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Basic English:

A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar


by Charles K. Ogden

[from the Chapter One "Introductory", original copyright: London: Paul Treber & Co.,
Ltd. (1930, 1940), edits as indicated in [square brackets] are by Doug Bigham, 2005, for
LIN 312]

1. INTRODUCTORY
It is clear that the problem of a Universal language would have been solved if it were
possible to say all that we normally desire to say with no more words than can be easily
legible to the naked eye, in column form, on the back of a sheet of notepaper. The fact
therefore, that it is possible to say almost everything we normally desire to say with the
850 words on the frontispiece insert, which occupy about three-quarters of the space on
the back of an ordinary sheet of business notepaper, makes Basic English something
more than a mere experiment in simplification.

In brief, the words in question have been scientifically selected to form an International
Auxiliary Language, i.e., a second language (in science, commerce, and travel) for all
who do not already speak English.

Some form of English is now the national or administrative medium of over 600,000,000
people. English has long been the second language of the East. It is therefore, not
surprising that the adoption of Basic English is being advocated by publicists and
international organizations throughout the world.

The vocabulary is designed to deal with two distinct levels:


1. The 850 words of the front insert are sufficient for ordinary communications to
idiomatic English. (For the convenience of the learner, a selection of 600 -- forming a
first stage complete in itself -- is presented with appropriate explanations in the first
twenty lessons of Basic Step by Step.)

2. By the addition of 100 words required for general science, and 50 for any particular
science, a total of 1,000 enables any scientific congress or periodical to achieve
internationalism.

The 850 are equal in efficiency to approximately 5,000 words in any previous attempt at
simplification. They do all the essential work of 20,000. The effect will be that of
idiomatic English with no literary pretensions, but clear and precise at the level for which
it is designed. The difficulties being known, they can be given special attention from the
very start; and if it is desired to proceed at a later stage to normal English, the
intermediate steps are all provided.

The number of general nouns is 400, of adjectives 100, of verb-forms (operators),


articles, etc., 100. to avoid awkward periphrases, a judicious selection of 200 names of
pictureable objects (common things such as the auctioneer handles daily, parts of the
body, etc.), and 50 adjectival opposites, etc., brings the general total here exhibited to
850. With this vocabulary the style and brevity of the Basic translations of Swift, Tolstoy,
Stevenson, and Franklin can be attained.

Below the minimum 600, only Pidgin English or travelers' enquiries can emerge; above
the scientific total, we are at the level of international standardization and notation, with
which the 1,000 word maximum had been systematically linked.

It should be noted that the scientific addenda are all noun forms, i.e., they can be learnt
as names requiring no further grammatical instructions.

[edit]

If it be asked: why 500 words, why 850 words, why 1,000 words; why not 750 or 1,100,
or even 1,234, since there is no magic in numbers? – the answer is that Basic is
severely practical. Inasmuch as there are limits set (a) by the number of words which
can be legibly printed on the back of a singe sheet of note paper, (b) by the capacity of
humans to assimilate symbols in thirty to fifty hours, (c) by the minimum first stage that
is complete in itself, certain definite frames are indicated to which the linguistic material
of a universal language must endeavor to adapt itself. Partly by good fortune, partly by
dexterous manipulation, these spatial and mnemonic exigencies have been met without
undue sacrifice.

[edit] English will become not only the International Auxiliary language, but the Universal
language of the world.

The artificial languages which contrive, with varying degrees of plausibility, to make
similar claims, cannot attain this minimum; they are all based on a limited group of
languages, quite unfamiliar in type to the millions of orientals who must chiefly be kept
in view, and their adherents have not yet studied the problem of systematically.

Moreover, when learnt, an artificial language still awaits a millennium in which


conversion shall cease to be confined to a few thousand enthusiasts; and here the
importance of accurate statistics is once more apparent. It is often stated that English is
the language of 180,000,000 people, and this figure is then compared with the figure s
for French, German, Spanish, etc., with the implication that it would be invidious to be
influenced by so small a lead, when the tide of national prejudice is running so high.
Actually, however, English is the expanding administrative (or auxiliary) language of
over 600,000,000 people and financial reasons alone should convince even those who
take statistics seriously that it is bound to expand more rapidly in the near future.

[edit]

The special supplementary vocabularies for Chemistry, Physics, and Biology are printed
(together with model translations) in Basic for Science.

[edit]

In view of the fact that nearly a quarter of the human race already knows some English,
it is important to observe that the 300,000,000 who can use it fairly fluently need not
trouble to learn the grammatical rules which will at first limit the idiom of the foreigner.
Provided they keep approximately to the vocabulary they will be understood.

Those, however, who devote a few weeks to this Auxiliary medium - of the
1,500,000,000 who are at present linguistically isolated - will be able to make the most
of the smallest possible phonetic outfit for any international purpose, scientific,
commercial, or conversational; and will also have laid the soundest possible foundation
for further attainment in the world's most widespread literary idiom.

[edit]

Many special captions or trade-marks for the system were suggested, but BASIC--
British American Scientific International Commercial (English)--has been finally
adopted. The term Panoptic (at a glance) served to emphasize that in its written or
printed form it can (on the back of a sheet of notepaper), as it were, be seen at a
glance.

A chief obstacle to the spread of English has hitherto been its phonetic irregularity, the
frequency with which the same symbols are used to represent different sound, and the
uncertainties of stress. There is the fact that the word fish as Sir Richard Paget has
noted, might appear as ghoti (gh as in enough, etc.); and if dealt with in the same way
foolish might bee spelt in 613,975 different ways.

To distinguish all these in a vocabulary of 20,000 words, or even 2,000, necessitates an


amount of drudgery which has given phoneticians and advocates of synthetic languages
their opportunity. With the Basic vocabulary, however, such irregularities are reduced to
a minimum in which, by treating each word as an individual, the learner can even profit
by its peculiar appearance in written form as an aid to memory, and historical continuity
can thus be preserved.

[edit]

It is significant that the initiative in promoting enquiries into the International Language
problem has usually come from the natural scientists, as the chief prospective users of
an Auxiliary language who are organized internationally. Unfortunately they have not
realized that the solution lay so near at hand, and have supposed that they must rely on
the linguists to whom they have turned for help. But where there is a pipe, the aqueduct
becomes unnecessary, and the study of principles for the erection of elaborate
structures to get ideas across the linguistic valley is equally unnecessary, when once
the notion that all ideas can flow freely through the medium of Basic, at a convenient
level, is fully grasped

How far matters have moved in the last ten years may be gathered from the Report of
the Committee appointed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science
(1921), where two essentials are emphasized, preliminary to any further step on the part
of the scientists.

The first concerns the need for "a searching fundamental study of the principles
involved and experimental data available."

Such as enquiry was reasonable in 1921, when very little had been published which had
a direct bearing on the principles of Basic. Since then, however, the field has been fully
explored, and the collection of experimental data as contemplated by the Committee is
no longer necessary. The only experiments now required will be consequent on the
actual adoption of the language itself.

The second essential of the American report can also, happily, be circumvented; for it
demands "authoritative international agreement, both as to linguistic details and as to
the practical measures to be taken."

The capacity of mankind to secure authoritative international agreement about any


subject lags far behind both it more urgent needs and its power of appreciating and
adopting the means of satisfying them. Whether as individuals, nations, or commercial
and scientific organizations, men can still achieve many of their ends without prior
international agreement; and this particular reform is likely to be achieved in practice
long before any international committee has succeeded in overcoming the objections of
its more intransigent members, preparatory to some further interim recommendation - in
Portuguese, in Armenian, and in Greek.
Suggestions for concentration on political action are therefore to be viewed with
suspicion. They are likely to lead to the shelving for a decade or a generation of any
problem which is ripe for solution outside the political sphere Any official or political
sanction must of course be welcomed, but it is often harder to convert Pharaoh or
enthuse Pilate than to induce the people to enter a promised land.

On the other hand, this same American Committee, under the Chairmanship of the
Director of the United States Bureau of Standards, by referring to the movement for an
international auxiliary language as: "heretofore relatively neglected" and "deserving of
support and encouragement," showed its awareness of the impasse. The achievements
of science in the right direction are also usefully summarized, with the respect to
o The system of numbers.
o The metric system.
o The measurement of latitude and longitude
o Mathematical symbols.
o Chemical formulae.
o Time and the calendar.
o Notation in music.
The two main reasons for making English the basis of a universal language are (1) the
statistical considerations set forth above, and (2) the fact that English is the only major
language in which the analytic tendency has gone far enough for purposes of
simplification.

Inflected systems are highly resistant to simplification, and their Latin origin is still only
too evident in all the Romance languages of today. In the course of centuries, however,
most of the European speech-systems have progressed considerably in the right
direction, and the analytic tendency, as we know from a passage in Suetonius, may
even have been accelerated by the Emperor Augustus himself, who broke away from
the ancient habits of literary elegance and obscurity by inserting directives before his
nouns; thereby crating an analytic link with such inscriptions as we find already in 57
B.C. - "Si pecunia ad id templum data erit".

English, both in its Anglo-Saxon and its Latin derivatives, has carried the process of
simplification to a point where the final step was possible; and by the selection of its
vocabulary from the word groups most adapted for universal purposes, irregularities of
form and idiom in the Basic nucleus have been reduced to negligible dimensions. The
operator forms still preserve some of their inflections, the pronouns are still infected by
case anomalies, a few special plurals and comparatives mar the grammatical picture,
and there are certain established idioms which cannot conveniently be circumvented.

[edit]
It is from America, however, that the chief impetus to profit by this tendency of language
in daily speech has come. Although developments of this sort are thus of supreme
significance in any systematic approach to language improvement, they naturally tend
to be regarded with misgivings in conservative and literary circles.

When Henry James remarked that the American people were romping amid the ruins of
the English language, he left it an open question whether they were there to destroy or
to fulfill. From the psychological point of view, at any rate, a linguistic romp may be a
highly creditable performance. The antic haverings of a pedantic pedestrianism in quest
for Pure English are rapidly producing a new form of Addison's disease-for Addison was
the first to complain that "the late war has adultered our tongue with strange words."

But if we are agreed that they are ruins, the case for a newer edifice is all the stronger.
If, however, we can build on the old site, so much the better. We may even be able to
preserve the old bricks, so that our children's children may say, "This was known to
Johnson, to Webster," or "Here Bentham, here Runyon fought and won." The strength
of Basic English lies in its determination to discard nothing that is essential from the
standpoint of continuity.
OGDEN'S BASIC ENGLISH
850 Word List, in Ogden's original order
OPERATIONS - 100 words
come, get, give, go, keep, let, make, put, seem, take, be, do, have, say, see, send,
may, will, about, across, after, against, among, at, before, between, by, down, from, in,
off, on, over, through, to, under, up, with, as, for, of, till, than, a , the, all, any, every,
little, much, no, other, some, such, that, this, I , he, you, who, and, because, but, or, if,
though, while, how, when, where, why, again, ever, far, forward, here, near, now, out,
still, then, there, together, well, almost, enough, even, not, only, quite, so, very,
tomorrow, yesterday, north, south, east, west, please, yes .

THINGS - 400 General words


account, act, addition, adjustment, advertisement, agreement, air, amount, amusement,
animal, answer, apparatus, approval, argument, art, attack, attempt, attention,
attraction, authority, back, balance, base, behavior, belief, birth, bit, bite, blood, blow,
body, brass, bread, breath, brother, building, burn, burst, business, butter, canvas, care,
cause, chalk, chance, change, cloth, coal, color, comfort, committee, company,
comparison, competition, condition, connection, control, cook, copper, copy, cork,
cotton, cough, country, cover, crack, credit, crime, crush, cry ,current, curve, damage,
danger, daughter, day, death, debt, decision, degree, design, desire, destruction, detail,
development, digestion, direction, discovery, discussion, disease, disgust, distance,
distribution, division, doubt, drink, driving, dust, earth, edge, education, effect, end,
error, event, example, exchange, existence, expansion, experience, expert, fact, fall,
family, father, fear, feeling, fiction, field, fight, fire, flame, flight, flower, fold, food, force,
form, friend, front, fruit, glass, gold, government, grain, grass, grip, group, growth, guide,
harbor, harmony, hate, hearing, heat, help, history, hole, hope, hour, humor, ice, idea,
impulse, increase, industry, ink, insect, instrument, insurance, interest, invention, iron,
jelly, join, journey, judge, jump, kick, kiss, knowledge, land, language, laugh, law, lead,
learning, leather, letter, level, lift, light, limit, linen, liquid, list, look, loss, love, machine,
man, manager, mark, market, mass, meal, measure, meat, meeting, memory, metal,
middle, milk, mind, mine, minute, mist, money, month, morning ,mother, motion,
mountain, move, music, name, nation, need, news, night, noise, note, number,
observation, offer, oil, operation, opinion, order, organization, ornament, owner, page,
pain, paint, paper, part, paste, payment, peace, person, place, plant, play, pleasure,
point, poison, polish, porter, position, powder, power, price, print, process, produce,
profit, property, prose, protest, pull, punishment, purpose, push, quality, question, rain,
range, rate, ray, reaction, reading, reason, record, regret, relation, religion,
representative, request, respect, rest, reward, rhythm, rice, river, road, roll, room, rub,
rule, run, salt, sand, scale, science, sea seat, secretary, selection, self, sense, servant,
sex, shade, shake, shame, shock, side, sign, silk, silver, sister, size, sky, sleep, slip,
slope, smash, smell, smile, smoke, sneeze, snow, soap, society, son, song, sort, sound,
soup, space, stage, start, statement, steam, steel, step, stitch, stone, stop, story,
stretch, structure substance sugar, suggestion, summer, support, surprise, swim,
system, talk, taste, tax, teaching, tendency, test, theory, thing, thought, thunder, time,
tin, top, touch, trade, transport, trick, trouble, turn, twist, unit, use, value, verse, vessel,
view, voice, walk, war, wash, waste, water, wave, wax, way, weather, week, weight,
wind, wine, winter, woman, wood, wool, word, work, wound, writing , year .

THINGS - 200 Picturable words


[for an online picture list, go here: http://ogden.basic-english.org/wordpic2.html]
angle, ant, apple, arch, arm, army, baby, bag, ball, band, basin, basket, bath, bed, bee,
bell, berry, bird, blade, board, boat, bone, book, boot, bottle, box, boy, brain, brake,
branch, brick, bridge, brush, bucket, bulb, button, cake, camera, card, cart, carriage,
cat, chain, cheese, chest, chin, church, circle, clock, cloud, coat, collar, comb, cord,
cow, cup, curtain, cushion, dog, door, drain, drawer, dress, drop, ear, egg, engine, eye,
face, farm, feather, finger, fish, flag, floor, fly, foot, fork, fowl, frame, garden, girl, glove,
goat, gun, hair, hammer, hand, hat, head, heart, hook, horn, horse, hospital, house,
island, jewel, kettle, key, knee, knife, knot, leaf, leg, library, line, lip, lock, map, match,
monkey, moon, mouth, muscle, nail, neck, needle, nerve, net, nose, nut, office, orange,
oven, parcel, pen, pencil, picture, pig, pin, pipe, plane, plate, plough/plow, pocket, pot,
potato, prison, pump, rail, rat, receipt, ring, rod, roof, root, sail, school, scissors, screw,
seed, sheep, shelf, ship, shirt, shoe, skin, skirt, snake, sock, spade, sponge, spoon,
spring, square, stamp, star, station, stem, stick, stocking, stomach, store, street, sun,
table, tail, thread, throat, thumb, ticket, toe, tongue, tooth, town, train, tray, tree,
trousers, umbrella, wall, watch, wheel, whip, whistle, window, wing, wire, worm .

QUALITIES - 100 General


able, acid, angry, automatic, beautiful, black, boiling, bright, broken, brown, cheap,
chemical, chief, clean, clear, common, complex, conscious, cut, deep, dependent, early,
elastic, electric, equal, fat, fertile, first, fixed, flat, free, frequent, full, general, good,
great, grey/gray, hanging, happy, hard, healthy, high, hollow, important, kind, like, living,
long, male, married, material, medical, military, natural, necessary, new, normal, open,
parallel, past, physical, political, poor, possible, present, private, probable, quick, quiet,
ready, red, regular, responsible, right, round, same, second, separate, serious, sharp,
smooth, sticky, stiff, straight, strong, sudden, sweet, tall, thick, tight, tired, true, violent,
waiting, warm, wet, wide, wise, yellow, young .

QUALITIES - 50 Opposites
awake, bad, bent, bitter, blue, certain, cold, complete, cruel, dark, dead, dear, delicate,
different, dirty, dry, false, feeble, female, foolish, future, green, ill, last, late, left, loose,
loud, low, mixed, narrow, old, opposite, public, rough, sad, safe, secret, short, shut,
simple, slow, small, soft, solid, special, strange, thin, white, wrong .

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