocabulary (leaflet), I.R.E.T., Tokyo (no date). "The Scientific Study and Teaching of Languages (London, 1917), Part II, "The Nature of Language," pp. 29-46. "Ibid., p. 39. 45 Ibid., p. 42. "Grading and Simplifying of Literary Material, p. 18. "Ibid., pp. 26-40.

lexicological units popularly supposed to be words, but the term word is vague and impossible of definition. What is called a word generally proves to be but an accident of graphic continuity; therefore, we should speak of Lexicological Units, and note that they may be "Monologs," "Pliologs," "Miologs," or "Alogisms."44 These units should be classified according to the "respective principles of morphology (with its divisions), Semantics, and Ergonics."45 According to these principles, Palmer in later discussions of the problem calls a word a Monolog (something that is neither more nor less than a word); a Pliolog is something-more-than-a-word (e.g. Independence Day); and the Miolog is somethingless-than-a-word (e.g. life- from lifelike). The absence of any word-like element, which absence in itself is significant (e.g. Men are mortal -- the absence of the article is here significant), is an alog. The word-order which expresses interrogation is also an alog. All such "semantic phenomena" Palmer designates as alogs. A monologeme is "any group or family composed of any given head word together with its inflected forms and derivatives."46 Palmer has likewise considered carefully the "collocations," which he divides into two groups, the "normal" and the "non-normal."47 Among the first are such expressions as Give it to me and Was it a man? The second are the idioms: to make out, How do you do? Palmer objects to the term idiom, and believes his own terms non-normal phrases and non-normal formulas to be more accurate. In Palmer's texts, all written within the 3,000 word radius, he makes no attempt to introduce the new words, collocations, or idioms progressively, in the manner of West and his followers. Palmer has pointed out the necessity for a consideration of the various types of needs and purposes in the study of foreign languages: Many desire a knowledge of the written language only. They wish to be able to read and write, not to understand the spoken language or to speak. Some may limit their attainment to a capacity for reading the language; they wish to have access to technical or other books. Such people, having entirely different aims, require entirely different methods. They must be furnished with everything that will facilitate their work, and we may omit from their programme everything that does not lead directly towards the limited and special end they have in view.48 He mentions five possible aims: salesmanship, travel, science, philology, examination.49 With regard to vocabulary selection, Palmer believes that the best method is to establish a limited General List and to supplement it with lists which have been planned with a particular purpose in view. A review of the whole field of vocabulary selection, from the word frequency count through the movement for the simplification of texts for reading, has led Palmer to discuss the problem of the selection of an English vocabulary for teaching English to foreigners in the light of eight problems, which he enumerates something as follows:50 1. There are at present three main methods of vocabulary selection: objective (Thorndike), subjective (Ogden), and empirical (Palmer). Which is the best? 2. Are we to reckon as one vocabulary unit a given word together with its inflected and derivative forms and with all its more usual meanings? 3. How far may the word be "stretched"? Is it permissible, for example, to use the listed word "chair" in the sense of "chair in a university": or is it permissible to stretch except into unexceptionable? 4. Arising out of this, ought we not, when limiting the words of a vocabulary, to limit the number of compounds, "collections," phrases, etc.? 5. Different methods of evaluation, according to whether a word is structural, general, or environmental, are noted. According to West, there must be a differentiation between words "we speak with" and words "we speak about." 6. Then comes the question of the Evolution of learning-burden. Shall then the snagless "fenetre", "table", and "boite" be put on the same footing as "falloir" and "savoir" or other snagful words? 7. Should we not content ourselves with compiling a General Service 48 Principles of Language Study (London, 1021), pp. 61-64. "Scientific Study and Teaching of Languages, p. 57. "Discussion: Word Frequency," Modern Languages, XVIII (March, 1937), 136-137.
-60- ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE Vocabulary and supplement it by special lists according to the purpose for which it is to be used? 8. Some maintain that there must be two entirely different lists; one for recognition knowledge and the other for productive. Others maintain that the distinction is a fanciful one. Who are right? Michael West, who employed a technique of vocabulary selection which differed from those of both Ogden and Palmer, has dealt at length with many of the aspects of teaching English to foreigners. In addition to the contributions which he has made in the area of pedagogical method, he has studied in detail the following phases of the subject: (1) the aim of vocabulary selection; (2) the chief problems of vocabulary selection; (3) the difference between the reading vocabulary and the speaking vocabulary; (4) methods of selecting the reading and speaking vocabularies; (5) the evaluation of words with regard to their learning burden; and (6) the construction of a minimum definition vocabulary. 1. The Aim of Vocabulary Selection At the meeting of the Modern Language Association of England held in January, 1937, Dr. West took part in a discussion of the matter of word frequency. During the course of the discussion, he stated his views on the aims of vocabulary selection as follows: The aim of vocabulary selection amounts to this, that, instead of teaching a large number of relatively useless words, we try to teach a small number of useful words, or else that we try to teach a small number of words well rather than a large number badly. Ideally, the teacher should be able to say at the end of a course: "I have not taught this child a single word which he should or will forget." But in every textbook in a foreign language one finds a large number of words one is sure to forget. The question is, what is the teacher to do about it? Must he consult Vander Beke's list at every turn? He cannot be expected to look up the importance of every word before using it, but the list can give the teacher a certain word-sense, and can help him to get to know which words are important or worth while, and which are of little use.
It is really a matter for the textbook writers to tackle with a view to providing teachers with textbooks containing the smallest possible number of useless words. Thorndike emphasizes the fact that in order to get greater efficiency in language learning we must make it a process of learning rather than teaching. We must have reading books that the children can read, and which give them the words they ought to learn.51
2. The Problem of Vocabulary Selection The chief problem in selecting a vocabulary, according to West, is the necessity of foreseeing the needs of the learner. In the case of children, it is impossible to predict their exact needs. Formerly, the schoolmaster got out of this difficulty with the aid of the psychologist who obligingly offered him the doctrine of mental discipline and transfer of training. When this doctrine fell into ill repute, the teachers of foreign language taught grammar as a basic need of the child, but the direct-method exploded the formal grammar theory, and advanced the theory that language ability is really a skill. Knowing the language and knowing about it are two entirely different things. It followed that pedagogical emphasis was then put upon speaking the language and upon phonetics, upon correct speaking -- but about what? Immediately we come back to the problem of selecting the vocabulary. One can start with the vocabulary that has to do with classroom orders and furniture, with matters of the home and general environment. It was argued that students of French, for example, would probably travel in France, and so the vocabulary of travel -- tickets, luggage, hotels -- was exhausted. Then what? Investigations were made of the vocabularies in use in the grammar schools, disclosing a remarkably wide divergence. Still, what vocabulary is the problem, and word-frequency counts seem to be the solution.52
3. The Difference between the Reading and Speaking Vocabulary In the teaching of reading, lists based upon word frequency counts are invaluable, West asserts, but they are not equally so for teaching speech; however, in West's opinion this is a negligible fault. He believes that the reading vocabulary must be selected upon the basis of what words the child is likely to meet in his 51 <---
Ibid., pp. 138-139. ra Condensed from West's article, "Speaking-Vocabulary in a Foreign Language, 1,000 Words," Modern Language Journal, XIV (April, 1930), 509-521.
. . . (12 more pages . . . .)



OUR survey of the work that has been done on vocabulary selection leads us to seven lists that, of those now available, deserve special analysis and comparison. These are Basic English by Ogden, Definition Vocabulary by West, I.R.E.T. Standard English Vocabulary (the 1,000 word radius) by Palmer and Hornby, The Teacher's Word Book by Thorndike, Interim Report on Vocabulary Selection by a committee composed of Faucett, Palmer, Thorndike, and West, 1534 Words with Values 1 to 34 by Faucett and Maki, and Little English by Janet Aiken.1 The lists differ somewhat in length but not so much as to make comparison of no significance. Basic English contains 850 words plus more and most, plus words for "measurement, numerals, currency, calendar, and international terms in English form." West's Definition Vocabulary contains 1,194 entries. From the Teacher's Word Book we are here concerned with the first 1,000 words of highest frequency and range, and of the I.R.E.T. Standard English Vocabulary with "the 1,000 word radius." The Faucett-Maki list contains 1,534 words and the Interim Report on Vocabulary Selection, in its General Service List approximately 2,060 main entries. Little English contains only 800 words. The makers of these lists each approached the problem of vocabulary from differing points of view -- their purposes differed as well as their methods. Several questions naturally occur to anyone who may need to make a practical choice of a limited vocabulary for use in the teaching of English as a foreign language.
  1 . One naturally asks first to what extent do these various lists overlap. One is curious not only concerning the amount of the overlapping but also concerning the kind of overlapping there may be. Certain numerical facts seem significant and these appear in the following table. In Table I points of especial interest seem to be the following:
(a) There is only about 50% overlapping in the Basic English list and the Thorndike first 1,000. The "logical" method of Ogden and the "counting" method of Thorndike produced fundamentally different results. (See, however, d and e below.)
(b) Palmer's 1,000 word radius and West's Definition Vocabulary, Aiken Little English and Faucett-Maki's Word-Values agree more with Thorndike's first 1,000 than they do with Basic English. Palmer and Aiken both use about 66% of the Basic vocabulary but approximately 75% of Thorndike's first 1,000 words. West uses 79.2% of the Basic vocabulary but 85.3% of the Thorndike first 1,000 words. The Faucett-Maki list has only 70.2% of the Basic vocabulary but 97.8% of the Thorndike first 1,000 words.
(c) The General Service List of the Interim Report on Vocabulary Selection seems to combine the Basic vocabulary with the first 1,000 words of Thorndike's Word Book. It contains 93% of the Basic 850 words as well as 98.4% of the Thorndike first 1,000 words. Many (73 to be exact) of the words of measurement, currency, the calendar, and numerals which also are to be included in Basic appear as items in the Interim Report.
(d) There is almost 100% of overlapping in all of the lists in respect to the words which Basic calls "operations." All of these appear in the Thorndike first 1,000; in fact all but 6 (forward, quite, tomorrow, yesterday, west, and yes) appear in Thorndike's first 500. Palmer uses all but one (though) and West all but one (almost). It is clear that these, which are the structural words of the language, are so essential to any use of the language that they must be included whether a list is based upon a frequency and range count or upon logical considerations.
(e) In the matter of "qualities," especially in the case of the 50 "opposites," of Basic there is also a greater amount of overlapping. Sixty-four per cent of the "general qualities" and 66% of the "opposites" are in the Thorndike first thousand. Seventy-eight per cent of the "general qualities" and 88% of the "opposites" are in Palmer's list. Eighty-four per cent of these "general qualities" and 92% of the "opposites" are in West's Definition Vocabulary. Here again the Interim Report shows especial overlapping with the Basic vocabulary, for it contains 98% of the "opposites," although there are only 91% of the "general qualities."

  (f) In the matter of the words for "things" there is the least overlapping. The Thorndike first thousand contains only 52.5% of the 400 "general things" and but 45% of the "picturable" items. Palmer's list has 64% of the "general things" and but 48.5% of the "picturable" items. West has 72.7% of the "general things" and 77% of the "picturable" items. Here again the Interim Report shows a large degree of overlapping with the Basic list. It includes 92.5% of the "general things" and 90.5% of the "picturable" items.
2 . The consideration of the overlapping in the various lists leads one to question also the kinds of disagreement in these same lists. It is not easy to make sound general statements concerning the nature of these disagreements, but the following facts seem to have some significance:
(a) Although more than half of the words of the Basic list appear in the Thorndike first 1,000, the rest are to be found from the second to the twelfth thousand as follows:
58:5% are in the Thorndike 1st 1,000 22,8% " 2nd" 9.2% " 3rd" 3.9% " 4th" ?.4% " 5th" 1.2% " 6th" 1.4% " 7th" .2% " 8th" .2% " 9th" .1% " 10th" .1% " 12th"
(b) Although some of the Basic words that appear in the higher thousands of the Thorndike list are somewhat learned words such as rhythm (10th), reaction (9th), approval (7th), impulse (7th), tendency (6th), attraction (5th), observation (4th), adjustment (3rd), and harmony (3rd); still, many of the Basic words in these higher thousands of the Thorndike list are very simple, concrete, and common words.
The failure of these simple words to appear in greater frequency in the Thorndike lists seems to be explained by the nature of the material that was counted to make these lists. Colloquial English was not adequately represented in Thorndike's materials, and words of the kind illustrated in Table II appear in the more formal writing. Paste, for example, appearing here in Thorndike's
fifth thousand, appears in Mrs. Horn's Kindergarten list in the first 500 words. Sticky, appearing in the Thorndike twelfth thousand, appears in the Kindergarten list in the second thousand. Bath from Thorndike's third thousand appears in the Kindergarten list in the second 500.
(c) It is true also that many of the simple, common words of the Basic list do not appear in the Palmer 1,000 word radius nor in West's Definition Vocabulary. The West list, however, has more of them than does the Palmer vocabulary. In Table III are listed the most striking of these Basic words omitted from the Palmer and the West lists. The words in italics are omitted from both. Here again is some evidence that the Palmer list differs much more widely from the Basic vocabulary than does the West list.
(d) Even though the Interim Report on Vocabulary Selection seems to combine the vocabulary of Basic English with that of the first thousand words of the Thorndike Word Book, there are interesting omissions from both these sources. Table IV gives all the words from each of these two lists that are omitted in the Interim Report. -78- All the words in Table IV, shown as omitted from the Interim Report are also omitted from both the Palmer 1,000 word radius and the West Definition Vocabulary, with the exception of the six^ that are in italics. These six all occur in the West Definition Vocabulary, but only one (the word prince) occurs in Palmer's 1,000 word radius. The words jelly, muscle, and acid are included in the West Definition Vocabulary as "words forced in in the process of writing." 3 . After considering the areas of overlapping in these particular word lists and the special points in which they disagree, one naturally asks whether they are all equally easy to learn or whether there is any marked difference in their difficulty from the point of view of the non-native user. Upon such a matter it is exceedingly difficult to get any evidence that seems significant. As a matter of fact, one should note first that the very "numbers of words" in these limited vocabularies that we are discussing is very deceiving. It seems a simple task to master a vocabulary of 850 words, or one of 1,000 words, or even one of 2,060 words, and many people would assume that the only difference of "learning weight" between these various vocabularies would be the number of items of which they consist. These views, however, rest upon the assumption that a "word" is a single unit in itself -- that the dictionary entry of a simple word like back, for example, has to do with a single unit of meaning. That, however, is not the case.
A single vocabulary entry such as back covers a fairly large number of distinct and separate units of meaning. Back, first of all means "a particular portion of the human anatomy." It means also "that portion of an object that is comparable to the position of the human back in relation to the face side of the human being." Then when we say "a chair has no back," we do not mean that it has no portion opposite a "front"; we mean that it has no raised portion "as a support for a particular portion of the human anatomy." When we use back as a verb in such a sentence as "He backed the horse," the spelling unit back may mean (a) "He made the horse go to the rear or backward," (b) "He bet on the horse to win a place in a race," or (c) "He mounted the horse in order to ride him." The learning burden of a vocabulary unit is in large measure a matter of the number of distinct and separate units of "meaning" which it carries. One would ask, therefore, how many separate meanings attach to the so-called "words"2 of the particular vocabulary lists we are discussing. It is a difficult (in fact an impossible) task really to measure the number of actual meanings a vocabulary entry has, but for our immediate purpose here we can obtain some help from the Oxford English Dictionary. In this dictionary there is an attempt to separate and number the distinct meanings of a word as these meanings are proved by the context in the passages in which the words have been used. We must not, however, take this information too seriously, for many factors make the Oxford Dictionary analysis not entirely satisfactory for our purpose. It is the best material we have available, however, and, in spite of the difficulties occasioned by the differences of scale in the earlier and later volumes and the fundamental differences in the practice of the editors, the information it furnishes on this particular problem is at least suggestive and probably important. In this information the following facts seem worthy of statement:
  (a) The actual number of the separately numbered senses or meanings given in the Oxford Dictionary for the words on these limited vocabularies is enormous. For the 850 words of the Basic English there are the following figures: -81- Only three words from the Basic English list appear with only one meaning each (approval; join, sb.; owner). The average number of senses for the 850 words is 14.6, for there is a total of 12,425 separately numbered senses for the whole list. As might be expected, the "operators" have the largest number of recorded meanings per word, with 26. The "general things" and "general qualities" are lowest with 12 and 12.7 respectively. In the "operations" the numbers of meanings for the eighteen verbs and the 24 so-called preposition-adverbs are highest. Table VI gives the figures in detail.
The preposition-adverbs have an exceedingly wide variety of meanings according to the Oxford Dictionary, or an average of 33.2 meanings for each word. But in general the verbs have more senses than nouns and these 18 verbs in particular have many meanings, or an average of 50.5 meanings for each one.
  (b) The fact that Basic English uses no other verbs than these 18, whereas the other lists include many more verbs, leads one to question whether this fact shows itself in the number of recorded meanings. For such a comparison we have examined 850 words from the Thorndike first thousand words -- all of the first 500, and 350 taken at random from the second 500. For the first 500 there are 14,070 numbered senses3 in the Oxford Dictionary, and for the 350 from the second 500 there are 7,050 numbered senses or a total of 21,120 numbered senses for these 850 words -- an average of 24.8 meanings for each word. One factor certainly in the great difference of an average of 14.6 senses per word of Basic English as against an average of 24.8 senses per word of 850 words from the Thorndike first thousand seems to be the exclusion of verbs from the Basic English vocabulary. -82-
Table VII gives the figures of the separately numbered Oxford Dictionary senses for 850 words from each of five lists.
  (c) Although the gross figures just given seem significant in respect to a comparison of the "learning burden" of a restricted vocabulary such as that of Basic English with that of a vocabulary based solely on frequency-range counts, a more detailed analysis of the matter is necessary. Such a detailed analysis we have only partly carried out, as the charts on pages 84 and 85 will show.
Table VII
-84- Chart I -85-
In Chart I we have tried to picture comparatively the various numbers of words from two lists (Basic English, 850 words, and 850 words from Thorndike's first thousand) with the number of Oxford Dictionary senses for each. Several facts revealed by this chart seem worth noting.
(a) Most of the words of the Basic English list have from 3 to 13 senses (463 or 54% of the 850).
(b) Only 30% of the 850 words from the Thorndike first thousand have from 3 to 13 senses -- 55 words from the Thorndike list as against 463 from the Basic English vocabulary.
(c) Nearly a fourth of the 850 words from the Thorndike first thousand (22% or 188) have from 20 to 30 separable meanings, as against 12% (or 103 words) from the Basic English list with the same range of meaning.
(d) 178 or 20.9% of the 850 words from the Thorndike first thousand have from 30 to 53 meanings, and 61 words have more than 54 numbered senses. On the other hand only 56 or 6.4% of the Basic English vocabulary have from 30 to 53 meanings and but 17 have more than 54 numbered senses. -86-
Chart 2 gives a similar comparison of four word lists4 in respect to the percentage of words in each list with the number of meanings recorded by the Oxford Dictionary. Of course it is to be expected that the most frequently used words will develop a very wide range of meaning, and that fact must be considered in the attempt to set up the most useful and most practical vocabulary for the teaching of English to foreigners. The Faucett-Maki list of 1,534 words gives us a rather complete and detailed frequency analysis of English words. The Thorndike Semantic Count should be of help in setting forth meaning frequencies. But usefulness and practicability probably depend upon a more complex set of factors than we have yet realized.


One cannot survey the building of word-lists for the study of English and other languages witho ut appreciating the immense amount of work that has attended the creation of these lists, as well as the wide practical experience of those who have labored upon them. It is with diffidence, therefore, that we offer the following conclusions to which we have come from this study, because they are largely theoretical and we realize that the teaching and the learning of a foreign language are practical matters in which theory can be of use only by way of suggestion. Certain opinions, however, have come as our reactions to this study and we present them here in the hope that they may prove of some use.

1 . A restricted list of useful words limited to useful meanings seems to be not only a valuable but a necessary tool in a sound practical approach to the teaching of a foreign language. For clear discussion and thinking here we need to assume some definition of a word. For us, a word is a combination of sounds acting as a stimulus to bring into attention the experience to which it has become attached by use. Whatever experience is thus brought into attention by such a stimulus is its meaning. We must, therefore, recognize the highly individual character of the experience in the attention of any particular user of a word, both in respect to what is usually called the denotation and the connotation of that word.1 Wherever the individual character of the "meaning" happens to cause friction in social use, an adjustment is made and eventually something approximating a core of common experience emerges. Emphasis here should be put upon the approximate character of the common experience, for only so much of a common core of experience develops as actually works without too much friction in a social community. -88-
More than that, while the experience that is stimulated by the sound combination is a whole with a variety of contacts, usually only one aspect of this experience is dominant in attention -- a particular aspect determined by the whole context of the linguistic situation. When one uses head in such a context as "a head of cabbage," it is the shape which is the dominating aspect of the experience that has made a connection with the material unit, a cabbage. When one uses head in such a context as "the head of a department," it is the head as the chief or dominating part of the body. When it is used in "the head of the river," another aspect of the relation of head to the body is important in attention. From a practical point of view, the various separate dictionary meanings of a word are the particular aspects of the experience stimulated by a word that have been dominant in the attention of users of the word as these aspects may be inferred from the context of a large number of quotations in which the word appears. For the native user of a language, the symbol, with the wide range of experience it stimulates, is so much a part of the very texture of his thought that he exercises great freedom in turning attention upon any aspect of this experience in line with the pressing needs of his thinking. The "meanings" of words are, therefore, more fluid than we realize. For the foreign speaker of a language who learns this new language as an adult, the words as stimuli probably never function with anything like the same fullness and freedom as they do for a native. Professor Sapir touches this point in the following statement:
It is quite a mistake to suppose that an English speaking person's command of French or German is psychologically in the least equivalent to a Frenchman's or a German's command of his native language. All that is managed, in the majority of cases, is a fairly adequate control of the external features of the foreign language. This incomplete control has, however, the immense advantage of putting the native speaker and the foreigner on a footing of approximate mutual understanding, which is sufficient for the purpose desired.2
For the teaching of English as a foreign language, then, we need first a restricted list of words in a limited range of "meanings," -- not in all the senses in which these words may function for the native's use of the language. These meanings should not only be strictly limited but definitely indicated. It is of little help to say of such words as at, by, in, of, with, "As in Standard English,"3 when each of these words is recorded with 40 or more separate meanings in the Oxford Dictionary. Very few words of any serviceable list will have less than five recorded meanings. In some way the most useful meanings must be determined and definitely indicated in the list.

2 . First of all, such a word list should contain primarily the symbols for things and next the symbols for qualities. The following quotation puts the matter clearly:
What, then, are the absolutely essential concepts in speech, the concepts that must be expressed if language is to be a satisfactory means of communication? Clearly we must have, first of all, a large stock of basic or radical concepts, the concrete wherewithal of speech. We must have objects, actions, qualities to talk about, and these must have their corresponding symbols in independent words or in radical elements. No proposition, however abstract its intent, is humanly possible without a tying on at one or more points to the concrete world of sense.4
In this respect the approach of Ogden in Basic English seems sound with its list of 600 "things," 200 of which are "picturable," and 150 "qualities." One is inclined to raise theoretical objections concerning some of the details, but the real test of any such list must be really one of practical usefulness and theoretical considerations in this respect must yield to practice.
3 . The separation of the "operations" from the rest of the vocabulary as is done in Basic English seems to us a fundamentally important contribution to the solution of this problem of...... teaching a foreign language. As shown in the preceding chapter,5 these "operators" have a very wide range of meanings with an average of 26 separable senses for each word. It seems linguistically sound too, to include among the "operators" whatever verbs are used in a list for the first approach to English as a foreign language. The verb is a means of "relating" just as much as are adverb-prepositions and conjunctions. To classify the verb as an "operator" and therefore to use only a minimum number of verbs in a first vocabulary list seems not only theoretically sound but helpful from a practical point of view. In general, there is a tremendous spread of so-called meaning in the verb which comes from the pressure of the context, that is, the great variety of the particular things that are brought into relation by means of the verb. The great difference between the total number of senses indicated for the Basic 850 words and that of the senses shown for 850 words from Thorndike's first thousand6 seems to be due largely to the fact that Thorndike's list includes many verbs and the Basic English list only the 18 chosen as operators.7 If these figures have significance, the "learning weight" of a list with verbs as vocabulary units is considerably greater than that of a list in which the verbs are reduced to a minimum number of operators.
As a matter of fact, nearly all the "operators" of Basic English are really a large part of the grammatical stuff of Modern English, for our language has steadily moved away from the use of inflections as the means of expressing relations to the use of two other grammatical devices, one of which is the use of these "function words." The other grammatical device of Modern English for the expressing of relations is word order. In Present-day English, word order is not simply a rhetorical or stylistic matter which can be handled by merely setting a model indicating the usual places for certain types of words. Word order as a grammatical device for indicating structural relationships should, therefore, be treated ... as an "operator." On the whole, it would seem sound, then, to separate all these "operations" from the list of "things" and "qualities" and treat them not as vocabulary matter primarily, but include word order and treat them all in respect to their functions in the relating of full words. We should have thus not only a basic limited vocabulary but also a Basic grammar. -91-

4 . Such a limited word list of "things" and "qualities" with a narrow range of meanings definitely indicated as has been urged above, joined with a basic grammar, would serve the foreign learner of English as exceeding useful tools in his productive use of the language. This material would also provide a basic defining vocabulary and furnish a means of "simplifying" materials for reading (or, in international broadcasting, for hearing), that could be understood by the foreigner with a minimum amount of training.

5 . The passing from such a limited vocabulary and basic grammar to the understanding of normal English, and later, if desired, to the productive use of normal English, is a path beset with difficulties. At once the problem of the whole burden of the meanings in words becomes pressing. At this point other types of vocabulary lists must be used, and the building of these can be greatly aided by quantitative information both concerning the frequency, in normal English, ,o_L words and especially of the separable senses of words. It seems clear to us that there must be two distinct lists for these two fundamentally different purposes -- one for the productive" use of the language as indicated above and one for the "receptive" use we are now describing. The "productive" use need not concern itself greatly with the "frequencies" of normal English as these are revealed by objective word counts, but the "receptive" use cannot escape it. How far the two vocabularies can be made to overlap we do not know. That they should do so as far as is practically possible can be taken for granted, and the Interim Report on Vocabulary Selection, seems to have made progress in that direction, for it contains most of the materials listed in other vocabularies.8 Although as much over-lapping as possible would be helpful, practical usefulness in each of the two uses of the language must be met first.

6 . Despite the great amount of work put upon word-counts in English and the usefulness of the materials we have, there are areas in which we need more quantitative information -- especially quantitative information guided by linguistic analysis. Some of these areas are the following: 8
  (a) The word counts we have are deficient in the matter of colloquial English. We do not need here (nor in any field) more general counts which include the function words, but counts limited especially to "things" and "qualities." There are many common, necessary words that do not get into print, especially into the kind of publication that furnished the bulk of the material already counted. This fact showed itself in the listing of those common words from Basic English which appeared late in the frequency counts. Such words are the common words for clothing, like trousers, glove, skirt, shirt; or the words for parts of the body, like toe, chin, stomach, throat, or the words of household and kitchen, like basin, cheese, potato, paste, soap, scissors. Only in this way can one account for the fact that a word like sticky appears in the twelfth thousand of Thorndike's list. We must find some way to get useful quantitative information on words of this character. The materials of drama, newspaper and magazine advertisements, catalogs like that of Sears, Roebuck & Company, may furnish a starting point.   (b) The quantitative information we have does not make possible the building of accurate word lists to meet the diverse language needs of learners of differing age levels and of differing social outlooks. Learning a language must begin with the experience of the learner. It would seem desirable to have some type of objective information upon which to base vocabulary lists especially adapted to the background, experience, and outlook of special groups of learners. See chapter VIII, pp. 76-77, above.
  (c) More than anything else we need quantitative and qualitative information concerning the patterns of derivatives with some notion of the "extensions" of meaning which the bound elements
of these words usually produce; we need quantitative and qualitative information concerning the relationships set up between the elements of compound words; we need such information concerning shifts of meaning involved in changes of the grammatical function of a word; and finally we need both a quantitative and a qualitative analysis of the relation of form and function in English.
Such additional information as is indicated here in (a), (b), and (c) seems essential to guide experimental practice in the necessary steps from the first stage of a basic vocabulary and a basic grammar (steps adapted to the diverse needs of differing age levels and social groups) into and through all the complexities of derivatives, compounds, content verbs, and functional shifts, to normal standard English.
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Bibliography A Selected List I.

General References Bibliographies

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206. Wright's Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabularies. Edited by Richard Paul Wulcker. Vols. MI, London, 1884.
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